A ‘cabinet card’ featuring an image of a nun from Quebec. Notice the strategically placed crown of thorns to the left on the table.
After its creation in 1860, the use of the cabinet card became a hugely popular photography trend, quickly eclipsing other emerging photographic methods. Used primarily for portraiture, the styles of vintage cabinet cards were widely variable when it came to color formats, the types of card stock to which photographs were mounted, as well as other design elements such as inscription, embossing, and lettering. Cabinet cards were derived from another widely used photographic style of portraiture known as “carte de visite” which was popularized by Andre Adolphe Disderi in Paris around 1854. It is important to note that cabinet cards were much larger than Disderi’s small 2 x 4 inch photos. The idea was that they would be large enough for someone to see clearly from across a room.
Cabinet cards were used for many purposes, such as remembering loved ones and commemorating events—happy or horrible, perhaps—through pictures. As demand rose, the cards virtually put photo album companies out of business, which was how people had traditionally displayed their photos during the heyday of the carte de visite. Another interesting historical fact about cabinet cards—and something that is rather relatable now—is that the individuals charged with taking the portraits also would often employ the services of an artist who could doctor the photograph to improve (or more accurately, remove) any unpleasant facial attributes in the portrait. So you see, the people of Victorian times were just like us—obsessed with looking flawless in a photo by any means necessary.
This background on the historical relevance of this type of photography doesn’t change the fact that the potently nightmare-inducing images of these nuns appear to be solemnly judging you. If you’re a collector of offbeat things, a wide variety of cabinet cards, such as cheeky partially nude models to hauntingly morbid post-mortem images from the past, can easily be found on auction sites like eBay.
Many more nuns after the jump…