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April 16, 2021

Identifying Ancestor Photos: Cartes de Visite

Genealogists often have old family photos in their possession or they find some in Great Aunt Matilda's attic. But how do we know when the photograph was taken? One method is to determine what type of photograph it is

Photography arrived in the United States in 1839 thanks to Samuel F. B. Morse, an American artist and inventor. The earliest type is the Daguerreotype. Ambrotypes followed, coming into use circa 1854. By 1860 Cartes de Visite (CDVs) were becoming popular.

Cartes de Visite

Cartes de Visite are photographs mounted on a small (4x2.5") cardboard card. They became extremely popular as a method of collecting photographs of friends and family members to place in elaborate albums. A CDV could be easily duplicated in contrast to the earlier daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.

Estimating Dates of a CDV

Early 1860s CDVs have square corners. By 1870 many had rounded corners. The thinner the cardboard backing, the earlier the Cartes de Visite. Photographers logos, found on the verso (back) of the CDV also began to change, becoming more elaborate in later years.

Examples of Cartes de Visite

1877 Cartes de Visite, round corners

1864 CDV
1872 CDV with round corners

CDV 1872
1871 CDV

Learn More about Cartes de Visite

Watch my video on Five Types of Early 19th Century Photographs

Read more about Cartes de Visite on my Lost Faces website

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