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I'm also trying to figure out how these items were used. My guess is to put a "border" around a post card photo that was popular in the early 20th century.

The "masks" measure approximately 5 1/2" x 3 1/2".

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Wow, there is virtually nothing else I could find, either.  I did look at the property itself and it appears to be a small apartment building with separate units that may have housed businesses in the past, but that is now residential.  Perhaps it was very short-lived?

It's possible. I think this is another "turn of the century" item I found out of the same estate sale where I picked up those novelty cameras.

So the "masks" were made to either place a photo in, or to shape the actual photo before, or as you develop it?

It's a confusing idea, I guess, LOL. BUT, I have seen dags and/or tin types with unusual shapes to them. I originally thought it was the little frames they usually come in. With Dags, the little boxes are quite ornate, but maybe some of the actual photos had a shape?. 

So, this would appeal to a vintage/antique Camera buff. Maybe that's who you might contact for more info too. 

Looks like a catalog to me as different designs were sent to the customer.  Order blank, also sent and price list indicate a catalog too. Upon receipt customer could make his/her own Postcard, using the blank mask desired.  I'd guess the "customers" were printers or print shops rather than individuals.

I note the year, 1900, is shown on your pics; kind of dates it.

I don't see a "camera connection", more so Printers.

Didn't find much about them, I did find an ad though from 1908.

And another from the following year 1909.

Found them in this publication...

Here is a link to that publication.

link to 1908 publication

link to 1909 publication

As to how they were used....

There is an article, linked here, which is somewhat lengthy, about how one person in particular uses them in "The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac f..." on pages 48.

I have copied and pasted the text below in case the link doesn't work, be aware the text likely contains errors due to being extracted from a scanned document in this manner.  Try the link first.


One of my experiments not altogether new, but an improve-
ment on anything in this line that I have seen, is an album,
useful and ornamental, for amateur or commercial work.

Some of the appliances used, such as the special printing
frame, can be purchased at less cost of time and money than it
could be made by individual workers. Let us suppose that a
5x8 cliche is to printed from ; use for this 6^ x 8^ paper, or
7 x 9, as best suits the taste. As to shape of book when com-
pleted, I make for this a metal printing frame with the space
inside, clear, 4J x 7i ; also masks, made of paper and cloth, of
suitable form to paste on the glass side of the cliche. A person
of good taste will see what outline best suits the view or sub-
ject. This is one that will apply to most architectural subjects,

arches, circles with outreaching base and sometimes complete
circles. With the mask and metal frame to print through the
print will be sharp and clear down to the edge and needs no
trimming, care being used in toning and fixing not to injure
the edge of the paper. When ready to dry, I find squeegee-
ing gives very good results in amateur work, as burnishers are
not always at command. As soon as the print is on the plate
and all the moisture wiped off with a soft cloth (I wipe the
roller, plate and print after once in contact, drying all excess
as soon as possible), I then paste the back of the print ; now

have some dry, thin, fine cloth cut for 5x8 work, 9 J x 6f .
This makes one side of one leaf. This I lay on the print at
once, while on the squeegee plate, and paste very carefully
on the back of the cloth as I have also done on the back of the
print. These when dry are pasted back to back, leaving at one
end f of an inch of double cloth for a hinge and binding.
When this is partly dry put it under pressure between smooth,
clean paper to complete drying. This leaf, so made, will not
curl or get out of shape, but will be absolutely smooth if care-
fully done ; the edge will need just a little trimming as the
cloth will be a trifle in excess of the paper. To finish these
leaves into an album, I use thin leather, book-binders' cloth,
silk, plush, or any sort of material that may suit the taste.
First I cut a strip one inch wide and so it will little more than
cover each end of the hinge end of the leaf before trimming.
When dry I make four holes in this end of the leaf which will
then appear like this drawing. For covers I use No. 40 bind-
ers' board, cut 9 x 6f , and for the hinge two pieces -J in. x 6|.
Hinge these on one end of the 9 x 6f pieces with soft cloth,
leaving -J inch space between, putting cloth on both sides of the
board and creasing it down on the inside; now cover the board,
turn the edges inside and line it to suit ; make four holes in
hinge ; when all is dry tie all together with two pieces of rib-
bon. This album will hold a dozen or a hundred views, as
may be required, and will look well and be very durable.

J. R. Smith.

Wow ! Great info and great research !

I still don't see a Camera connection.  The heading in Michael's Reply lists Photograph, and photograpic, two times. However in the Text it doesn't say anything about photos.  On the other hand it mentions "Print and/or Printing" nine (9) times.

These were an old school method of adding effects to the photographs you produce.  Adding a frame to a photograph by overlaying one of these frame border masks onto the negative, then exposing the image, would create a photograph with the border as part of the image.

There were many other kinds of contrast masks as well, Shadow Contrast to increase the depth of fine black details, Highlight masks to add density and contrast etc...

Basically an analogue version of Photoshopping images, performed at the negatives level.


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