The carte de visite (French: [kaʁt vizit], English: 'visiting card', abbr. 'CdV', pl. cartes de visite) was a format of small photograph which was patented in Paris by photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854, although first used by Louis Dodero.

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (May–August 1863) Schneider. Uncut, unmounted carte-de-visite albumen silver print from glass negative 18.8 x 24.3 cm (7 3/8 × 9 9/16 in.). Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Each photograph was the size of a visiting card, and such photograph cards, in an early form of social media,[1] were commonly traded among friends and visitors in the 1860s. Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors. The popularity of the format and its rapid uptake worldwide were due to their relative cheapness, which made portrait photographs accessible to a broader demographic,[2] and prior to the advent of mechanical reproduction of photographs, led to the publication and collection of portraits of prominent persons. It was the success of the carte de visite that led to photography's institutionalisation.[3]





The carte de visite was usually an albumen print from a collodion negative on thin paper glued onto a thicker paper card. The size of a carte de visite is 54 mm (2.125 in) × 89 mm (3.5 in) (approximately the size of a business card), mounted on a card sized 64 mm (2.5 in) × 100 mm (4 in). The reverse was generally printed with the logo of the photographer or the photography studio from which it came, as both protection of copyright and advertising, and sometimes carried instructions for effective posing.[4]


Cartes de visite camera with four lenses. Engraving from D. V. Monckhoven. Traité Général Photographie Comprenant tous les Procédés Connus jusqu'à ce Jour; La Théorie de la Photographie Application aux Sciences d’Observation. 1863
1859 carte de visite of Napoleon III by Disdéri, which popularized the carte-de-visite format
One of the first cartes de visite of Queen Victoria taken by photographer John Jabez Edwin Mayall

The daguerreotype for portrait photography had met with immediate and widespread popularity and quickly displaced the portrait miniature and its cheaper versions, the silhouette[5] and the physionotrace.[6] However its technologies were limited; a single copy was made in the camera could be reproduced only by copying the original onto another plate. The carte-de-visite provided a wet collodion negative from which could be made multiple prints, in a standardised format, with cheaper materials, thus permitting production on an industrial scale. Consequently it was even more affordable than the daguerreotype.[7]

Special cameras were designed with multiple lenses for their efficient production. Disdéri's 1854 patent was a camera of taking eight separate negatives on a single plate in a special holder. Rather than one large collodion plate being used to produce one image of the posed subject, Disdéri's design initially exposed ten images on one plate, exposed either simultaneously or in sequence.

Each individual carte print was made at a fraction of the cost of producing one full-plate picture and ten were printed at once, saving time and thus efficiently serving the burgeoning consumer market for photography.[8] Disdéri's patent was modified when making four images was found to be more practical, and in March 1860 optician Hyacinthe Hermagis patented a four-lens camera with a sliding back that became the standard.[9] Désiré Monckhoven reported in 1859;

We saw at M. Hermagis' a magnificent device, consisting of 4 identical double lenses mounted on a double frame camera built by M. Besson. This device, in a single operation, provides a plate on which 8 copies of the same image appear with perfect clarity. It seems that in the big cities, such as Paris, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, these cartes de visite are widely used, so the device we saw at M. Hermagis' enjoys considerable success.[10]



Cartes de visite were made using a contact print—by placing the negative in contact with the albumen paper under glass and exposing the sandwiched materials to a light source. No enlarger was required.

Nevertheless, the development of the solar camera enabled enlargements of cartes up to life-size, often hand-coloured and retouched so that they rivalled the painted portrait, and could be framed and displayed. Prominent London photographer the French-born Antoine Claudet lectured on the technology to the British Association in Oxford in June 1860, and in 1862 presented "On the means of following the small divisions of the scale regulating the distances and enlargement in the solar camera" at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in October. Earlier that year he exhibited a number of life-size portrait enlargements from carte de visite negatives at the 1862 World Fair, which were praised as 'magnificent' and 'without distortion'.[11]


Box with cartes de visite of members of the Regout family, Netherlands, c. 1865



The carte de visite was slow to gain widespread use until 1859, when Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III's photos in this format.[9] This made the format an overnight success; as Disdéri was to boast; "Everyone knows how I suddenly became popular by inventing the carte de visite which I had patented in 1854."[12] He charged 20 francs for twelve photographs when previously a single print would cost 50 to 100 francs, so that portraits were suddenly available at a cost that the lower middle classes could afford.[2] The new invention was so popular that "cardomania"[13] spread quickly throughout Europe and then to the rest of the world.



In England John Jabez Edwin Mayall in Regent Street announced in August 1860 that he had;

...just received the Royal permission to publish a series of portraits which had been previously taken of the Royal family and of several other illustrious personages who have the honour of being intimate friends of her Majesty. These charming portraits are of miniature size; some of them are mounted on cards, and opposite to that of the Queen in the catalogue we find it described as a carte de visite. A complete series is placed upon a screen, in the centre of which are large portraits of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in military uniform, and his Royal Highness Prince Alfred in the dress of a midshipman in the Royal navy. Besides the single.figure portraits of the Royal family, there are several most delightful groups of them variously arranged [...] These portraits having been entirely divested of all appearance of Royal state, possess an air of novelty, and the illustrious personages being represented as if perfectly unconscious of the photographer's presence, and engaged in their ordinary occupations, seem to afford the public a legitimate peep into the privacy of the Royal apartments, and give a decided charm to this publication [...] purchasers may, while they have the satisfaction of displaying their loyalty, also have the pleasure of selecting those arrangements of the portraits to which they may give a preference. The whole series, including the personal friends of her Majesty, amounts to 32 portraits, and are very beautiful specimens of the photographic art.[14]

Mayall's publication of a carte-de-visite album of the Royal Family influenced the growing demand from the Victorian public for their own family photographic albums.



In Germany, Emperor Wilhelm I encouraged this pictorial culture by investing approximately 120 studios with the imprimatur of Hofphotograph (court photographer), based on the cartes that each had made of the kaiser, flatteringly posed with his gloved right fist planted powerfully on a table bearing his plumed helmet, and of his family. Millions of his photographs were collected in German family albums.[15]



By the late 1850s the carte-de-visite had been taken up in India, particularly among the wealthy of Bombay. Hurrychind Chintamon was a successful early Indian photographers who made carte-de visite portraits of literary, political, and business figures, the most famous of which was of the Maharaja of Baroda, thousands of which were circulated.[16]



While numbers of European photographers visited and practiced in the country, Lai Afong (Chinese: 黎芳) was a successful Chinese-born photographer who, after working at the studio of Portuguese photographer José Joaquim Alves de Silvieria between 1865 and 1867, established Afong Studio in Hong Kong in the late Qing Dynasty from c.1870, and was photographer to Governor of Hong Kong Sir Arthur Kennedy KCB and Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia.[17] Other Chinese photo studios producing cartes de visite in the 1890s include those of Kung Tai (公泰照相樓)[citation needed] and Sze Yuen Ming (上洋耀華照相) in Shanghai,[18][19] and Pun Lun (繽綸) in Hong Kong.[20]



Frederick York of Cape Town received the first carte-de-visite camera in South Africa as a present from H.R.H. Prince Alfred in February 1861.[21]

Carte de visite of John Wilkes Booth; circa 1863, by Alexander Gardner

United States


The carte de visite was introduced in New York, probably by Charles DeForest Fredricks, late in the summer of 1859 and proved immediately popular in the era of the Civil War. During the war years, photography studios across the country generated hundreds of thousands of carte-de-visite portraits in decorative pressed-paper and tooled-leather albums prized by the soldiers, and their families,  thousands of which artefacts survive intact today.[22] As The Times of London reported on August 30, 1862:

America swarms with the members of the mighty tribe of cameristas, and the civil war has developed their business in the same way that it has given an impetus to the manufacturers of metallic air-tight coffins and embalmers of the dead. The young Volunteer rushes off at once to the studio when he puts on his uniform, and the soldier of a year's campaign sends home his likeness that the absent ones may see what changes have been produced in him by war's alarms. In every glade and by the roadsides of the camp may be seen all kinds of covered carts and portable sheds for the worker in metal acid and sun-ray. Washington has burst out into signboards of ambrotypists and collodionists, and the "professors" of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia send their representatives to pick up whatever is left, and to follow the camps as well as they can.[23]

Major studios producing cartes de visite included Brady & Company, Samuel Masury, J. Hall & Company, and N A. & R.A. Moore.[24]

Americans, as with citizens of other countries, were also not only buying photographs of themselves, but also collecting photographs of celebrities.[25][26]

South America

Alberto Henschel (c.1869) Foto de negra tirada na Bahia. Carte de visite, Leibniz-Institut Für Länderkunde

Portuguese-born Cristiano Júnior in Argentina,[27] and German-born Alberto Henschel[28] and Italian-born photographer Auguste Stahl in Brazil,[29] made carte de visite pictures of “racial types” in the anthropometric genre—standardised poses of naked or semi-naked bodies—of slaves and freed people.[30] As such they were not portraits since they lack any contextual information, or the name of the person; they illustrate contemporaneous biological theories of race being disseminated in Brazil, though not yet widely accepted. Stahl's were shown at the second National Exhibition in 1866.[31] Such cartes de visites were circulated in Brazil between the 1860s and 1880s, as were caste-paintings in late 18th-century Spanish America,[32] but Stahl's were exhibited only once as photographs. Even though praised for their “exceptionally high quality” by the painter Victor Meirelles they were excluded from the Brazilian representation at the London Exhibition of 1862, but at subsequent world's fairs they were present as engraved copies illustrating Swiss-American naturalist Louis AgassizA Journey in Brazil (1868)[33] circulated at the Vienna Universal Exhibition (1873) and the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (1876).[29]



In Australia Manchester-born William Davies began his photographic career with Walter Woodbury (inventor of the Woodburytype) and established several studios in Melbourne from 1858.[34] William Davies and Co at 98 Bourke St., being opposite the Theatre Royal, sold cartes de visite of famous actors, actresses and opera singers. The company also specialised in carte de visite portraits of Protestant clergymen posed as if writing their sermons.[35] The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express of May 1863 finds it noteworthy that "a gentleman had occasion to advertise for a cook. Amongst other applications in answer to his advertisement was one from a "young lady" of the profession, enclosing her carte de visite and stating her salary."[36]

As social media


Now regarded as an early manifestation of "social media",[37][1] cartes-de-visite were an adjunct to letter-writing; unlike the fragile daguerreotypes which preceded them and which also were used predominantly for portraits, they could be posted in regular manufactured envelopes which had become available only ten years before.

For example, as Belknap notes, Charles Darwin exchanged in his correspondence a large number; 132 photographic portraits before 1882. Their value to him was demonstrated in his response to their gift of an album by Dutch naturalists containing 217 carte de visites; "...for the few remaining years of my life, whenever I want cheering, I will look at the portraits of my distinguish co-workers in the field of science, and remember their generous sympathy. When I die the album will be the most precious bequest to my children."[38]

However, as a Saturday Review, of 1862 notes; "The demand for photographs is not limited to relations or friends. […] Anyone who has seen you, or has seen anybody that has seen you, or knows anyone that says he has seen a person who thought he had seen you, considers himself entitled to ask you for your photograph."[39][40][41]

John Ruskin considered a photograph of him taken by William Downey as ʻvisible libelʼ, while Punch illustrator John Tenniel discovered John Watkins selling a portrait of himself that he found unflattering and tried to prevent further sales. Women in particular found themselves vulnerable to having their pictures purchased by 'cads' who would boast that she had gifted them the image and, given the moral standards of the day, discovered their reputations 'tarnished'.[1]

Photographers were in effect publishers, distributing thousands of copies of their images. They would pay a well-known sitter in return for the right to publish their photograph; “the person photographed was offered a flat fee ranging from 25 to 1000 dollars, depending upon notoriety, or a royalty based upon the number of copies sold”.[42] Those whose faces attracted sales, or who already had some incidental notoriety, earned further celebrity and might thus trade on it. However, copyright laws enacted contemporaneously in England protected photographers' rights over those of the subject.[1][4] Andrew Wynter noted in 1862 that:

"The commercial value of the human face was never tested to such an extent as it is at the present moment in these handy photographs. No man, or woman either, knows but some accident may elevate them to the position of hero of the hour and send up the value their countenances to a degree they never dreamed of."[43]



By the early 1870s, cartes de visite began to be supplanted by the cheaper tintypes franchised as the "American Gem," and by "cabinet cards" (the term established in Cabinet painting), which were also usually albumen prints, but larger, and mounted on cardboard backs measuring 110 mm (4.5 in) by 170 mm (6.5 in). Nevertheless, while larger framed prints became available at photography studios, the two smaller formats were the main trade of professional portrait photographers even between 1888, when George Eastman introduced the mass produced and pre-loaded Kodak which industrialised the processing and printing of amateurs' photographs,[44] and 1900, when the Brownie camera simplified the technology and so reduced the cost of the medium that snapshot photography became a mass phenomenon.


See also



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