New-York Historical Society carte de visite photograph collection
Language of Materials
The collection consists of circa 6,000 photographic prints, most albumen on card mounts (2 1/2 x 4 in.); circa 150 engravings; lithographs, and photomechanical prints also on card mounts. The majority of images in the Society's collection date from the 1860s when the carte de visite photograph became the chief commercial portrait medium, showing only the sitter's head and shoulders. Many depict soldiers and officers in Civil War uniform. Later cards feature full-length figures posed in studio settings. Images of the members of the 1867 New York State Constitutional Convention are grouped together. Persons with more than ten portraits in the collection include: Robert Anderson, Nathaniel P. Banks, John Wilkes Booth, William Cullen Bryant, Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, Jefferson Davis, Elmer Ellsworth, David Farragut, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, William Pitt Kellogg, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, George B. McClellan, George Gordon Meade, William T. Sherman, and the concert singer Emma Thursby. Scenes of New York and other locations, Civil War views, natural history hand-colored lithographs, copies of miscellaneous paintings and other objects complete the file. Many photographs of New York City churches are from a series taken by New York photographer George Stacy, in circa 1863. Researchers seeking photographs of prominent persons or Union soldiers should consult this file; also those interested in costume history or the history of photography will find material of interest.
The carte de visite photograph was patented in France in 1854, and quickly became a popular fad both in Europe and the United States. The photographs were made using a special camera which took a number of photographs (usually 8), which were then developed through the collodion wet-plate process, and printed on albumen paper, which was then mounted on a standard size of card stock (2 ½ x 4 in.). The photographs were inexpensive to produce and to purchase, and became a way for individuals to share photographs of themselves with friends and family members, and for individuals to collect the images of locally and nationally prominent people, local and foreign views, and other keepsake images. Special albums were produced for holding the small photographs.
Cartes de visite began to appear in the United States in the summer of 1859, and continued to be produced up to about 1900, although their prime period of popularity had ended by around 1870, when larger, cabinet-size photographs (introduced in the U.S. in 1866) became more readily available and affordable. Throughout the 1860s, the carte de visite was the chief commercial portrait medium.
The collection is organized in four series:
- Series I.
- Series II.
- Series III.
- Civil War
- Series IV.
Scope and Contents
The Carte de Visite Photograph Collection contains mounted albumen photographs in the carte de visite format, with the bulk of the images, individual portraits, filed alphabetically by sitter. While the vast majority of the collection is photographic, it also includes engravings, lithographs, and photo-mechanical prints mounted on cards. Most of the images date from the 1860s. Many portraits depict soldiers and officers in Civil War uniform; indeed the overlapping time period of the carte de visite craze and the Civil War makes this collection an important resource for Civil War-era portraits and views.
Many photographers are represented in the collection, although there is no index to photographer. Represented photographers hail from twenty-two foreign countries, and thirty-two states. One hundred and twelve New York City photographers and eight Brooklyn photographers are represented as well. Prominent photographers and publishers include E. & H. T. Anthony, D. Appleton & Co., Mathew Brady, Jeremiah Gurney & Son, George G. Rockwood, and Napoleon Sarony. The collection is arranged in four series: Portraits, Views, Civil War, and Miscellaneous.
Series I. Portraits holds most of the images in the collection. The following list of sitters is current as of March 2005. The series is arranged in two subseries: Photographic Portraits and Printed Portraits.
• Subseries I. Photographic Portraits includes identified and unidentified men, women, and children. Sixty-five percent of the subseries is identified photographic portraits of men, women, and children, while the remaining 35 percent are unidentified. This subseries sometimes includes photographs of paintings of the person. Unidentified sitters are filed by gender and thereunder by type of portrait (full-length, bust, etc.). Persons with more than ten portraits in the collection include: Robert Anderson, Nathaniel P. Banks, John Wilkes Booth, William Cullen Bryant, Ambrose Burnside, Benjamin Butler, Jefferson Davis, Elmer Ellsworth, David Farragut, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, William Pitt Kellogg, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, George B. McClellan, George Gordon Meade, William T. Sherman, and the concert singer Emma Thursby. Specific groups of sitters are filed after the alphabetical list of sitters and the unidentified sitters. These include circus and theatrical performers, European royalty, Native Americans, sitters in foreign costume (all unidentified), and members of the 1867 New York State Constitutional Convention. All photos of the latter category were taken by the studio of Jeffers & McDonald, at No. 519 Broadway, Albany.
• Subseries II. Printed Portraits contains engravings issued in carte de visite format. Most of those held here are bust portraits of Civil War generals, many from a series printed by L. Prang. Most are identified.
Series II. Views includes photographs and a few prints of views in Europe, Central America, New York City and other states. The photographs of New York City churches are mostly from a series taken by New York photographer George Stacy, in circa 1863. Other views from this same church series were tipped in to larger sheets of paper, and can be found foldered together in the New-York Historical Society Collection of Geographic Images (PR 020).
Series III. Civil War includes scenes from the war, and some composite and group portraits of officers. Individual portraits can be found in Series I.
Series IV. Miscellaneous includes cartes de visite that do not fit into the previous series. Photographs of paintings, and of objects can be found here. Many paintings are genre scenes, many by John P. Soule. Hand-colored lithographs of natural history specimens are also included.
Open to qualified researchers by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, contact the Print Room Librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 20 exposures of stable, unbound material per day. Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, email@example.com. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.
Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
The collection should be cited as: Carte de Visite Photograph Collection, PR-011, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, New-York Historical Society.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Carte de Visite Photograph Collection was accumulated over time, primarily during the 19th and 20th centuries, from a variety of sources.
The collection is open for additional accessions. The most recent addition was received in 2020.
About this Guide
Collection inventoried and WORD document finding aid created by New-York Historical Society staff in March 2005. Archivist Joseph Ditta migrated the finding aid to ArchivesSpace in May 2020.