The small town of Girard, Kansas, had at least three families with the name Bell in residence at about the same time. Two of them were photographers.
There was James R. Bell and wife Mary. Newspaper items show James was a photographer on South Forth in Girard, KS, from about 1886 to about 1896.
There was the John Q. Bell family with census records and a few city directories placing them in Girard, KS, from about 1880 to 1908. All records indicate he was either a Farmer or a lumber merchant.
Then there is the case of Miss Z. M. Bell, who shows up in newspaper accounts in Girard and other cities in Kansas, from 1906 to 1920 as a photographer.
So far, no evidence has been found to tie the three family strains together. But, it seems unlikely the three would inhabit the same small Kansas town and not be related in some way.
At this point it seems quite likely that the cabinet card shown here could have been done by James R. Bell between 1886 and 1896. However, the heavy embossed design of the card indicates it was probably done after 1890 perhaps by Miss Z. M. Bell.
More research pending
This example is from a contributor
Harms-Tobaben Genealogy. It is not a cabinet card. It is an oval mat in a three panel folder. The imprint says "Bell, Girard, Kansas.
Three panel folder with oval mat
from courtesy of Harms-Tobaben Genealogy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
These folders and other formats gained in popularity as the cabinet card format began to lose favor in the early 1900's. They were attractive and could be printed in a variety of colors, textures and sizes. Best of all, they were much easier and faster for the photographer. No more trimming, gluing, coating and tedious waiting while the card dried. They could just slip the finished print into the dye cut mat and close the folder.
Although the cabinet card format can be found from as late as 1930, it was almost completely replaced by other systems by 1920. Beginning in 1888, Eastman Kodak made cameras available to everyone, making the photograph studio less popular and certainly a less profitable business. The studio photographer began to use more efficient, stable and dependable materials.
This photograph was probably finished by Miss Zelda Mary Bell who can be documented in Girard, KS, as late as February of 1920.
Not the one you were looking for? Here's the photographer's INDEX by name. Listed here are all the Cabinet Card photographers of the 19th century found in LOST GALLERY. This is a work in progress. For a look at the original postings go to LOST GALLERY.