The carte de visite was a type of small photograph which was patented in Paris by photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854. It was a small, cheap portrait format which made photography available to the masses.
It was usually made of an albumen print, which was a thin paper photograph mounted on a thicker paper card.
The Carte de Visite was slow to gain widespread use until 1859, when Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III’s photos in this format. This made the format an overnight success.
The new invention was so popular it was known as “cardomania”and it spread throughout Europe and then quickly to America and the rest of the world.
The immense popularity of these card photographs led to the publication and collection of photographs of prominent persons.
Each photograph was the size of a visiting card, and such photograph cards were traded among friends and visitors.
Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors.
By the early 1870s, cartes de visite were supplanted by “cabinet cards,” which were also usually albumen prints, but larger, mounted on cardboard backs.
Contemporary carte de visite, 1860s
Victorian carte de visite circa 1880s
One of the first cartes de visite of Queen Victoria taken by photographer John Jabez Edwin Mayall
Napoléon III and his wife Eugenie, cartes de visite by Disderi, circa 1865
Carte de visite photograph of Ella Wesner, circa 1872, the most celebrated male impersonator of the Gilded Age Vaudeville circuit.
1860s original/vintage albumen carte de visite of a lovely young California bride in her flowing white wedding dress taken by the pioneer daguerreotypist from San Francisco,William Shew.