Carte-de-visite 1

Carte-de-Visite

The carte-de-visite or CdV was usually about 4" x 2.5" in size. They consisted of photographic prints mounted on thick card stock. Portraits were most often the subject on the cards, since the size of the cards was perfect for portraiture, and also because any subject more complex would not translate well in the small format.

How cartes-de-visites were made
The popularity of the carte-de-visite came because the production cost and time was greatly decreased from regular photography. The photograph was taken using a camera that could take multiple negatives on one photographic plate. Some cameras required the photographer to move the plate numerous times while other cameras had multiple lenses which took all the negative simultaneously. This was done so that the negatives would print quickly.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Bugler Dunne, 1900
Orig. CDV - Image 10 x 14 cms, frame oa 19.5 x 25 cms
Found - Berkshire, UK
Photo by WV Amey Landport Portsmouth
The prints were done by the albumen process, a process that used egg whites.  The previous process was done using salt and produced a flat picture with few half tones.  Although it was better than the fragile glass plates used before, the result was unsatisfactory.  After the albumen process was invented, photographic studios would order thousands of eggs every year. This process was used with both the negatives and the printing paper.  It is a precursor to the gelatine process used today. 
The negative plates were exposed to the photographic paper as contact prints.  This means that the negatives were placed directly onto the paper and then exposed to light, so that the resulting print was the same size as the negative. The craze of the carte-de-visite caused quantity to be more important than quality.
The photography studio that created the carte-de-visite would put their signature on the back of each card. The signatures became more and more elaborate as each studio competed for business.
Some History of Carte-de-Visites

The precursor of the cards was the calling card.  Visitors would give their calling cards to their hosts when having a social visit.  They simply had a name engraved or printed on glossy paper.  In later years, the design of the names became more elaborate.

The carte-de-visite was introduced by Andre Disdéri from France. In 1854 he patented the idea. A myth has been spread about Napolean III visiting Disdéri's studio to have his photograph taken while in Paris on his way to Italy with his army, making the carte-de-visite popular.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Lady Agnes Macdonald, Wife of Sir John A Macdonald
Orig. photo CDV - Size - 4.25 x 6.5"
Found - Grimsby, ON
Photo 1878, by Topley, Ottawa, Canada

Whether or not Napolean III ever had his photo taken at Disdéri's studio, the fame of these “visiting cards” spread and many people had them done, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Over one hundred thousand carte-de-visites were sold to the public of the Royal Family. Collecting cards with pictures of famous and royal people was very popular.  They were kept in carte albums, the forerunner of photo albums. The cards were cheap, small, light, easy to collect, easy to carry and easy to send to relatives. This caused them to be popular from the 1860s till the early 1900s. They reached their greatest popularity was in the 1870s and 1880s. In the early 1900s, prints called cabinet cards took over due to their larger size.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Queen Victoria, Golden Jubilee 1887
Orig. CDV- Size - 4.5 X 6.25"
Found - Grimsby, ON
Photo by Bassano, 1887

The props used in carte-de-visite portraiture went through phases: railings and curtains, columns, bridges and stiles, hammocks, palm-trees and bicycles.

Carte-de-Visites in North America

The cards were introduced in North America in 1859 with much success due to the American Civil War.  Soldiers posed for the photographs before going off to fight.

The popularity of the carte-de-visite contributed to the growth of Canadian photography.  It became a major source of revenue for photographers.  In 1851, there were 11 photographers in Canada.  By 1865 there were 360 photographers in Canada.  Several photography studios in Canada thrived due to the popularity of the carte-de-visite.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada
Orig. photo CDV - Size - 4.25 x 6.5"
Found - Grimsby, ON
Photo 1878, by Topley, Ottawa, Canada
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Princess Louise, Marquise of Lorne
Orig. photo CDV - Size - 4.25 x 6.5"
Found - Grimsby, ON
Photo 1878, by Topley, Ottawa, Canada
Cabinet Cards

The portrait cabinet card appeared in 1866 and eventually took over the carte-de-visite.  They declined by the early 1900s with the carte-de-visite, giving way to the snapshot and the scrapbook album. 

Cabinet cards were made using the same process as the carte-de-visite, but were larger in size.  The dimensions of a standard cabinet card were 6.5 x 4.5 inches.  The board mounted to the cabinet card also tended to be thicker than the carte-de-visite board. 

The cabinet card was often used for landscape views before being used for portraiture.  After being adopted for portraits, the styles used in the portraiture were very similar to the styles used in carte-de-visite portraiture.  However, the photographers used the larger size to their advantage by displaying a larger amount of detail.

The carte-de-visite replaced the calling card, so it’s use was similar in the beginning.  People handed out and collected these small cards.  They were not generally used for display.  The cabinet card’s size allowed it to be displayed and be seen across a room, and thus small stands were made to hold them.  The cabinet card actually caused the demise of the carte-de-visite album, since they were too large to be kept in an album.  Some albums were made with large enough sections to hold the cabinet cards, but they tended to be very heavy and the purpose of the cabinet card was more for display than collection.  The album would reappear later with the rise of the snapshot.  Since the snapshot did not require a board baking (it employed the new gelatin process), the albums used to store collections of snapshots were lighter.

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c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000