One of my favorite things to collect are Victorian & Edwardian photographs of people with their cats. I especially enjoy looking at these people from over 100 years ago and wondering if they loved their cats as much as I love mine!
I have a few daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes, but mostly gelatin and albumen prints in the form of cabinet cards and cartes-de-visite. I love the lighting and detail of these old photographs. And as a photography buff, I appreciate what goes into a beautiful composition.
When photography was in its infancy from the 1830's up through the Civil War years, it was practiced by professionals in private studios in large cities, or by traveling photographers who took their gear on the road to small towns all over the United States. At first, exposure times were long. Subjects had to sit or stand very still for minutes at a time, often with the help of hidden neck supports. Children or babies were held to keep them as still as possible. The stiff looks, no smiles and glazed over eyes (from inevitable blinking) are typical of early photos.
The family pet rarely got the chance to be in the picture in the early days. To find a sharp image of a cat is rare! In later years, the use of flash and faster exposure times meant clearer, more animated poses... and more sharp pets.
Here is my list of recommended sites and books about early photography: