Images and Words: An Online History of Photography

Introduction | Contents | Foreword | Testing

McGraw HillRobert Hirsch Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography, Second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2009)
Chapter: 4 Section: 5
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The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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Carte de visite
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Carte de visite: Backs
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Carte de visite: Storage and display
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19th Century Photograph Album covers
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4.5. The Carte de Visite and the Photo Album

The third spin-off from collodion was the carte de visite, or visiting card. A number of photographers claimed credit for introducing the carte de visite, but the idea was patented by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819–1889) and introduced to the public in Paris in 1854. [2|4|5|887]

 
André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
The New Salons of Disderi, the day of the opening [Nouveaux salons de Disderi, le jour de l‘inauguration.]
1860, 14 April
Engraving
Private collection of Michel Mégnin
Source: Le Monde Illustré (April 14, 1860)
 
LL/29561
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/29561 LL/29675 LL/13381 


The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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Carte de visite
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The concept of using photographs on documents such as licenses, passports, permits, and visiting cards was proposed by Louis Dodero of Marseilles in 1851. The carte de visite, or carte, was a 2 1/4 x 3 1/2-inch photograph, usually a full or bust-length portrait, mounted on a 2 1/2 x 4-inch paper card. A number of exposures were made with a multilens camera on a single collodion wet-plate and were contact-printed onto albumen paper. Individual exposures were cut apart and mounted on cards. The multilens, referred to as tubes, could be individually uncovered (there were no shutters), making possible a variety of poses on a single plate. The intent was to take the time and expense needed to make one print and divide it by many prints, reducing the cost of each unit. Numbers were the deciding factors; the more cartes people had made, the greater the photographer’s profit. Enhanced savings were also realized since retouching was not needed, as many defects were not noticeable in the small prints, and the processing procedures could still be performed by unskilled labor. Daguerreotypists like Abraham Bogardus initially dismissed the carte. Bogardus recalled his first impressions of the carte as "a little thing; a man standing by a fluted column, full length, the head about twice the size of the head of a pin. I laughed at that, little thinking I should at a day not far distant be making them at the rate of a thousand a day." [2|4|5|888]

 
Anon.
A carte de visite back advertising a supplier of the card stock used to make CDVs.
n.d.
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
Often the industry supporting 19th century photographers is overlooked and this is an important part of the history of photography. This rare CDV showing the prices was produced as an advertisement for Andrew H. Baldwin a supplier of the card stock used to produce CDVs.
 
The message reads:
 
  This kind of card, light or dark buff not printed, $2.25 per 1000, or 2.75 if Round Corners. All the higher grades of cards printed in this style, $1.00 per 1000. Printed without the cut, 75 cents per 1000.
    ANDREW H. BALDWIN,
      No. 1 Chambers Street,
Cor. Chatham & Duane,  NEW YORK.
 
LL/9873
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/9873 LL/9874 LL/9875 
LL/9798 LL/31518 LL/32935 
LL/9951 LL/9952 LL/9950 
LL/9949 LL/30997 LL/30998 
LL/29704 LL/29705 


The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri
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After a slow start the carte became a hit in May 1859 when legend has it that Napoleon III, leading his army out of Paris on a military campaign against Austria, stopped to have a publicity portrait made at Disdéri’s studio. It proved a successful public relations tactic for both men as people flocked to have their carte made at the same place as the emperor. Disdéri became a celebrity and was appointed Court Photographer. In 1860 Disdéri redecorated his studio, the "Palace of Photography," in the ornate Second Empire style with portraits of della Porta, Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot along with allegorical statues signifying Chemistry, Painting, Physics, and Sculpture. The Apotheosis of Light was painted on the ceiling. By 1861 Disdéri was reported to be the richest photographer in the world, eventually opening branch studios in London, Madrid, and Toulon. His Paris studio had a staff of 90, could make thousands of prints a day, and promised 48-hour delivery. [2|4|5|889]

 
André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
The Imperial family
1858-1859
Carte de visite
Paul Frecker
Napoléon III grasped the power of manipulating his public image through visual propaganda, and firmly embraced the medium of photography. Despite his string of mistresses, he presents himself here as the apogee of bourgeois respectability and moral probity, the archetypal family man.
 
LL/13385
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/13385 LL/11258 


John Jabez Mayall - Royalty
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The carte did not become chic in England until August 1860, when John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), who learned daguerreotypy working in a Philadelphia gallery and returned home to become one of London’s most elegant studio photographers, published his Royal Album, consisting of fourteen carte portraits of the royal family. Hundreds of thousands of cartes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were sold, leading to an explosion of celebrity photographs. Photographers courted personalities to sit for them, often paying a fee to the sitter and/or royalties based on sales. The practice of collecting and exchanging photographs and placing them in embellished, manufactured albums began with the Royal Album cartes. Mayall’s carte business reportedly generated more income than any other English photographer’s, with his studio turning out a half million cartes a year. Mayall also patented the Ivorytype in 1855, a method in which a photographic image was printed on artificial ivory that had been sensitized with either albumen or collodion. This imitation effect was popular as it played off the association of ivory as a valuable object reserved for the power elite. [2|4|5|891]

 
J.E. Mayall
The Queen and Prince Consort
n.d.
Carte de visite, albumen
Charles Nes Photography LLC New York - Paris
LL/5917
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/5917 LL/5916 LL/5923 
LL/5918 LL/11230 LL/22320 


Royalty and Photography in Europe, An Introduction
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John Jabez Mayall - Royalty
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The royal family itself was keen on photography. Queen Victoria was said to have over one hundred photo albums, many arranged and inscribed by Prince Albert. The Queen enjoyed giving and sending photographs. The royal family not only consented to the sale of their cartes but commissioned numerous portraits, collected contemporary photographs, were patrons of The Photographic Society, and even had a darkroom installed at Windsor Castle for their private use, increasing interest in photography and giving it status and credibility. [2|4|5|892]

 
W. & D. Downey
Princess Alexandra with her daughter, Princess Louise
1867, September
Carte de visite
Paul Frecker
Paul Frecker provides the following comments:
 
"A carte-de-visite showing Princess Alexandra with her daughter, Princess Louise, born in 1867. Taken in September 1868, it was intended to show that the Princess had fully recovered from the bout of rheumatic fever which had struck her in the late winter / early spring of 1867. It proved to be the most popular carte-de-visite of its day. In 1885 Downey remembered that somewhere in the region of 300,000 copies had been sold, and it's not hard to see why. Compared to the stiffness and formality of most portraiture at this time, and Royal portraiture in particular, the freshness and spontaneity is like a splash of cold water!"
 
LL/12019
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/12019 LL/5917 LL/5918 
LL/11160 LL/12788 LL/5920 
LL/12020 LL/12018 LL/33133 
LL/22018 
 

YouTube id: cNynbJmJrYc


19th Century Photographic Studios: Interiors
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Backgrounds
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19th Century Photographic Studios: Properties, accessories and novelties
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The carte was a formula picture; no particular effort was made to reveal the sitter’s character. Even though posing equipment was still required, shorter exposure times allowed more naturalistic styles to evolve, and people appeared less rigid and stern. In various poses controlled by the photographer, from vignetted heads whose undefined edges merged into the background to full-length images, the sitter could look either directly at the camera or gaze off to one side. The backgrounds could be neutral, or they could be elaborate painted settings. Most scenes included props, such as fancy upholstered chairs, balustrades, columns, drapery, and furniture. People often wore clothes or held objects that revealed their status or their aspirations. Cartes were personal, hand-held portraits made to be preserved in albums and stir memories: "This is what I look like, this is what I do, this is who I am." [2|4|5|893]

 
André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri
Uncut sheet of carte de visites of a French lady
1860
Carte de visite
7 x 9 in (178 x 229 mm)
 
Carl Mautz Vintage Photographs
Courtesy of Carl Mautz
 
LL/11990
 
 
Additional examples:
 
Checklist
LL/11990 LL/12069 LL/12070 
LL/4153 LL/6904 LL/4152 
LL/10618 LL/11989 LL/33486 
LL/19972 LL/33132 


Carte de visite: Royalty
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Carte de visite: Celebrities
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Carte de visite: Occupational
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Cartes of royalty, actors, politicians, and people in the news were widely circulated. In 1861, the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad Co. issued identity cartes for their season-ticket holders. Abraham Lincoln credited his election to his Cooper Union speech and to his carte made by Mathew Brady. Stage figures, such as Maggie Mitchell with her trademark mischievous gamine/ urchin role, became cult personalities in the United States through the publicity supplied by their cartes. Besides celebrities there was a market among the educated for cartes of authors, such as Charles Dickens, George Sand, and Victor Hugo. In addition, leaders of reform movements, including the American abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe, were in demand. [2|4|5|895]

 
Mathew B. Brady
Abraham Lincoln
1862 (ca)
Carte de visite
Carl Mautz Vintage Photographs
Courtesy of Carl Mautz
 
LL/11961
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/11961 LL/10892 LL/32631 
LL/11257 LL/11256 LL/12368 
LL/31525 LL/12370 LL/13452 
LL/6264 LL/11962 LL/33134 

Cartes catered to the armchair traveler with views of moated castles and foreign lands, to the sophisticated with works of art, to the believers of "Manifest Destiny" with bare-breasted natives who could be both ogled and looked down on, and to the morose with "freaks of nature" like a person with no arms who could write with his feet. Cartes provided the realistic images the public now expected at affordable prices and furthered the picturing of more diverse subjects. [2|4|5|896]

 
J. Maes (Anvers)
Artist Charles Felu painting with his feet
n.d.
Carte de visite
Be-Hold
Courtesy of Larry Gottheim - Be-Hold (50 / 37)
 
Born without arms, Felu became a celebrated painter. Here he paints a self-portrait, so this is a double of him, full face and profile. His slippers and paint box are beneath the easel. CDV by J. Maes, Anvers, with an embossed "M" at the upper right. "Charles Felu/ Antwerp" is written beneath the print. Is this a signature?
 
LL/22351
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/22351 LL/32643 LL/32941 
LL/32940 LL/11254 LL/32949 
LL/14946 LL/32942 LL/33136 
LL/32303 LL/11974 LL/10904 
LL/10901 LL/94 LL/13265 
LL/11363 


Carte de visite: Backs
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Carte de visite: Storage and display
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Typically, the front of the carte had the photographer’s name imprinted below the image, and for celebrity and other public portraits, which most cartes were not, a caption and statement of copyright were added. Many of the backsides carried advertising logos that generally included the photographer’s and/or publisher’s name and address. Additional notes reminded the public that copies of the carte could be reordered, with pronouncements such as: "Negatives preserved, Duplicates can be had at any time." [2|4|5|897]

 
W.M. Coffrin
A carte de visite back
n.d.
Carte de visite
Collection Matthew R. Isenburg
The significance of this card from W.M. Coffrin (No. 2 Perry's Block, Treemont St., Claremont, N. H.) lies in the message in the lower part part. Here it says that negatives are preserved but beneath that:
 
Ambrotypes, Daguerreotypes and Photographs
copied or worked with Ink, in any style desired.

 
The importance is that Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes were unique items and could only be copied by photographing the original object making a single copy. The prints used on CDVs had a negative and allowed multiple copies and this allowed people to replace their earlier photographic formats with a newer one - similar to replacing records and audio CDs with MP3 files.
 
LL/9824
 
 
Additional examples:
 
Checklist
LL/9824 LL/9873 LL/9388 
LL/11965 LL/42540 LL/9413 
LL/9392 LL/9397 LL/9404 
LL/9406 LL/9408 LL/9410 
LL/11976 

Some of the cartes that are most interesting as social documents were peddled as fundraisers. One carte of three small children stated that: [2|4|5|898]



 
The copies are sold in furtherance of the National Sabbath School effort to found in Pennsylvania an Asylum for dependent Orphans of Soldiers; in memorial of our Perpetuated Union. This picture is private property, and can not be copied without wronging the Soldier’s Orphans for whom it is published.1 [2|4|5|899]




 
As cartes were not deemed inviolable objects, the public joined the titling process, adding inscriptions to the backside, or verso, of the cartes, anticipating the role that snapshots and postcards have often served. A carte of a dapper young man asked: "Please acknowledge the receipt of this by returning one of yours. J. Crane." A middle-aged man thought his image was worth many cartes: "Aunt Susan, you must be sure and send me some of all of you as soon as you can. Me." Others provided factual information about the sitter: "Ma when 16." Still others offered commentary: "The arch traitor Jeff Davis." A woman in a long dress, holding a straw hat, wondered whether it was really possible to be known through one’s carte. On the verso she wrote: "Do you know me?" A piercing example of the reality of war can be seen in a Civil War portrait album that contains brief penciled comments recording each person’s name and what happened to him: "killed at . . . , wounded at . . . , lost leg, died of wound, eye shot out at . . . , lost arm." A portrait of four soldiers in uniform, with devil-may-care looks, was inscribed: "All killed in battle." [2|4|5|902]

4.6. The Cabinet Photograph: The Picture Gets Bigger

The carte fad peaked about 1866, and as the fad began to decline photographers such as Edward Wilson bemoaned the change and searched for something else to reinvigorate declining sales: [2|4|6|904]

The adoption of a new size is what is wanted. In our experience, we have found that fashion rules in photography as well as in mantua-making and millinery, and if photographers would thrive, they must come into some of the tricks of those whose continual study it is to create fashion, and then cater to its tastes and demands.2 [2|4|6|905]


Cabinet cards
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Cabinet cards: Backs
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Cabinet cards: Celebrities
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Cabinet cards: Advertising
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The answer to this dilemma came in the cabinet photograph, essentially an enlarged carte designed for portrait work. The name predates photography and may refer to the fifteenth and sixteenth century Augsburg cabinets that were produced for well-to-do bourgeois to hold collectible items or the small cabinet canvases made by the Dutch and Flemish painters for merchants’ houses. The cabinet card format was introduced in 1862 by Marion & Co. of London with the publication of a series of 6 3/4 x 4 1/2-inch views by G. W. Wilson. The format gained popularity when F. R. Window’s London studio applied it to making portraits in 1865–1866. The increased image size showed more detail and was considered more aesthetically gratifying than the smaller carte. In the United States, the carte did not yield ground until the early 1870s. However, as time passed the cabinet swept the portrait field, and photographic suppliers began to make new card mounts and albums as the collecting mania that had faded with the carte craze began anew. [2|4|6|906]

 
H. Osterhout (Middletown, NY)
Photographer with large camera on tripod holding lens cap, plates and case at his feet.
n.d.
Cabinet card
Jeffrey Kraus Antique Photographica
Courtesy of Jeffrey Kraus
 
LL/6247
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/6247 LL/32712 LL/31308 
LL/30983 LL/28235 LL/11950 
LL/22003 LL/17465 LL/31309 
LL/14208 LL/31317 LL/31321 
LL/15303 LL/11549 LL/22004 
LL/12988 

Cabinet pictures were made in a method similar to the carte. The glass plate for the negative was first coated with a thin layer of albumen and the collodion was flowed on. Next, the plate was sensitized in a silver nitrate bath. It was exposed while still moist and was immediately developed in an acetic-acid/iron-sulfate solution that also contained alcohol, silver nitrate, and nitric acid, and was fixed with potassium cyanide. The completed negative was often varnished to prevent the thin collodion film from being scratched. Prints were made on albumenized stock that was commercially available in several surface finishes. The paper too had to be sensitized before printing by floating it, albumen side down, in a bath of silver nitrate. The paper was sometimes fumed with ammonia after being sensitized, in order to increase its speed. The negative and paper were placed in a printing frame and exposed in sunlight. Next the paper was toned with gold chloride to give it a brown appearance and was fixed in hypo, washed, and dried. The cabinet was offered in three sizes: No. 1, 5 1/4 x 4 inches (the most popular); No. 2, 5 3/4 x 4 inches; and Special, 6 x 4 1/4 inches. All were mounted on a 6 1/2 x 4 1/4-inch card. [2|4|6|907]

The cabinet created a demand for larger pictures.3 [2|4|6|908]

 
Benziger Brothers
Father Damien, Leper colony
n.d.
Cabinet card
Be-Hold
Courtesy of Larry Gottheim - Be-Hold (47 / 156)
 
Priest who worked at a leper colony and contracted leprosy from which he died in 1873. He was considered a paradigm of humane self-sacrifice. Cabinet card by Benziger Brothers, sold for the benefit of the Leper Mission.
 
LL/11366
 
 
Additional examples:
 
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LL/11366 LL/30981 LL/30982 
LL/12980 LL/6250 LL/10968 
LL/11369 LL/32129 LL/23468 
LL/31321 LL/10962 

The increase in image size changed the photographic viewing experience from an intimate affair to a public display on a mantle or wall. The bigger sizes provided photographers with more space to orchestrate, and new aesthetic possibilities could be realized as light and pose were used to reveal a sitter’s character. As the image’s size and cost increased, the public paid closer attention to what was happening within the frame. These changes in turn encouraged photographers to push the boundaries of the portrait to express each sitter’s character. [2|4|6|909]

 
Anon.
Count Leo Tolstoi, (1828-1910)
n.d.
Cabinet card
Jeffrey Kraus Antique Photographica
Courtesy of Jeffrey Kraus (AA56)
 
Printed on card: "Born 1828. Russian Author and Social Reformer, served in Crimean War, has published "War and Peace," "Anna Karenina," "The Krentzer Sonata," also several essays in Moral Philosophy, including "My Religion."
 
LL/10975
 
 
Additional examples:
 
Checklist
LL/10975 LL/10976 LL/12049 
LL/11060 LL/7406 LL/31602 
LL/13270 LL/28288 LL/12050 
LL/11164 LL/20504 LL/20499 


Portraits: Theatrical: Oberammergau (1890)
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The cabinet style peaked with the collecting of stage personalities in the 1880s. Its decline began at the turn of the twentieth century as folding cameras, with which people could make their own postcard-size pictures, gained popularity. By World War I the cabinet had just about vanished from the commercial scene. [2|4|6|910]

 
Alfred Ellis
Arthur Roberts in the role of "Gentleman Joe"
n.d.
Cabinet card
Paul Frecker
Paul Frecker provides the following comments:
 
"On 2 March 1895 Arthur Roberts began a long run at the Prince of Wales' Theatre as the eponymous hero of Basil Hood's musical comedy Gentleman Joe, the plot of which concerned a hansom-cab driver who nearly knocks down and then falls in love with a maid called Emily.
 
When Beerbohm Tree opened at the nearby Haymarket in a runaway success entitled Trilby (the eponymous heroine's headgear became a new fashion for men), Roberts introduced a short burlesque entitled The Trilby Triflet into his show, and was praised by The Times for his impersonation of Tree.
 
This portrait shows Roberts in a Newmarket overcoat, his hansom-cab license plate on his chest, hand outstretched for a tip."
 
The photographer is Alfred Ellis of 20 Upper Baker Street, London, whose backplate appears on the reverse, including the helpful information that the studio is located '20 doors north of Baker St. Station'.
 
LL/12056
 
 
Additional examples:
 
Checklist
LL/12056 LL/8157 LL/11165 
LL/6637 LL/14238 LL/28290 
LL/12356 LL/28287 LL/28286 
LL/19723 LL/14254 LL/14259 
LL/11271 


 
FOOTNOTES
  1. Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin, vol. 15 (1884), 65.
     
  2. The Philadelphia Photographer, vol. 3, 311–13.
     
  3. New sizes featured the Promenade, 7 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches; the Boudoir, 8 1/4 x 5 inches; the Imperial, 10 x 7 inches; and the Panel, 13 x 8 inches.
     

 

Sections

 4.1 The Albumen Process 4.2The New Transparent Look
 4.3The Ambrotype 4.4Pictures On Tin
=> 4.5The Carte de Visite and the Photo Album 4.6The Cabinet Photograph: The Picture Gets Bigger
 4.7The Studio Tradition 4.8Retouching and Enlargements
 4.9The Stereoscope 4.10The Stereo Craze

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