Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards



The carte de visite (visiting card) is a small, thin albumin print mounted on thick card stock.  These photographs were used both as calling cards and as gifts to family and friends. Popular from the late 1850s to the early 1870s (although still produced in the early 20th century) CDVs were a hit in Europe and North America and the size (2½” x 4″) was standard among countries.

The carte de visite was patented in France by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854. His technique of taking 8 portraits on each photographic plate was relatively inexpensive and easy to make. This made portraiture affordable to the middle class.  Royalty and celebrities also sat for these portraits which made them instantly collectible.

During the 1860s, CDVs became the standard medium for photos of Civil War soldiers. Albums for collecting and displaying cards became common in Victorian homes.

The popularity of the carte de visite began to wane in 1866 when the larger (4″ x 5½”) cabinet card was introduced. The cabinet card was popular until the 1920s when amateur photographers were able to have their own photographs printed directly onto postcards. These affordable photos quickly made traditional cabinet cards obsolete.

Are they valuable?  Like anything vintage or antique value is determined by a number of factors such as age, condition and scarcity.  CDVs are not rare items – they were produced by the millions in the 19th century. Autographed CDVs of prominent people are generally the most valuable. In 2015, a signed carte de visite of Abraham Lincoln sold for $49,913USD.

About Penny Schneider

Penny Schneider, TEP is a Trained Professional Organizer who works specifically with executors on estates. On the 1st of each month Penny writes short pieces about things important to executors (what to do when) and on the 15th with things an executor might find (what to do with). Penny assists clients throughout Toronto, York Region and the surrounding area.
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