Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The carte-de-visite - fit for the Queen and commoners alike

The early 1860s saw the rapid popularization of the carte de visite as the photographic medium of choice. Although the method had been invented and patented by Andre Disdéri in 1854, it was not until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had their portraits taken that it began to catch on. John Mayall in London and Oliver Sarony in Scarborough were said to have made small fortunes selling portraits of the royal family and other famous people. The main reason for the popularity was its low production cost, a result of being able to produce a number of photos on a single plate, which brought down the price to a level affordable to most, as is shown on the reverse of this 1872 carte de visite.

1 Copy ............1/- | 12 Copies ............5/-
3 do .............2/- | 24 do ...............9/-
6 do .............3/- | 50 do ..............18/-

This photo of an elderly woman in a rather ordinary looking dress is marked in pencil on the reverse, "1872 - 68091." The latter is the negative number, and 1872 appears to be the year in which it was taken - apparently, because it is important to be careful with any inscriptions on old photographs. They may have been written by anyone, and at any time since it was originally produced. The clothes worn by the woman, the card mount shape (square corners), thickness of the card, and card design, all point to a date of the early 1870s.

PhotoLondon's online database of London photographers shows Alexander L. Henderson (1838-1907) as working from a studio at 49 King William Street, London Bridge between 1860 and November 1887, and from a second premises at 2 Devonshire Place, Amersham Road, New Cross, Deptford between 1864 and 2 January 1873. After 2 January 1873, that branch moved to 3 Amersham Road, New Cross. This confirms that the photo probably was taken in or around 1872.

References/Further Reading
A History of Photography: Carte de visite, by Robert Leggatt
A Brief History of the Carte de Visite, by the American Museum of Photography


  1. Hi Brett, this has been most helpful, I'm posting a few CdV on our library Flickr site and wanted to get some comtemporaty prices.Cheers, John


  2. Glad to be of help,John, and nice to see your library's photo collection online - great work!


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