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Collecting CDV Carte de Visites: Antique Vintage Victorian Photos

It's best to search for ancestors by entering one term in the search box below such as surname, a city or town, a county, a state, a country or a keyword such as England, Civil War, CDV, Minnesota, Pennsylvania etc.

1860's CDV Hattie & Dora Keith Genealogy New Jersey
c. 1860-70's CDV Carte de Visite Photograph of Hattie Keith & Dora Keith, NJ Photographer: Levi Longcor, Washington, New Jersey. Counties: Bergen, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Sussex, and Warren. 

...and click here to view 1000's of antique ID'd family photos on Ancestorville.

Photography: An Article about the History of Antique CDV Carte de Visite Photographs by Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

...Here at Ancestorville, we have over 2,000 family identified vintage CDV Carte de Visite photographs to go up, all searchable by surname, county, photographer name and noted where they were found. They offer an invaluable look at early antique photography, family names, clothing, early textiles and fabric, hair styles, genealogy, regions, and also allow us to meet our lost family members face to face! Each offers an important clue as to surname, regional towns and area history, and connect lost family ties. Each Ancestorville family is waiting to be found, and can be purchased directly, or as digital scans.

     CDV or Carte de Visite photographs are small albumen (made with egg white) photo prints that were developed on thin paper. They were mounted on a heavier cut cardstock measuring about 2 1/2 by 4 inches. Different color mounts, square or rounded corners, styles and thicknesses, glued off center, backmarks of photographers etc. can be the important clues to dating your old family photographs.

     CDV History: A Frenchman, Andre Disderi, received a patent for CDV's in 1854, which allowed 8 negatives to be taken by a camera onto an 8 x 10 plate. First introduced in the US 1859, at the time of the start of the Civil War, CDV's were produced in the millions. The ease of size and paper format of this newfangled photograph allowed the CDV to be sent through the mail, a great benefit from the heavily glassed and protected and cased ambrotype and daguerreotype photos that were previously available.

     We often find the term "likeness" written on the back of many 19th c. photographs. A young Civil War soldier would proudly send his "likeness" home to a waiting beau, mother and family, and most likely it was a CDV photograph.

     Carte de Visite photographs are direct descendants of the Victorian Calling Card, thus the name, which translates to "visiting card". The Victorians were passionate "card" collectors, and it is reported that Queen Victoria filled between 35 and 100 CDV carte albums with CDV's she had personally collected. Her husband, Prince Albert, was an avid early photographer, with a photographic darkroom set up in Windsor Castle. England reportedly had annual sales of CDV's into the hundreds of millions. Although directed by her staff to consider taxing CDV sales, she refused, saying she wanted all the classes to delight in the hobby without being burdened by the government.
vintage antique cdv photo album
1860's Embossed Leather Victorian CDV Photo Album with Ornate Brass Hinges. Made by Carlton & Porter, New York. (from collection of author)

     Celebrity CDV's: In addition to the CDV photo portrait a family member might have had taken at their local photography studio, celebrity cards were produced specifically for the hobby of CDV collecting. They depict royalty, authors, writers, painters, politicians, presidents, generals, military heroes, abolitionists, poets, statesmen, actors & actresses, heroines, religious figures, scientists, and in general, all the movers and shakers in each field one could imagine in 19th century American and Victorian culture abroad. This early collecting mentality was similar in spirit and depth as to how popular baseball card collecting is in our modern times.

     With the advent of the CDV photograph to America, well known photographers such as Mathew Brady quickly unearthed his celebrity daguerreotype collection to copy into CDV format for the masses. Unfortunately, many were then freely copied by other photographers and distributed by the thousands. You will find many of these celebrity CDV's to have backmarks, and many not, as a great deal of them were unauthorized copies, or early "bootlegs." In the 1870's, the very famous actress Sarah Bernhardt wisely charged NYC celebrity photographer Sarony hundreds of dollars for a single CDV portrait sitting, in which he readily obliged. CDV's became big business.

1860's White & Hyler's Excelsior Photographic Hall, Middletown, Orange NY
Backmark: 1860's White & Hyler's (Hyler) Excelsior Photographic Hall, Middletown, Orange County, N.Y. This decorative Photographer's Backmark depicts a Civil War era family being photographed with CDV camera on a cast iron footed camera stand. (from collection of author)

     CDV Backmarks: A photographer's advertising backmark on a CDV is always more desirable in genealogy, as it offers clues to location, county, or city taken, as seen in the fancy example above. There are photo backmark collectors as well, as these backmarks offer beautiful typographic text and early graphic design, as well as clues to early photo galleries and studios. The above backmark is unusual, designed to cover the complete card back, and conveys the serene family photo taking session you might find in at the White & Hyler photo firm. The front is a vignette photo shot of a Civil War era gentleman in a heavy wool coat. Note the top two corners were trimmed, most likely to fit into a photo album, as many were. Note that many CDV's have very plainly printed photographer's backmarks or none at all. These are also beautiful, and collectible in their own right.

     Revenue Stamps: During the Civil War in America, revenue stamps were required on photographs, which were required to be canceled (usually marked or signed over) by the photographer. This can help date them. These stamps are collectible as well, with the blue "Playing Card" stamp to be the most desirable.
1866 Album Filler Antique CDV "Little Mischief"1866 "Album Filler" CDV called "Little Mischief" Published by the New York Photographic Company. Entered into the Act of Congress in the year 1866 by E.P. Barney, Pinxt. (a term telling us the artist did the "original" rendition) in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York. (from collection of author)

     CDV Album Fillers: As CDV photo albums were produced and very popular, another aspect of the collectible CDV is the "album filler". These fillers are genre copies of paintings and engravings, as seen in the example above. These are often found in the empty slots in a CDV photo album, after all the family CDV's were inserted. Most are less desirable than an actual photograph, although there are rare American rebel and confederate, abolitionist, slavery and satirical political scenes that are quite sought after. For example, we have seen an allegorical engraved mourning scene of Lincoln raising to heaven with George Washington, soon after his assassination. This would have been collected and proudly placed in the album alongside family members to show Union patriotic and political leanings.

1860's CDV post mortem dead baby photo
1860's CDV post mortem of a deceased infant, flowers in his/her hand.
CDV is unmarked (from collection of Jeffrey Kraus Antique Photographica)

     CDV Post Mortem Photographs: Another collectible CDV is called the "Post Mortem". Death was such an integral part of life in the 19th c., that it was not unusual for a photographer to often be called in to photograph a dead child or family member. Sadly, because of such a high mortality rate in Victorian era children, for many this was the only portrait taken in their shortened lives. This could be true for the elderly as well, before the invention of readily available photography. CDV post mortems are desirable and collectible in the vintage photography world. For some undefinable reason, when we find them, they are rarely identified with family names.

      Outdoor CDVs: Most all CDV's are single or small group portraits. The exception is the "outdoor" CDV. Outdoor scenes are unusual, with frontier or western scenes very highly desirable. A traveling photographer could carry one camera and "shoot" the west, a new frontier. When found, they are a wonderful look into Victorian America and abroad, with scenes such as landscapes, towns, group scenes, occupational businesses, street scenes, architecture, barn raisings, churches, farmhouses, animals and carriage life. In this regard they can be seen as photojournalistic in nature.

CDV Vintage Photo Iceman Chamberlain, Medfield, MA
"The Ice Man" 1870-80's Occupational CDV Photo of an Iceman with his ice tongs. Chamberlain Photo Studio, Medfield, Massachusetts.

     Occupational CDVs: CDV's depicting work life as above are desirable and a collecting genre all their own. Photos of workers with tools, at benches, woodworking apparatus, doctor's equipment, cameras, phrenology heads, dental equipment, butcher aprons, paintbrushes, masonry, farming tools, women at sewing machines, inventions, patents, and etc. are considered desirable. Overall look closely at the photograph for clues. Toys and dolls in childrens hands are collectible, as well as certain books, especially if the spine or cover can be read to convey their occupation. We have, in our collection, a patent attorney ambrotype photograph, where the book in hand title can clearly be read. Sometimes research is needed as to what item or book a person may hold. This can be a very enjoyable mystery to decipher.

CDV Photo William Henry Cox M. Moulthrop New Haven, CT
c. 1860-70`s CDV Carte de Visite Photograph of William Henry Cox, CT. Photographer: M. Moulthrop, Phoenix Building, 298 Chapel St., New Haven, CT Connecticut. County: New Haven. This is a beautiful Cox family photo of a stunning looking gentleman, taken by a skilled photographer. 

     More on CDV's: The CDV format and size was standard around the world, allowing relatives to send pictures afar, knowing they would be handled and placed into similar hands as their own. A family in San Francisco, California could send a CDV home to family in the little Hudson valley town of Preston Hollow NY, and know their portraits would be proudly displayed in a similar fashion as their own. Likewise, this would be true with photos sent to England and all points abroad.

     Overall, we see each CDV on our site as a beautiful, one of a kind piece of history, and with the added benefit of a family surname attached! The ancestors portrayed in these these CDV's lay in graves across America and abroad, awaiting to be found. At times with unusual names, we have found explicit genealogy and family roots info online from one single CDV, as in item number Item# 2871. This is a beautiful CDV portrait of Caleb Tangier Smith taken at a photography studio in San Francisco, California. Please search for your family with us, and if not yet present at Ancestorville, we invite you to "adopt" a family and do some online genealogy research. We will be happy to add the info you may find to the listing. These spirits await being found by their 21st century families and historian friends. Enjoy and good luck! — Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

...and click here to view 1000's of antique ID'd family photos on Ancestorville.

debra clifford ancestorville      Join ~debra on facebook at Ancestorville Genealogy on the topic of lost family antique items, early photographs, genealogy surnames and family history topics. Search our site for your lost family antique material by family surname, county, town, city and state.

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