1854 - Late 19th Century
In 1854, Frenchman Andre Adolph Disderi was granted a patent for a small photographic print mounted on to a 2.5x3.5" card, this format was to become known as Carte de Visite. The prints themselves were produced using the Albumen process. An Albumen print was produced on a thin sheet of paper coated with an egg-white emulsion and exposed in contact with a glass negative ( Wet Plate ). The introduction of negatives along with the continued use of multi lens cameras provided a means for quality, inexpensive production. An average portrait sitting would culminate in up to a dozen or more cards from single negative plate. More than ever, portraits could be shared and distributed and many people began to collect photographs in the now popular family album. Photographic studios began to take advantage of this new mass produced format and began embellishing the cards with studio names, This ranged from modest typeset initials below the image to embossed logos and beautifully ornate advertisements on the reverse of the card. From it's presentation right through to the studio backgrounds and props the Carte de Visite celebrated in every way the aesthetic excesses of the Victorian era.
During the 1860's a larger card format was introduced, inspired by the carte de visite. The cabinet card exhibited many features of the carte, however with an average overall size of 4 1/4 x 6 1/2" it was considerably larger than its earlier counterpart. Due to the larger negative required, a full plate could yield only 2 exposures compared to the dozen or so obtained with the carte de visite.
Initially cabinet cards were produced exclusively using the Albumen print process, however during the 1870's the new silver gelatin process began to be employed. Silver gelatin prints can often be identified by their neutral tones, in contrast to the Albumen's reddish brown sepia tones.
The new format began to move the family photo collection out of the once popular album and now often displayed in sitting room cabinets, thus it was named. The larger size of portraits created demand for a new art of photo retouching, removing facial blemishes and creases along with negative defects. Studios began to take advantage of the larger size, introducing more highly detailed backgrounds and props as well as enhancing logos and card embellishments.
The cabinet card remained popular for some three decades before market demands and technological advances began to change in the early 20th century.
The popularity of the card photograph was such that as the demand
for both larger and smaller photographs grew, many new standardised
formats of cards began to be produced. The development of Silver Gelatin
prints enabled images to be enlarged or reduced with good clarity.
On the smaller scale, the Minette Card measured
roughly half the size of the carte de visite. At the larger scale
Imperial Cards were twice the size of a Cabinet card.
In the early 20th Century the variety of card sizes was enormous with
studios beginning to produce their own custom sizes often as large
as 11x14 to suit their markets.
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