A carte de visite was a small photograph, the same size as a calling card, that was patented by Adolph Eugene Disderi in 1854. The cards quickly became a craze and were exchanged between friends and stored in special albums. The carte de visite was usually made of an albumen print, which was a thin paper photograph mounted on a thicker paper card. The size of a carte de visite is 54.0 mm (2.125 in) × 89 mm (3.5 in) mounted on a card sized 64 mm (2.5 in) × 100 mm (4 in). In 1854, Disdéri had also patented a method of taking eight separate negatives on a single plate, which reduced production costs. The carte de visite was slow to gain widespread use until 1859, when Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III’s photos in this format. This made the format an overnight success. The new invention was so popular that its usage became known as “cardomania” and spread quickly throughout Europe and then to America and the rest of the world.
By the 1870s they had been supplanted somewhat by cabinet cards which were similar but larger in size, however they remained a cheaper option for many and continued to be produced right through until the end of the Victorian era. Today we are looking at an example of a private soldier taken in India at the end of the 19th Century:
It was the cheapness of carte de visite that would have allowed someone as lowly as a private to be able to have his picture taken cheaply and easily to send back to his loved ones in Britain or to pass to friends as a souvenir.
The soldier wears the typical khaki drill uniform of a soldier serving in India. One interesting feature of the uniform however, is that at this time period they were produced with cartridge loops on the chest to carry rounds of ammunition for ready access in a firefight:
The soldier wears brass shoulder titles on each epaulette, but unfortunately they are too blurry to make out which regiment he belongs to. One feature i really like about this image is the straightness of his hair parting- he was clearly a rather dapper man who took time and pride in his appearance!
These late Victorian cards are starting to creep up in value, however they are still pretty affordable and an interesting area to build up a collection around.