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. The front of the 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 children are unidentified. The photographer is L. Magnus of Minneota.

A helpful resource for determining the date of the photograph is the Minnesota Historical Society’ 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 L. Magnus of Minneota has 1890s for the dates of operation.

The Lyon County Historical Society (LCHS) is a nonprofit, member-supported organization. LCHS operates the Lyon County Museum at 301 West Lyon Street in Marshall. The Lyon County Museum is open year-round to visitors. To contact us, visit our website: www.lyoncomuseum.org, call: 507-537-6580, email: director@lyoncomuseum.org, or on our Facebook page.


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