First Steps: The Victorian Photograph Album
It is said that every Victorian family had a photograph album - this may not be strictly true, but carte de visite and cabinet photographs were at a price that only those who didn't care to have photographs taken missed out.
They were made to look like a bible with heavily tooled leather covers and thick gold edged pages, and a clasp or clasps holding it together. Why a bible? family trees were often written in the front of the family bible and this was your family tree in photographs, so you can expect family groups to be together. Start with grandfather and grandmother, then their children and grandchildren and then friends. As time went on a later generation may well be added at the end. Expect husband and wife to be together, as well as brother and sister - if the original order has been preserved.
The photographer's studio was the place to buy the album - an extra sale for them, and the album expanded the business. If everyone had one, then to fill the album, your family in other parts were required to have their photo taken and send one to you - so an album with thirty different studio backmarks in it, means thirty visits to a photographer's - think what that means! each visit produced at least six photos, five to be sent off - a bit like a modern pyramid scheme, no wonder 400 million photographs were sold some years.
Try to think why the album you own, was bought, was it a birthday present to a younger member of the family, perhaps a school prize. Who seems to be the owner - look for 'mother' and 'father' indicating that it belonged to their child, don't miss any such clues. Faithful servants may be included - the gardner and his wife, the nurse, a family gravestone, even the royal family - only because they were available and but not related!
The earliest carte de visite albums were made so that the photo was stuck onto the page, I don't have any of these in my collection but I have a number of cartes that have been ripped off a page, and inserted in later albums - these may have been from albums of the early 1860s.
The typical album of the 1860s only had carte de visite photos in them, cabinet cards were not produced until the 1870s.
1860s Album: cover 16.5cm x 12.5cm x 6cm thick with single (or double) gilt brass clasp (usually parts missing now). One photo to a page (15cm x 11.5cm). The first page may be decorated with flowers etc. The pages for the photographs are usually cream with printed thin gold lines and borders and corner designs, the early 1860s photo mounting is cut square at the bottom and curved at the top (8.4cm x 5.1cm) and the later ones (mid 1860s) may alternate with an oval cut mount. A cut slot with drilled ends has been provided below to slip in the photo. The construction of the page is thick card, being about the same as the thickness of two cartes, and hidden inside is an oblong cut hole, cut to allow two photos to sit back to back, and then faced over with thick paper. The page hinge is a double one, having a slip of thick card inserted between fabric layers allowing the page to open and then lie flat. Most of the people will be from the 1860s with a few 1870s people at the back. The album will take typically 48 photographs.
A pile of 1860s albums
An early 1870s album would be the same as the 1860s albums above but I suspect they would be the smarter ones with gold inlays on the leather cover.
The typical late 1870s album will have the same description as above, but it now has an oblong shape, with two photographs on every page, an arrangement that allowed husband and wife to be presented together - for ever. You can expect a mix of late 1870s people with a good many 1880s. The cut mount on each page may be as above, being an oblong cut with a curved top which alternates in some way with pages showing oval cut mounts. This type may well have been bought in the early 1880s.
The album cover measures 15.2cm x 22.7cm x 5.5cm with a single or double clasp. There are usually 25 pages giving spaces for 100 photographs.
The 1880s 1890s Album was large, about 29.5cm x 22.8cm x 7cm, and contained both cabinet cards and carte de visite (4 to a page) a design popular up to 1900
The Later 1890s Album may also have slots for the smaller half size cartes, usually towards the back of the album.
An early 20th century album called Sunny Memories can be examined on this page:
A Luxette Album of c.1947 can be seen on this page:
Conservation note: You may well ask if the materials used in making the album are a danger to the photographs, and you may be considering buying a modern album. However the photos have survived over 100 years in the album without being damaged and it is a historic object in it's own right, so leave them where they are. In the larger albums you may have cartes facing a cabinet card, the edge of the cut-outs can rub the opposite photo, so interleave sheets of thin acid-free paper to prevent further damage - do not use plastic anywhere near a photo, unless it is a conservation grade product (archival polyester sleeves or Melinex/mylar ). The plastic used in modern albums is not suitable for these photographs.
search on this subject
Avoid collector's plastic wallets (PVC). If you get the album repaired by a book repairer remove the photos (recording where they came from) and leave them out for 3 months to allow any acids from glues used to evaporate fully. An old album helps provide a good micro-environment for the photos, but the album itself should be stored in a cool and dry place.
Never try to clean a photo with water, but as a last resort you can use a soft rubber (Staedtler Mars Plastic from an Art shop) but test an area first, (you should make a copy of it first) and take great care!
Contact Website Owner
© Roger Vaughan Personal Collection 2012
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids