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Photographs, Prints & Postcards

Nature of Source

Images of places, people and events. Before the age of photography, around 1839, look for engravings and illustrations. The first successful photographic process was the daguerreotype, developed by Louis Daguerre in 1840 which was in use from around 1841 to the early 1860s. The daguerreotype was restricted to the more wealthy and are therefore a fairly rare find. Other processes followed such as the Ambrotype process invented by Frederick Scott Archer which was in use from the 1850s to about 1890 and was a less a expensive alternative to the daguerreotype. The Tintype or Ferrotype process which appeared from the 1870s to the 1940s was a cheaper alternative to Ambrotypes.

Carte de visite photographs were introduced in the 1850s and became an affordable and popular option especially for the middle classes and over time with the working classes lasting in some cases up to 1919. They measured about 4 x 2½ inches and were mounted on thin trade cards measuring about 4 ½ x 6 ½ inches. The photographer's name and address usually appeared on the reverse.

Cabinet Portraits were introduced around 1866 and were larger and showed more detail than Carte de visite photographs. Again the photographer's name and address often appeared on the mount. Carte de visite photographs and cabinet portraits fell out of use with the arrival of the first roll film in 1889 and the first Box Brownie in 1900.

Postcards or 'correspondence cards' were first introduced in Britain in 1894 but were confined to an address on one side and a message on the other with no picture. The regulations were relaxed in 1902 allowing the use of a picture. They became very popular especially up to the beginning of WWI.

Many local authorities and record offices are loading their collections online. On the back of a Victorian photo at the bottom, there may be some tiny printed writing relating to the Marion company. This was the company that printed the card and supplied the card stock. Their system of codes can help date the card. For more details see

Where Found

County Record Offices
The National Archives
British Library
Historic England Archive (The Archive is the public archive of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and holds research material on buildings and places, social and local history and archaeological sites including many historical photographs. See below for details of online catalogues and digitised content)
British Museum (British Museum Images. Search the collection at the British Museum collection database)
Local Family History Societies
Museums and specialist libraries

Period Covered

1839 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Photographs provide a visual representation of a place or person.

Further References

Clark, Gary W. 19th Century Card Photos KwikGuide: A Step-by-Step Guide to Identifying and Dating Cartes de Visite and Cabinet Cards Paperback: PhotoTree, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon

Falconer, John & Hide, Louise. Capturing the 19th Century in Photographs: British Library Publishing, 2009


Gernsheim, Alison. Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey: Dover Publications, 1981 (Limited preview available from Google Books)


Godden, Geoffrey. Collecting Picture Postcards: Phillimore, 1996


Jones, Gillian. Lancashire Professional Photographers 1840-1940: PhotoResearch, 2004


Kinealy, Christine & Sexton, Sean. The Irish: A Photohistory: Thames & Hudson, 2013


Levenick, Denise May. How to Archive Family Photos: A Step-by-Step Guide to Organize and Share Your Photos Digitally: Family Tree Books, 2015 Buy Now on Amazon

Linkman, Audrey. The Victorians: Photographic Portraits: Tauris Parke, 1993


MacKinnon, Murray & Oram, Richard. The Scots: A Photohistory: Thames & Hudson, 2013


O'Brien, Terry. Bromsgrove's Victorian Photographic Treasury: The Hughes Collection: The History Press, 2008


Pols, Robert. Dating Old Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 1995


Pols, Robert. Understanding Old Photographs: Robert Boyd Publications, 1995


Pols, Robert. Dating 19th Century Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998


Pols, Robert. Looking at Old Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998


Pols, Robert. Photography for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998


Pols, Robert. Family Photographs, 1860-1945: Public Record Office, 2002


Pols, Robert. Dating Twentieth Century Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 2005


Pols, Robert. Dating Nineteenth Century Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 2005


Pols, Robert. My Ancestor was a Studio Photographer: Society of Genealogists, 2011


Pols, Robert. Dating Old Army Photographs: Family History Partnership, 2011


Pritchard, Michael. A Directory of London Photographers 1841-1908: PhotoResearch, 1994


Shrimpton, Jayne. How to Get the Most from Family Pictures: Society of Genealogists, 2011


Shrimpton, Jayne. Family Photographs and How to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2008


Shrimpton, Jayne. Tracing Your Ancestors through Family Photographs: A Complete Guide for Family and Local Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2014


Smith, Philip & Smith, David. Picture Postcard Values: IPM Promotions (annual)


Storey, Neil. Military Photographs and how to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2009


Wichard, Richard and Carol. Victorian Cartes-de-Visite: Shire, 1999


Websites (History of Photography) (Historic England: Guide to one of the largest photographic archives in the country with over nine million photographs documenting the historic environment of England over the last 150 years. The collections include The Aerofilms Collection and other specialist collections) (History of Photography Timeline, by Philip Greenspun)
(A comprehensive resource to genealogists, collectors, historians and all those interested in 19th century photography) (Tips For Researching Old Photographs) (Community site offering information on the history of photography and dating old photos) (Online Open University course on how to analyse and interpret photographs) ( Photographers and old photographs forum) (Links to sites that can help with dating a photograph and an Index of UK portrait & studio photographers c1840-1950) (Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland from 1840 to 1940 including guidance on dating old photographs) (Family Photos: Series of articles about how to understand and interpret old family photos, by Jayne Shrimpton) (EdinPhoto: Photos of Edinburgh, History of Photography in Edinburgh and Edinburgh photographers and studios and Photographic Processes) (Review of the types and designs of photographic products) (Links to sites that can help with dating a photograph and an Index of UK portrait & studio photographers c1840-1950) (Victorian & Edwardian Photographs from The Roger Vaughan Collection and Visitors Photographs) (Professional photo dating service) (Online store selling historic photos from a variety of suppliers) (How to date an old Photo) (Stenlake Publishing - publisher of local books with many photos included) (Links to archive collections) (Articles about old photographs, photographers and their subjects) (VINTAGE-PHOTOS Mailing List) (British photographic history: Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history) (A History of Photography from its Beginnings to the 1920s, by Dr. Robert Leggat) (Information on postcard collecting) (Online index, chargeable, to Colin Buck's Postcard Index of name and address data from 100,000 Old British Postcards dated from the 1890s to the 1950s) (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies. Directory of image suppliers and categories) (Daguerreian Society: The society is dedicated to the history, science, and art of the daguerreotype)
Ancestry Weekly Discovery: Scanning Sense, by Maureen Taylor)

Online Databases

London (A history of south-east London suburbs, in images and words, brought to you by the area's local studies and archives collections) (Over 250,000 images of London from the collections at London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Art Gallery including photographs, maps, prints, drawings and watercolours. The collections can be searched by street and by using key words. The collection can also be browsed by subject) (Lambeth Landmark. Access to 6,000 images from the Lambeth Archives. Lambeth books & maps are available to buy from the site)
(photoLondon: Database of 19th Century Photographers and Allied Trades in London 1841-1901. The database consists of approximately 9,000 biographical entries on photographic companies and the people who worked within the photographic industry in London during the 19th century) (MOTCO UK Directory and Image Database: Mainly London 19th century)
England & Wales 
Historic England Archive (Historic England formerly National Monuments Record. Online descriptions with digital images of over 12 million historical photographs, documents, plans and drawings of historic buildings, scenes and archaeological sites, estate sales particulars, reports and publications on architecture dating from the 1850s. To keep up to date with added collections see here)
Britain from Above (Historic England. Online access to over 95,000 oblique aerial photographs consisting of the oldest and most valuable photographic negatives in the Aerofilms collection, dating from 1919 to 1953. The collection itself holds over 4 million aerial photographs covering the whole of England and dating from the early 20th century to the present day)
ViewFinder (Historic England. The online archive contains images relating to England's industrial heritage, social history and architecture including towns, villages, scenes and buildings held in the Historic England Archive. The entire range of images can be researched at the Historic England Archives in Swindon The site hosts a number of specialist collections including the Nigel Temple Postcards collection. To access the collection, first click on 'Advanced Search' and then select 'Nigel Temple Postcards' from the drop-down options in the 'Collection' box. The site also features a series of photo essays many dealing with trades and occupations)
Pastscape (National Record of the Historic Environment/Historic England. Over 1 million catalogue entries [with digitised content] describing photographs, plans and drawings of England's buildings, archaeological sites, monuments and historic sites held in the Historic England Archive from prehistoric times to the present day)
Images of England (Historic England. Photographic library of England's listed buildings based on the statutory list as it was in 2001as well as other designated heritage assets. For an updated version of the statutory list, visit the National Heritage List for England)
National Heritage List for England (Photographic library of England’s listed buildings)
Heritage Gateway (Historic England. The Heritage Gateway allows you to cross-search over 50 resources, including Local Authority Records and national heritage information resources for contemporary and historic photos and records of listed buildings) (British Listed Buildings Online: Online database of buildings and structures that are listed as being of special architectural and historic interest in England, Scotland and Wales) (Photographs and other images from the collections from the libraries and museums of Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire)
(The National Archives Image Library. Online access to digitised images spanning hundreds of years of history from The National Archives' collections. Search TNA’s main catalogue if the image is not found in the image library) (National Media Museum: National Photography Collection [including the Daily Herald Archive], National Cinematography Collection, National Television Collection) (The Victoria and Albert Museum: Search the Collections is a an online catalogue containing texts and images from the collection whilst V&A Images contains images from the Theatre Collections, Museum of Childhood and the National Art Library) (Retronaut - Mashable: The Photographic Time Machine) (Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photography: Catalogue of aerial images covering England, Scotland and Wales) (The Library of Birmingham Collections: The Warwickshire Survey. Find out more about the works of the photographers who have captured Birmingham and its suburbs since 1890 with galleries including many Birmingham suburbs. You can find more photographs from the collection on the Shoothill Deep Zoom website. Other photos and prints can be found in the Benjamin Stone Collection) (Digital Handsworth: A multimedia resource guide to the history of the community. Includes time line and image gallery) (Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire: List of Photographers Studios in and around Birmingham and Warwickshire, 19th century) (The site aims to promote access to historic collections representing Warwickshire's heritage and culture. Includes a range of resources, including old photographs) (Mcrarchives' Flickr Photostream: A selection of images from the Documentary Photography Archive an archive which documents the life of the Greater Manchester region) (Manchester Local Image Collection: Over 80,000 images of Manchester and the surrounding area including its people, streets and buildings are available to view online. All images are available to purchase as A4 sized quality prints) (Lancaster University: Edwardian Postcard Project. The site features a searchable resource of 1,000 cards together with their transcriptions) (West Sussex Record Office: West Sussex Past Portal. Online resources include: West Sussex Past Pictures, a database of over 13,000 images provided by local museums and the County Library Service; Online photo database, search over 30,000 photos and 5,000 digital images available at the Record Office; WSCC picture gallery and retail portal, Buy products featuring images of West Sussex in the past) (Oxfordshire History Centre: Historic images of Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley from the 1850s to the present, including 300,000 catalogue records of images and 100,000 digital images) (Lancashire Archives: Red Rose Collections: Photographs. Explore images of Lancashire people, places and events. Most of the photographs and images come from the extensive collections held in libraries across the county) (Leeds Library and Information Service. Leodis. Online access to a photographic archive of Leeds containing over 59,000 images of Leeds, old and new) (Leeds Library and Information Service. Leodis Collections. Online access to from the Leeds Libraries photo archive. You can view a range of curated photos for a number of collections or themes) (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies: Online access to over 10,000 of our photographs are available to view through the online catalogue and can be purchased as prints) (Staffordshire Past Track: A archive of images, documents, audio and video content relating to the heritage, community history and culture of Staffordshire) (Lists of photographers from the Liverpool & Wirral areas from the 19th and 20th centuries) (Photographers & Photographic Studios in Derbyshire) (Sussex PhotoHistory: Details of photographers active in East Sussex and West Sussex during Victorian and Edwardian times) (Victorian Professional Photographers in Wales, 1850-1925) (Harrow school and surrounds) (Bristol Photographers 1852-1972)
(Photographs dating from about 1900 to 1930, depicting views of towns, villages, schools, churches etc. of England and Wales) (Digitised images of guide books and gazetteers, photos, aerial photos, maps) (National Library of Scotland's photostream: Archive images form the National Library of Scotland collections) (Virtual Mitchell: Images of Glasgow) (Images from the collections of Glasgow's libraries, museums and universities) (Glasgow Victorian Photographer Website: Lists of names, addresses and dates when Glasgow's first professional photographers were known to be operating)
(Scottish Indexes Flickr Archive: Photo sets include Scottish photos and postcards; Photographs of People; Scottish Ephemera) (University of Edinburgh Collections: People, Places, Events. Images showing people, buildings and activities from the past and present including the Leith Improvement Scheme Photographs) (Photos of Edinburgh) (Images, film and audio from mainly Scottish museums, galleries, archives) (Online photo archive collection from the University of St Andrews Library containing over 800,000 photographs of people, places and culture covering the 1840s to 2013) (Images from 275,000 buildings, archaeological and maritime sites across Scotland) (British Listed Buildings Online: Online database of buildings and structures that are listed as being of special architectural and historic interest in England, Scotland and Wales) (The National Collection of Aerial Photography, held by The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: The collection forms part of the Aerial Reconnaissance Archives and includes aerial images of Scotland and Europe taken by aircrews during WWII) (National Library of Scotland: Ordnance Survey Air Photo Mosaics of Scotland, 1944-1950. These aerial photographs provide key information on the landscape of post-War Scotland and represent the first widespread use of aerial survey methods by Ordnance Survey in Scotland) (Historical film clips from the Scottish Screen Archive)
Ireland (Images held by the Waterford County Museum, Ireland) (The Lawrence Collection. Browsable collection of 40,000 glass plates showing Irish towns and villages as they were in bygone days. Historic photographs covering all the counties in Ireland) (University College Dublin Digital Library. G. & T. Crampton Photograph Archive: A collection of photographs from the albums of G. & T. Crampton one of Dublin's best-known construction companies. The photographs were intended as a record of the building projects which the firm undertook rather than a formal archive. They cover a wide range of buildings) (Ireland, Lawrence Collection of photographs, 1870 – 1910. This database features more than 21,000 photographs from the Lawrence Collection, indexed so they can be searched by subject, location, and county) (Various photo galleries) (National Library of Ireland Digital Photographs Online) (Ireland Then and Now: A History of Cork in Images) (Public Record Office of Northern Ireland Flickr Photostream: Access to over 1500 images from the Allison Photographic Collection and around 900 images from the Cooper Photographic Collection) (County Wexford Libraries Digital Local Collection. Digital collection of 19th century texts, local history journals, photographs, old postcards and other historical material relating to County Wexford and its people)
(National Library of Ireland: Digitised items from past photography exhibitions held at the library, hosted by the Google Cultural Institute)
Other British
TNA Online Collections (Victorian prisoners' photograph albums 1872-1873. TNA Online Collections is produced by The National Archives and contains online access to indexes, transcriptions and digital images of some of the TNA's most important holdings. Searches are free but a fee is levied for each downloaded item. However downloads are free if used at TNA or the Society of Genealogists) (Photos and other media from the British Library collections)
(UK, City, Town and Village Photos, 1857-2005. The Francis Frith Collection contains photographs of almost every city, town and village in Great Britain, with some coverage of other countries including Ireland)
(The British Library's Photostream: Highlights from more than one million public domain images from the digitised collection of over 65,000 books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries developed in partnership with Microsoft) (Image Archive: free to use and download historic photos dating back to 1850 covering the UK and the rest of the world. Photos can be searched for by title keyword or browsed by category) (British Museum Images: Images, prints, drawings and maps covering early modern and 19th century Britain. The contents of British Museum Images can also be searched at Connected Histories together with a number of other databases) (Moving images from broadcasters such as ITN, Reuters & British Pathe) (Victorian and Edwardian portraits from the Roger Vaughan Picture Library)
(Links to sites that can help with dating a photograph and an Index of UK portrait & studio photographers c1840-1950) (Images from photographers and image collections from around the world including some historical images) (British Pathe: View and buy films and still photographs from the entire archive of 90,000 videos covering newsreel, sports footage, social history documentaries, entertainment and music stories from 1896 to 1976) (AP Archive. AP Archive is the film and video archive of The Associated Press. The collection includes over 1.7 million global news and entertainment video stories dating back to 1895, sourced both from AP's own coverage and from content partners including British Movietone. The AP Archives YouTube channel can be found here and the British Movietone YouTube channel can be found here) (British Film Institute: Britain on Film:1,000s of preserved films, capturing 120 years of Britain on Film) (The British Pathé Archive. All 85,000 historic newsreels, documentaries, serials and films from Britain and around the world are searchable and viewable on YouTube covering the years from 1896 to 1976. The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars) (The Dixon Scott Collection: 14,288 photographs held in series INF 9 at The National Archives depicting the countryside, towns and villages in the British Isles covering the 1930s and 1940s) (The Google Cultural Institute: The online institute provides a platform for museums, galleries and other institutions to showcase digital copies of their items using documents, photos, videos and personal accounts of events. The collection includes images from the LIFE Photo Collection) (Photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland)
(The Victorian Image Collection) (U.K. Carte-de-Visite Victorian Photographs from the collection of Roger F. Vaughan) (Science & Society Picture Library: Collection of over 60,000 stock images) (Collection of vintage postcards, Victorian and Edwardian cartes de visite and cabinet portraits and other nostalgic photographs) (Past to Present Vintage Photo Gallery: Range of vintage photographs from about 1850 to 2000, with a large selection of carte de visite photos) (UK Aerial Photos: Modern and Old Aerial Photos of the UK - 1947 to 2011) (Francis Frith Collection: Local old photos, maps, books and memories of every town and village in the UK) (Working Life-Celebrated in photographs) (Photos from England, Wales, Scotland & Ireland dating from the 1890's and 1900's) (Moving Here: Digitized photographs, maps, objects, documents and audio items recording migration experiences of the past 200 years. The site includes a gallery with some of the highlights from the Moving Here Catalogue) (Roger Vaughan Personal Collection - Carte-de-Visite - Cabinet Cards - Portrait Postcards) (Historical aerial photos) (ILN Print Library: Historic Prints and Posters from Illustrated London News) (Archive of stock photos with royalty free option) (Images available from The National Archives) (The Advertising Archives: British and American press advertisements from 1850)
(Wellcome Library Collections: Free to use access to images with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Media types include photographs, ephemera, maps, paintings, etchings, advertisements and drawings) (Mary Evans Picture Library: Images from a number of collections covering Britain and the rest of the world) (Heritage Images: Images from leading museums, galleries and private collectors)
(European Film Gateway: Online access to films, newsreels, images, periodicals and posters from selected collections of 26 film archives across Europe)
(Online collection of millions of digitised items including photos and texts from European museums, libraries, university and research libraries and archives)

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