Carte de Visite
There are several versions of the introduction of the carte de visite, but all agree that they became popular in the late 1850s. They retained their popularity until the late 1860s when it started to decline but they were still produced in the 1900s. Cartes de visite consist of a print stuck to a card mount of about 4 ⅛" x 2 ½" in size. The prints were mostly albumen and, later, emulsion based printing-out-paper. Other processes, including carbon and Woodburytype, were also used.
Cartes de visite considerably reduced the cost of having a portrait taken and made it within reach of most people, as a result there was a dramatic increase in the number of studio photographers. They also started a collecting craze - only possible with a standardised format. Cartes were collected of the extended family, and of royalty and the famous.
Many cartes were kept in albums, special forceps were sold to remove the cartes through slots in the page. Optical viewers and other viewing devices were produced.
Early cartes were usually on plain mounts either white, cream or similar, with square corners. The photographer's name, if on the front of the card, was in small lettering, the reverse had a restrained look to it. Later mounts were in different colours - yellow, green, pink and black were popular, the mounts were thicker than previous and had rounded corners, the mounts often had gold edges and sometimes a border around the print. The photographer's name became more prominent and the reverse of the card carried an elaborate design. A tissue guard was often attached to the mount.
Most cartes are of single portraits, groups were less common as were topographical and architectural subjects. Cartes, often in a series, depicting comic scenes were produced. Early cartes usually show a full length figure, later, head and shoulders and three-quarter length poses were more common, the use of oval vignettes were also typical of later cartes. As a variant to a flat print some later cartes had their central part raised either by placing the card in a press or placing padding between the print and the mount. Cartes with several small raised portions, a small portrait on each, were also made.1
Most cameras used for carte de visite photographs were fitted with multiple lenses or had a repeating back allowing several images to be captured on a single plate. This reduced the processing costs as only a single plate had to be sensitised and developed, and a single contact print from the plate yielded several images. There was also less wastage, with a wet collodion plate 'thumb' room, where the plate was held whilst being sensitised, and the area lost due to the silver corner pieces in the dark slide, would be considerable for a single small image.2
This size of mount (6 ½" x 4 ¼") was popular from the time of its introduction in 1866 by F. R. Window (of Window & Bridge), it remained popular until around 1900. The size was introduced to revitalise the portrait business as the fashion for cartes waned.3 The mounts and backs of the cards correspond to late cartes de visite with late examples being very rich in ornamentation.
Other Size Mounts
Following the popularity of the carte de visite and the cabinet mount other sizes were introduced. The following list of card sizes is taken from an advertisement by Edwin Oborne in the British Journal Photographic Almanac of 1892 (size in inches).
|Carte de visite||4 ⅛ x 2 ½||Midget||2 ¼ x 1 ⅝|
|Cabinet||6 ½ x 4 ¼||Victoria Midget||2 ⅜ x 1 ½|
|Imperial||10 x 6 ⅞||Cabinet Midget||2 11/16 x 1 ¾|
|Promenade||8 ¼ x 4||Promenade Midget||3 ¼ x 1 ⅝|
|Boudoir||8 ½ x 5 ½||Boudoir Midget||3 ⅜ x 1 15/16|
|Panel||13 x 7 ½|
|Large Panel||17 x 10 ½|
|Grand Panel||23 x 13 ¾|
The mounts for studio photographs were sold by large wholesale houses such as Marion, the designs on the back of the card were usually standardised so that only the photographer's details need be changed. Another part of the trade supplied studio furniture, backgrounds and props; to remain in fashion, and for the sake of novelty, a photographer would need to change his props on a regular basis.
References & Notes
Howarth-Loomes, Victorian Photography. A Collectors Guide, p. 81. Gernsheim, History of Photography, p. 293.
 The credit for a card having four small portraits, called a Diamond Cameo, is usually given to F.R. Window.
 Some cameras made by Dallmeyer for single images exist. Stereo cameras were often sold with an extra back to take two cartes.
 Phot. News 18/5/1866, p. 289. 17/8/1866, p. 385. G.W. Wilson has a claim to the introduction of this size of print but not in the context of the portrait trade.