|Princess Alice, second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and her husband, Prince Louis, later Grand Duke of Hesse.|
A carte de visite was a type of small photograph patented in Paris in 1854 by photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri. (The same year, Disdéri also patented a method of taking eight separate negatives on a single plate, which reduced production time and costs.) Usually made with an albumen print, a carte de visite consisted of a thin paper photograph sized approximately two by three-and-a-half inches mounted on a card of two-and-a-half by four inches. Each photograph was therefore the size of a visiting card. By the end of the 1850s, besides being the most common form of photography for the general public, widely shared among family and friends, the great popularity of these photograph cards led to the publication of cartes de visite of royalty and other prominent persons, which were sold and collected. Albums for the collection and display of these cards - both private and commercially produced - became a common fixture in mid-Victorian era homes.
|Princess Alice. The date printed on the image is exactly one year before her wedding day.|
But their great popularity lasted little more than a decade. By the early 1870s, cartes de visite were being supplanted by "cabinet cards", which were also usually albumen prints, but of a larger size, and mounted on cardboard backs. Cabinet cards remained popular into the early twentieth century, when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera and amateur photography became a worldwide phenomenon. By that time commercially produced images of royalty and other well-know persons were being distributed as picture postcards, and they were purchased and collected in just the same way that cartes de visite had been previously. (My collection consists almost entirely of these postcards; the twelve images here were almost accidentally acquired and are all that I own.)
These scanned images show the photographs about two-and-a-half times the original size; I've added in a few of the same images at actual size for comparison. It amazes me the amount of detail contained within such a tiny format and how well they've survived after more than one hundred and fifty years.
|Alexandra and her husband, the future Edward VII, on their wedding day, 10 March 1863.|
|Alexandra before her marriage, probably taken in 1862.|
|Alexandra, from a Danish card, taken prior to her marriage or produced to commemorate it.|
|Alexandra, Princess of Wales, 1866.|
|Another sister-in-law, Marie, Duchess of Edinburgh, wife of Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.|
The photograph was taken some time before her marriage.
|Marie, Duchess of Edinburgh, possibly around the time of her marriage in 1874. She was the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II.|
The photographer, Bergamasco, was resident in Russia and much favored by the Imperial court.
|The Empress Eugénie, taken soon prior to or soon after the fall of the French Second Empire. The card was produced in Belgium.|
|Napoléon, Prince Impérial, the only son of the Empress Eugénie and Emperor Napoléon III.|
This image is the latest of the group, taken in 1878, the year before his death.
(I apologize for the rough cropping of most of these images. I forgot that the scanner likes to lop off the edges; I'll be more careful next time.)