How to Date Old Photos

Identifying an old photo isn’t as hard as you would think it would be. There are a few easy ways to identify old photos given how fast the photographic processes changed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Here’s quick guide on How to Date Old Photos for photos from the 1850’s – 1900. For more recent photos, you’ll need to rely on clues from the photo itself:


Daguerrotypes: 1839-1860

The first photographic process was developed by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. Its popularity peaked in period from 1842-1856, and began to wane in the following years. The process involved polishing a sheet of silver-plated copper, treating it with fumes, and exposing it to a camera to fix the image to the metal — this resulted in an image that appears to be fixed on to a mirror.

If you have a photo that is cased, has a mirror-like quality where the image changes based on the angle, and the back of it looks like it has some copper and silver elements, you have a daguerrotype, which means likely a 1845-1860 photo. There are ways to date the images inside this range, but let’s stick to the basics for now and move on to the next type: Ambrotypes.

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