The trick with old photos

I’ve found an article in one of the magazines I have stashed here that is really quite interesting for those who have photos with no known date.

When it comes to finding dates, one of the best steps to take is to ask family members, particularly the elderly, they may know or be able to give you a rough time frame.

Another really good step to take is to check on the back of the photo, generally a date is written there usually in pencil, if not then there might be notes.

Take note of the mount, if there is one. Mounts became more popular during the 19th century, not to mention more ornate and substantial.

Consider the camera position along with how close the camera is to the subject. between 1860 and 1900 the cameras got closer and closer to the subject, BUT, amateurs in the 20th century kept back, possibly scared of unintentionally scalping their subjects.

Pay attention to the props used in the photo if there are any, they could be helpful with dating, not to mention the backcloth too.

Do some research into the photographic studio, directories can be very helpful there.

Pay particular attention to the clothes being worn in the photo, if you do a bit of research you can find out what were the trend in what time periods.


In the first half of the 1960s, women’s ears were generally hidden by their hair; in the second half, ears were generally at least partly visible.

Cartes de visite are photos on a 10 x 6.5cm cardboard mount. Very thin mounts, with squarecut corners, probably date from the 1860s.

In the later 1860s, backcloths often showed an indoor scene with an outdoor view, through a window for example.

The 1870s became a bit more trendy and fashionable with necklines for women. Frills, scarves, ribbons, necklaces and jabots, sometimes several at a time.

1870s furniture was also notable opulent: thickly padded upholstery, fringes, bobbles and tassels were all popular.

Skirt bustles in the 1870s sloped smoothly to the floor, the 1880s saw them jutted out from the small of the back.

Studio scenery had a much more smooth look in the late 1860 and 1870s, but a more weathered look in the 1880s.

The A&G Taylor studio lasted in America from 1879 to early 1880s, their details can be found on the back of their photos.

Babies were commonly shown on fur rugs but were most commonly shown on white fur rugs in the 1890s.

Vignettes are round or oval close-ups fading to whitness at the edges, the majority of which date from the 1890’s.

Leg of mutton sleeves were extremely popular in the second half of the 1890s.

Men’s collars were very high going from the 19th century to the 20th century.

Elaborately trimmed, wide-brimmed, flat -crowned woman’s hats were all the rage from around 1908 until shortly before the First World War.

Women often wore white blouses in the early 20th century, the V-neckline didn’t make its appearance until 1913.

Soldiers in the First World War wore tunics, bandage-like puttees round their calves, and round peaked caps.

In the 1920s women commonly wore Dome-like cloche hats, brimless and pulled well down on the head.

Photos of people walking towards the camera are characteristic of the late 1920s and the 1930s.

Soldiers in the Second World War wore short battledress blouses, gaiters round their ankles and khaki field caps or berets.

Colour photos from the 1950s may look unnatural, with pillar box reds and custard yellows. Many families though didn’t go for colour until the 1960s.


6 thoughts on “The trick with old photos

  1. Very useful! Especially doing genealogy and running into things that have no help listed on them. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome πŸ™‚ I have trouble myself here and there as family get old and pass, I then find I have a million and one questions for them that I cannot ask.

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