Chapter 8
Cases, Mounts, and Cartes de Visite

This chapter also describes cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, crayon prints, and US Revenue stamps.

Daguerreotypes were always enclosed in hinged cases with glass protecting the fragile surface; ambrotypes were glass-covered if their emulsion side faced front. These pictures were expensive for the times, and handsome packaging was justified. Louis Daguerre adopted the cases for his new pictures from artists of the period who painted miniatures. It was a natural evolution, and the cases were good protection for the glass‑bound pictures. The earliest cases were made of tooled leather on wood frames; cost reduction soon produced embossed and lacquered paper. Cases molded of a mixture of shellac, sawdust, and pigments, called Union cases, were actually the first products of the infant molded plastics industry, appearing in 1854.

Some tintypes were also mounted in cases, especially during the chronological overlapping of Daguerreotypes and collodion.
Tintypes were completely different from the types they displaced: they were much cheaper and less fragile, and did not have to be protected in velvet‑lined cases. For these reasons relatively few of the surviving cases contain tintypes as originally sold. Of course it is possible for tintypes to have been inserted in salvaged cases at any later date including the present. It would be tempting to define these cases as reliable descriptors of Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, but what one person can case, another can uncase, so to speak. Helmut Gernsheim has told the story (PhotoHistory V Symposium 29 October 1982, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.) of seeing American soldiers in France after World War II buying bushel baskets (literally) of Daguerreotypes, discarding the contents, and inserting their own snapshots in the salvaged cases for the folks back home. Such specimens would represent rather obvious anomalies if they ever find their way into the antique markets.

Since these cases can be taken apart, it is likely that this has happened before and will happen again. Sometimes they are described by dealers as having locks of hair inside, or the name of the subject and date. The prospect of finding valuables inside almost guarantees that there are few unopened cases by now. Some dealers like to demonstrate to prospective buyers how easily their cases come apart, as if that were a virtue.

Sometimes missing parts such as lids are replaced from other cases in an effort to create a more marketable assembly. This is probably enough to say about the integrity of cases as identifiers of the pictures they contain.

Dating cases
Welling [149, 18‑25] has a number of illustrations and discussion; see also Welling [150, 40‑41]. Newhall [104, 127‑ 133] has a useful discussion but few illustrations. Most general histories mention cases in passing. Taft [140, 160] has an interesting sidelight on cases for daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes.

References G, K, and L contain detailed information on cases. Mace (Ref D) also is informative.

Cabinet Cards and Cartes‑de‑Visite
The carte‑de‑visite, or photographic calling card, was patented in 1854 by the Frenchman Adolphe‑Eugene Disderi. Cartes, cabinet cards, and about fifteen similar card mounts probably represent the largest body of surviving 19th century photographs. The numbers manufactured worldwide were in the tens of billions. Portraits were commonest, but view cards were also popular. The definitive reference is Darrah [40] from whom we quote: "... with experience, about 95% of the cartes issued between 1860 and 1885 can be dated with reliability of plus or minus one year". Dating is based on decorative imprints, photographers' logos, and evolution in the paper characteristics. Their importance as a time scale is thus very significant.

Some sizes, in inches, are summarized below:

Table 3

Cartes 2‑1/8 x 3‑1/2 2‑1/2 x 4 1861, rare after 1905
4 x 5‑1/2 4‑1/2 x 6‑1/2 1866
3 x 4‑1/2 4‑1/2 x 6‑1/2 c c 1870 ‑ 1876
1‑15/16 x 2‑13/16
3‑3/4 x 7

5 x 8‑1/2

Most were gold‑toned albumen paper made from wet collodion glass negatives, but cartes were also made from gelatin-silver and collodion prints, and from collotypes and Woodburytypes. A few of the early ones were salt prints from collodion negatives, but this type of paper was less durable than the glossy albumen. In the 1890's bromide paper began to be used; the color was gray to black instead of the characteristic rose brown or faded yellow of albumen.

Woodburytype cartes were popular in England from about 1875‑ 1882. They were rare in the United States in carte form. Other types were permanent chromotypes or Lambertypes, made by the Swan carbon‑transfer process, or the Autotype Company. They had a glazed finish, were usually identified on the mount, and were made about 1876 ‑ 1883. "Mezzotints", so labeled, were merely soft focus prints. Cameos, made about 1868, were albumen prints embossed on a form that gave them a convex shape (see Fig. 3). Cartes‑de‑visite and cabinet cards sometimes bear trademarks that appear to be representative of the process but are not always literally true.

Tinting of cartes had a short vogue in the United States from about 1860 ‑ 1865. It was more common in Europe and Asia. Crayon portraits were made by a process used mostly for enlargements, and are discussed below and in Appendix II.

Darrah [40, 194‑196] and Gilbert [65, 91; 107] have very useful summaries of dating information. Pilling [117] and Welling [149, 65; 71] have also discussed dating.

Crayon Prints
Many cabinet cards bear advertising on the backs relating to "crayon prints", but curiously there are few references to details of the technique. Cassell's encyclopedia [84] describes crayons as "small pencils of pipeclay, kaolin, or chalk incorporated with various mineral or metallic pigments, etc.... In process work, lithographic crayons, consisting of a mixture of wax, shellac, soap, and lampblack ..." Lithographic crayons are therefore somewhat like our modern crayons, but they were used in processing rather than in the final prints. The conclusion from this is that crayon prints were hand tinted with what we would call colored chalk. Water colors were also frequently used for tinting. Darrah [40, 191] mentions crayon prints and tinting; further details are found in our study in Appendix II.

Revenue Stamps
All photographs were required to carry United States Revenue stamps on the back (Fuller, [57]) from August 1864 to August 1866, which is a reliable reference for those two years if there is no sign of tampering. A few photographs have handwritten names and dates on the back, but sadly these are uncommon. It has been estimated that less than ten percent of surviving nineteenth century photographs are dated, or the subjects identified.