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On the Porch

Cabinet cards are photographs mounted on stiff pieces of cardboard. They were introduced in the 1860s and gradually replaced the smaller carte de visite format. Carte de visite (originally a calling card) is a small photograph.

The front of the cabinet card is often printed or embossed with the photographer’s details, and the back of the cabinet card is often printed with elaborate designs or left blank. The popularity of the cabinet card declined around the turn of the 20th century, particularly after the introduction of the photographic postcard, snapshots, and personal photography, especially after the invention of the Kodak camera in 1888. Cabinet cards continued to be produced up to the early 1920s.

The cabinet card photograph was often an albumen print mounted on cardboard. Albumen paper was developed in 1850 by Louis Blanquart-Evrard to be used with wet collodion negatives (invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851). Albumen, which is egg white, was mixed with ammonium chloride and spread on a sheet of paper. When the mixture dried, the photographer could store the paper away until it was time to use it. The photographer then sensitized the paper with silver nitrate, placed it over a negative, and exposed it to sunlight. The print was washed, toned in a gold chloride solution, fixed in hypo, washed again, and then dried. Albumen paper was convenient for photographers because they could buy it cheaply in large quantities, then store it until they were about to make a print.

The photograph featured this week is a scan of a cabinet card in the Lyon County Museum’s collection. The men in the photograph are identified as the Rev. Niels Thorlaksson seated at the right and G. Sigerson/Sigurdson as the one standing. Thorlaksson was the first pastor at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneota. The congregation was formed in 1887, and the church was built in 1891. The man sitting on the left is unidentified. The photographer is J.C. Miller of Marshall.

A helpful resource for determining the date of the photograph is the Minnesota Historical Society’s website. On the website, there is a directory of Minnesota photographers that provides biographical and historical information about commercial photographers and photographic studios. Not every entry about a photographer or photography business has complete information, but the directory helps date photographs. The listing for J.C. Miller of Marshall has 1894-1895 as the dates of operation.

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