As a collector it’s always nice to have items from local towns and cities as in this cabinet card of a Nottingham man.
Cabinet cards began to take over from CDVs from the late 1860s onwards though they did not sell in such high volumes as the CDV. They often offer better and clearer photographs due to their larger size of 5.5 by 4 inches. As their name suggests these photographs can be easily mounted on a cabinet in your sitting room though they were often mounted in albums too.
Above is another cabinet card of the rabbit man I featured in an earlier post. Quite what the baby is doing sat on the table and who the other disreputable looking people in the photograph I can’t say.
This third cabinet card is so formal that there’s something quite sad about it. No idea of the nationality or uniform of the man though I’m guessing Maltese from the extraordinary detail on the reverse of the card.
(The CDV pictured above is of better quality than the average and, because the subject includes a girl with her pet, it is very collectable. For me though the real interest is the chair which is clearly decorated in the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau style. Furniture of this quality is rarely seen in old photographs of any kind.)
The carte-de-visite was the first type of photograph that was affordable to the average person. The idea was advanced by a French photographer, Louis Dodero, in 1851 and by the mid 1850s the process was established of using sliding plate holders that could take several 2.5 x 4 inch carte-size photographs on a single plate.
By the mid-1860s the format had become widely and wildly popular. The cost of a dozen CDVs was around 12s 6d (62.5p). Because they were so mass produced they all tended to look similar though for a little more you could be artfully arranged with antiques and expensive furnishings as backdrops. The more run-of-the-mill studios used painted backdrops.
In 1866 the CDV gradually began to be replaced by the larger Cabinet Card though they were still being produced well into the early twentieth century. Despite their name there is no evidence that CDVs were ever really used as visiting cards.
CDVs can be bought for a few pence still (50p is probably the norm) though prices will rise as they become scarcer. If the CDV quality is above average or if the subject is more famous or falls into a more collectable category such as pets, stage actors etc. then prices will be much higher. As with any antique collectable the very best examples can command hundreds of pounds.
One thing to look out for with CDVs (and Cabinet Cards) is that many have backs decorated with studio details which are often more interesting than the subject on the front of the card.
Victorian photo albums could be very elaborate and often had a theme – the illustrations in this post all come from “Heroines of Tennyson.”
Exteriors were often leather and the flyleaves were works of art in themselves.
Interior pages could take either carte de visite (CDVs – in use from the mid-1850s) or the larger cabinet cards (1870s on). On the right you can see a cabinet card of an “angel” inserted into the page. The mounts are easily damaged and it’s rare to find albums that are undamaged throughout.
More about CDVs and Cabinet Cards in later posts.
The Victorians often displayed their photographs in albums with elaborate mounts. The frame above comes from one such album and I couldn’t resist inserting my own photograph into it. It’s easy to produce sepia-style photographs, pinhole photographs (see photo below) and other styles from years gone by with modern software. One of the best is Nik Silver FX, now available for free from Google though sadly it seems Google bought Nik out with no intention of continuing development of the tools. ON1 Photo also has a good selection of old photo effects though it’s relatively expensive to buy.
As soon as I wrote the title I realised the impossibility of the task. In the end I’ve cheated and chosen three favourite photographs.
The photo above has always been a favourite since I acquired it and I’m not quite sure why. It’s scratched, there’s a shadow in one corner and the composition breaks most of the rules. But there’s something both attractive and sinister about the shot as if it were an outtake from a David Lynch film. The girl looks enigmatic and attractive one moment but slightly scary at the next. And what’s she hiding behind her back?
Rabbit man is a delightful cabinet card. It must have been quite an achievement to line up the rabbits for the shot and why have they been arranged on a fancy tablecloth? And, sorry, but I’ve got to ask – are they pets are or they for eating or training dogs?
Finally, this cabinet card shows that not all Victorian portraiture features unsmiling men and women and that the photographers and the people who posed for them had a sense of humour.
I’m sure I’ll be posting more old favourites in the future.
For years I sporadically collected topographical postcards of the area I live in, like many people do. Then I found this photograph at a table-top sale in Cromford, where I live, and bought it for 50p. It was the beginning of my obsession for collecting real old photographs and it grabbed my attention because it was so intriguing.
What’s going on here? When was it taken? Does it have any real meaning? The man looks like he’s a Native American although it could just be someone dressing up for a tourist photograph. Maybe he appears in hundreds of photos with many different people shaking his hand. Was it taken somewhere in the USA or in a studio in Basingstoke? When I acquired it there was no way of telling. As time went by and I learnt more about old photos and real photographic postcards, the mystery only deepened.
Photographic postcards were produced by the million and they weren’t all of famous landscapes or people. Anyone could go to a studio, have pictures taken and then have them printed on postcards to send to their friends. However, this isn’t a photo postcard. A postcard has specific dimensions, markings on the back such as a divider and a stamp box and almost always the name and address of a photographer and/or the studio he or she worked for. This photograph is bigger than a postcard, has nothing on the back and is clearly a real photograph (as opposed to a real photographic postcard). Even if the man was hired out to appear with anyone who would like to be seen with him there would likely be, at the very least, a studio stamp on the reverse. There isn’t.
It’s probable that I’ll never know who these people were or the circumstances that led up to the photograph being taken but that’s what makes it so intriguing. It would be great to one day know the full story but it’s also fun to speculate what’s going on and keep searching for an answer. The only trouble now is that I have hundreds of photographs, every one of them with a mystery to solve.
And that’s how my obsession with collecting old photographs began.
I recently acquired a set of photographs which all seem to be of a Leeds based family. Many of them note the identity of the subjects on the reverse of the photograph. The person who owned the photographs and made the notes was a woman. We never see her own name but let’s call her Dana. On some of the photographs featuring groups of people she has marked the identity of certain group members with an “X.” It seems an odd thing to do because it spoils the photographs but it makes it easier to at least identify the relationships in this family.
In the photograph above she uses Xs to identify a woman with a child on her knee and the man standing behind her. It’s difficult to see the “Xs” at this resolution but there are bigger versions in the Flickr album I’ve created of the whole collection. This couple must be the Dana’s parents as she tells us on the reverse “My mam with me on her knee Dad on the back row.”
Here’s another example of how Dana tells us that this is “My grandma with X on her chest.”
Betty appears three times, once with Marjorie at Batley. Betty’s surname is given as “Raynor” on one of the photos. Is she Dana’s sister?
Marjorie appears three times, once with Betty. Note there’s an “X” again to identify Marjorie in the group photo.
The family dogs are not forgotten – here we see Dinkie, Rinty and Blackie.
Here are Cousin Dorothy and Auntie Florence.
I was hoping one of these gentlemen would turn out to be Dana’s father but she’s written on the back “John’s Father with his workmates from Yorkshire Copper Works.” There’s no clue as to who John is so it doesn’t help. Nevertheless the newspaper clipping provides fascinating detail.
Overall the collection illustrates some of the frustrations of collecting old photographs. Clearly there are intriguing stories behind them but nothing to definitively identify the subjects. From the notes and photography studio stamps we can place them in and around Leeds. Otherwise we can only be grateful for Dana’s “X”s to at least show some of the relationships.
You are looking at a photograph from my collection. I have no way of identifying who this is or when it was taken though I can make a guess based on the furniture and the woman’s clothes. The only clues are printed on the back: “voiglander” i.e. the camera and “Photo-Wolf, Hiddesden.” Was the photograph posed? Is it a candid shot? Is the woman suffering from ennui or is she in fact dead? (Unlikely I know but we have to consider all possibilities).
The photograph is a good representation of the tone that this new blog is going to adopt. It’s mysterious and it can easily be imagined to be a still from a film noir. There are slightly sinister undertones and we might also come to think of the subject as a femme fatale type. There are plenty more where this one came from.
I’ve set up this new blog to cover two different, though related, purposes:
- To write about my collection of old photographs and their significance.
- To write about writing. More specifically to write about the my previously published work, my soon to be published work and work in progress.
How are these two things linked? If I had to pick one word to describe both the photographs and the writing I’d choose noir.