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.
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  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
Some sizes, in inches, are summarized below:
||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
|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
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  and
Welling [149, 65; 71] have also discussed dating.
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  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
All photographs were required to carry United States Revenue
stamps on the back (Fuller, ) 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