Dating Antique Photos
It's pretty exciting to own an ancestor photo from long ago. We may know it is a photo of Great-Grandmother Molly, but how can we figure out when it was taken? We have an idea when Molly was born but we can't date the photograph based on her year of birth. Below are some ways to identify approximate dates of antique photos.
Collectors of cartes-de-visite often have one or more prized Civil War photographs that have revenue stamps affixed on the reverse side. Because these stamps were required on photographs only from 1864 to 1866, their presence (or their absence) gives us the approximate dates of ancestor photographs of the Civil War era. Often the photographer dated the revenue stamp which gives us an exact date the photograph was taken.
Revenue stamps found on photographs had similar designs - a portrait of George Washington surrounded by an ornate frame. The stamps most often seen on photographs are the one, two, and three cent values. They were printed in red, blue, orange, or green.
Photographers were supposed to cancel each stamp and record the date of the photograph on the stamp. Some used a handstamp similar to a postmark, some just used a pen. Stamped photographs are sometimes found canceled with the initials of the photographer, with or without a date, or sometimes canceled with a slash or an "x". Some have uncanceled stamps on them. Federal law called for a $10.00 penalty for failure to affix a required tax stamp on a photograph.
The stamp tax on photographs was repealed 1 August 1866
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All photographs images © 2010-2018 Lorine McGinnis Schulze. Some rights reserved. The photographs may be saved for your personal use but they may not be published or reproduced elsewhere, either online or off, without my written permission.