Cost of that 19th Century Photo

Any family historian is always thrilled to have any style photo of their ancestor. With the birth of a photo image with its many different formats over the 19th century it is interesting to see just what our relatives many have paid to have this ‘newest’ invention capture their image.

By researching old newspapers it is easy to see the different costs at a given time period. Then you have to convert that amount to what is equal to in today’s money.

Start with:

Dag photo1850sDaguerreotype in 1842 cost anywhere between $2.50 and $6.00 (depending which part of the country you lived). Again this was the newest form of image, no one painting a portrait here. The value in today’s money is $81.50 to $195.00 — quite a sum, no wonder not many of the relatives had their photo taken in the 1840s into the 1850s.

Ambrotypes in the early 1850s cost much less than the daguerreotype Ambrose 1858and could be hand tinted to add color. One would run between 25 cents and 40 cents. Today that is equal to about $6.00.

Carte de Visite in 1864 were very popular and very inexpensive. The cost ran between 25 cents and 50 cents each plus the 3 cents tax placed to help pay for the was at that time. If you find a stamp for a tax you can now rough figure the date of the photo. That cost would be equal to $3.85 to $7.64 today.

Tintype in 1870 got photos even cheaper, so we find many more produced. The price was about 5 cents each! That is now equal to about tin type 1870s92 cents. Advertisements of the day claimed it could be produced in five minutes. They even could copy the older daguerreotype and others for $2.00 a dozen.

Cabinet Cards of the 1880s was very popular and continued for years, into the 20th century. Cabinet card 1896Photographers encouraged customers to get many copies to share with friends and family.

One dozen copies of these nice cabinet cards cost $2.00. Many of the photos handed down in families are of these type. The cost value today would be $51.10 for that dozen.


Daguerreotype – 1850s a lady

Ambrotype – 1858 a man

Tintype – 1870s man with hat

Cabinet Cards – 1896 a little girl


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