The Carte de Visite

A Tiny Remembrance

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

In 1854, French photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi created and patented the first cartes de visite on paper at low cost, and this new type of photography became wildly popular. A carte de visite consisted of an albumen photograph on thin paper, affixed to a cardboard mount, which was 2.5 x 4 inches.  Unlike earlier types of photography such as tintypes, daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, the carte de visite could easily be mounted in photo albums. Disderi’s method made it possible to capture eight negatives on a single 8 x 10” glass plate.

The carte de visite made it way to New York in 1859 and immediately caught on. Most of the cartes portrayed individuals—men, womencouples and children, families. During the Civil War many cartes de visite showed soldiers and sailors before they went off to war. The phenomenon of the carte de visite lasted until about 1910. In addition to the social dimension, the cartes also portrayed famous generals and presidents. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln became a prized “collectable.”

Mystic photographer Everett A. Scholfield produced many cartes, including some of African Americans. Less common, because of the small size of the cartes and the difficulties associated with outdoor photography, were more complex compositions -- landscapes and buildings.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. How might a carte de visite compare to current social media? Do they accomplish the same goal?