I met only one of my great-grandmothers, but I’m thankful to have photographs of all four of them. Sometimes when I gaze at those antique photos I think I can see similarities to myself — little things like the curl of the hair or the shape of the mouth. These pictures — heartwarming in their formality, monochromatic in their tones of black, white, and sepia — represent my family history and are one of my most tangible connections to the past.

Sizing Up Antique Photos

Just as my great-grandmothers were very different in appearance — and they were! — their photographs are quite different in style and size. Unlike the standardized print sizes that we rely on in the 21st century — 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, and so on — the only thing predictable about antique photos is their diversity.

Photography has evolved significantly through the years, and print types and sizes have evolved right along with it. Maybe you’re already familiar with antiquarian photographic terms such as “daguerreotype” and “tintype,” but these early forms of photographic prints were quickly replaced by “carte de visite” prints (known as CDVs) and “cabinet cards” during the late 19th century and into the early 20th century. In fact, chances are good that you already have some CDVs or cabinet cards in your family photo albums. CDVs usually measure 2½ x 4 inches, while cabinet cards are larger, at 4¼ x 6½ inches.

Making Sense of Your Photos

In the first half of the 20th century, amateur cameras like Kodak’s Brownie series began to achieve popularity, and casual family snapshots became commonplace. As a result, you might have family photo albums or old shoeboxes filled with small black-and-white snapshots that chronicle your family history. In and of themselves, these modest photos may not offer much in the way of statement-making art for your walls. Or maybe you have a stack of formal family photos in an array of shapes and sizes from large to small, but you’d like be able to enjoy them in an aesthetically pleasing way.

With all of that diversity, is it possible to creatively display antique family photos in an attractive and eye-catching way? Absolutely!

Displaying Your Photos

You can achieve a cohesive look by selecting an assortment of frames that complement each other and the décor of your room, and then incorporating your family photos into the frames for display. The streamlined appearance of the frames can effectively tie them together in a uniform display. Don’t worry if the prints are different sizes or feature slight differences in tone. The frames will provide the needed balance and the various monochromatic shades can provide harmonious visual interest.

Remember, the frames you select don’t necessarily need to be identical. You can choose frames that work well in an overall display while choosing standout pieces that add texture and unexpected shades of color.

And what about those small snapshots in the shoebox? A collage frame offers the perfect solution — a way to create a memorable display that embodies a bit of storytelling effect while aptly preserving precious treasures that might otherwise meet a dusty demise in an attic.

Your family photos are a form of décor that is distinctly yours — so be sure to keep those familiar faces prominently displayed for future generations to cherish.