The Victorian Image Collection is owned and organised by Ron Cosens (PCCGB member #1) – it has been built up since 1987 and consists of over 100,000 Victorian cartes de visite and cabinet cards. (visit online at: www.cartedevisite.co.uk)
The carte de visite was reputedly introduced in France in 1855 but it is very rare to find a carte de visite dated before 1860 when the format really took off. A camera with four lenses and a repeating back was usually used which could take eight images
on a single plate so that they could all be processed and printed onto one sheet of albumen paper simultaneously – thereby considerably reducing processing costs.
The individual images measured approximately 57mm × 89mm and were cut up and pasted onto cardboard mounts approximately 63mm ×103mm.
A similar, but larger format was introduced in 1866 by the London photographers Window & Bridge. This was called a cabinet card which was about 104mm x 150mm and pasted onto a thick cardboard mount measuring 108mm x 165mm: so called because it was big enough to be framed and displayed on a cabinet or table.
By 1905 both formats started to be replaced by portraits on postcard stock – a much cheaper medium to use and one which encouraged customers to buy extra copies for sending through the post.
Many of the visually more interesting images in the archive are categorised and it is worth having a brief peep into the past.
Having just bought a beautiful puppy, I thought it might be fun to have a look back at some Victorian dogs in all of their various shapes and attitudes.
Dogs have been kept by humans for more than 20,000 years. By Victorian times, however, small lap dogs were a fashionable accessory and Queen Victoria was particularly fond of her canine pets. This royal passion carries right through to our present Queen and her corgis.
We all know, photographing a dog is not simple although some photographers did take dog portraits, i.e. with not a human in sight. However, most Victorian pictures which include dogs were portraits of humans with the dog or dogs invited along to add a personal touch.
As can be seen from the accompanying pictures, dogs were obviously important in the lives of the sitters for a variety of reasons; such as companionship, protection, prestige or even as a working aide.
Each picture has an interpretive caption, but why not make up some captions for yourself?
In part 1 we looked at Victorian dogs, this time let’s see some Victorian soldiers.
But firstly, here is a pair of unusual items; a photo of a soldier (with dog!) dated 1901 but with a letter attached.
The letter reads:
‘In memory of pleasant hours spent with a stranger in a strange land, who has proven himself more than [a] brother.
To Michael Wilson of Sunderland, England from Emil Held, No. 21 Ninth Street, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. June fourth, Nineteen Hundred and One.
May God bless you and yours forevermore, Amen.
A safe journey home and a happy journey through life with your family, is my wish.’
The British army had about 215,000 soldiers in 1860 compared to a UK population of 28 million people, and about 275,000 soldiers by 1901 compared to a population of 38 million: This accounts for the low number of military photographs from that era in most family albums.
Many soldiers were posted abroad and albums contained pictures of those who served in the UK as well as those that served in overseas territories; British military action occurred in India, Africa,
Malaysia, China, and even Australia, New Zealand and Canada during Victoria’s long reign.
Studio portraits reflect various aspects of army life such as uniforms, equipment, comradeship, pride, bravado (?) and of course family ties; both parting portraits and welcome home photos as well.
I am amazed at the range of clothing that soldiers had to wear. All regiments had dress wear and combat wear but early in the period red was a common tunic colour for war time and hats were often tall, cumbersome and impracticable.
Although khaki was introduced in India in the 1840s by soaking white uniforms in mud, coffee or curry powder, we all remember the scarlet tunics at O’Rourke’s Drift in 1879 and it was not until the Second Boer War (1899-1902) that khaki become the norm.
N.B.: all photographs have been dated from studio details, not from knowledge of military uniforms
The carte de visite (cdv) became popular in 1860 and was joined by the cabinet card (cab) from 1866. By 1905 portraits on postcard (pc) stock started to take over.
In part 2 we looked at some soldiers; this time we are looking at ladies with hats so it may be nice to see a
portrait of a soldier with a lady with a fancy hat.
Below is an image from about 1915 and is in the form of a postcard.
Cartes de visite and cabinet cards enable us to actually see a huge variety of lady’s hats from the era which started in the 1860s and ended in the early 1900s.
There are a couple of rather different but interesting portraits that stand out from the crowd – particularly from an historical point of view.
Firstly, here is an unusual and informative item dated September 1882; albeit not a pretty nor a happy one.
Incidentally, the final print has been enhanced with pencil by the photographer, Thomas Fall of 9-10 Baker Street, Portman Square, London W.
So few family photographs indicate the date that they were taken and even fewer provide us with the name of the sitter so this one is a bit special. The fact that it also has a message on the back of the carte de visite mount makes it an important historical document.
The handwritten message reads
‘Mrs. Sursfield Moore formerly Miss Julia Harding Newman wearing small crepe bonnet in mourning for her brother Jh. H Newman of Nelmes near Romford who died May 1882 aged 71.’
Secondly, a far happier and prettier image with an unusual revelation.
This pretty young lady had her photograph taken around the year 1900 in the (windy?) coastal town of Rhyl in North Wales and she is wearing a fashionable boater.
Look closely and you can see clearly that her hat is firmly attached to her blouse to prevent it (the hat) from being blown away and lost. An intriguing image for an indoor portrait.
Hats have had a special place in the wardrobes of ladies for many centuries and the Victorian era certainly illustrated that fact most clearly with many millions of portraits in which the sitter proudly showed off her fashionable millinery. Thank goodness for the invention of photography!
The other images show just a few of the amazing creations from the wide variety of headwear designs that were worn by ladies, from teenagers to great grannies, from 1860 to about 1905.
The hats range from the typical to the oddly weird (exotic birds beware!) and slowly evolve from the purely decorative to the more practical as the lives of the younger ladies took into account their newly found freedoms.
The world, for them, began to change dramatically towards the start of the 20th century, particularly with the popularity of the bicycle and the car.
All photographs are between 160 and 110 years old and have been dated from studio details; not from a knowledge of millinery fashion.