What a varied and interesting collectible this is! Old photographs can be found just about anywhere - you probably have some in your attic or photo album. You know - the ones where nobody smiled. I think that was just so they could tell their children how tough life was back in the "good ole days" :).
The price of old photos covers a tremendous range - you can find them for a few cents or a few thousand dollars! The type of photo, its subject matter, and in some instances the photographer all play a part in deciding the value. Portraits of men and women are the most common followed by children. Photos containing animals are not very common, but can be found. Photos of historical significance (such as Civil War soldiers) and important figures are highly sought after. The types of photographs can be broken down into 4 categories.
Daguerreotypes - the earliest form of photography we are dealing with - dates from 1839-1869. This method used a silver coated copper plate sensitized with iodine and developed with mercury. This images are very clear and have a wide range of tones (from white to black). These images were originally in cases, but can now be found with or without them and in a variety of sizes.
Ambrotypes - first introduced in 1854. The peak years were from 1857-1859, but production continued up to 1865. This method of photography produced a negative image on a glass plate that was viewed as positive when a black backing was added. The glass was sensitized with silver nitrate and developed with pyrogallic acid. Ambrotypes tend to be gray all over, but do exhibit a 3 dimensional quality - like the highlights and shadows are on different planes. These photos were also cased.
Tintypes - also called ferrotypes or melainotypes were first introduced in 1856. The peak years for cased images were 1860-1863. The last of the cased tintypes were produced around 1867, but uncased tintypes continued to be produced until about 1930. The negative image was produced on an iron plate and viewed as positive due to an undercoating of black varnish. The same agents were used for sensitizing and developing as with the Ambrotypes. Tintypes are the most commonly found type of non-paper image. The show great detail, but are not as vivid as the Daguerreotypes.
Paper Images - different types of paper images can be found. CDV's or carte de visites were produced from 1854-1905 with peak years of 1859-1866. Cabinet cards were introduced in 1863, peaked from 1870-1900 and declined until about 1920. These two types of images are similar, but are easily differentiated by their size. CDV's are about the size of a baseball card, while Cabinet cards are about 5"x7".
"Paper Images" is the fastest growing category of the early photography. Due to the excellent availability, and affordable prices, this is a great starting point for new photography collectors. It is advisable to pick a theme for your new collection, as you may become overwhelmed with photos if you do not. The photos in this category also make great art! You could frame a bunch of baby photos for a nursery or vintage wedding photos for a master bedroom. Group them on the wall to make a dramatic statement, or just enjoy them for the perfect picture of that long ago time they reveal.