Thursday, August 11, 2011

Facebook (literally) of the 1860s

Cross-posted at Lancaster at War

As I mentioned in my post about the Gill stereoviews, paper photographs in the form of cartes de visite (CDVs = visiting cards) had just come onto the scene as the war began, and several photographers set up shop on the top floor of buildings near Centre Square (now known as Penn Square).  When assembled into albums, they are interesting to study as not just as a set photographs that reveal personal information about historical persons--especially from the standpoint of fashion--but taken together as an artifact that preserves a snapshot of a social network.  You can see it somewhat in the album below, but it will become a little more apparent in a future post of an album of a wealthy Quaker farm family from southern Lancaster County.    

From the Lutheran and Missionary (Philadelphia, PA) of June 26, 1862: (alternate link)

Families and friends widely traded these newly affordable photographs.  Here is one album with mostly young and unidentified Lancasterians that I purchased for my girlfriend, now wife, several years ago.  The photographer's backmarks have been copied to the bottom of each image, and a revenue stamp implies the photograph was taken between 1864 and 1866.  Note the differences in quality among Lancaster's photographers and how they used props and backdrops differently.

Carte de visite album (vws)

Also, if you ever get the chance to look at a CDV collection, spending only twenty or thirty minutes can train you to easily identify whether a photograph is early war, late war, or postwar, as the commercial aspects of photography rapidly evolved during the war.  For example, the photographer's advertisements on the back of photographs went from very plain in 1861 to very fancy by the late 1860s.


  1. Oh wow! How fascinating! We studied Civil War photography a few years ago. Then at a reenactment we got to meet a Civil War photographer. I got to help him take a picture of a period baseball team!

  2. I love how you refer to it as 1860s facebook. :D People back then did refer to "quizzing" each others' photograph books.