Reference Items
Cartes-de-visite or CDVs

Click on an image to enlarge

The carte-de-visite was a small visiting-card portrait, typically measuring 4½” x 2 ½" and mounted on card stock. CDVs, as they are called, were occasionally given as gifts to friends or family, and were often signed. Some soldiers wrote brief notes on the back, or penned sentiments beneath their signatures. It was a common practice in the mid 19th century to collect CDVs of notable personalities, or family members, and place them together in albums.

CDVs were originally introduced in France in 1854, where cameras had been adapted to record a number of photographs on one plate (usually eight). Multiple images of the same photo could be produced economically, bringing photography into the affordable range of the soldier. Some CDVs were mass marketed to raise funds for various causes. Others, of notable persons, were printed for sale to interested admirers or for collector’s albums.  But most were made for the personal use of the soldier to share with comrades or to send home.

CDVs of military subjects are an excellent resource for study of war-period details of uniforms, accouterments, weaponry, and other particulars of soldier life. Many photographers placed their name and studio location as a "backmark” on the card stock. These backmarks are often helpful in tracing the travels of soldiers identified in the images.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-170


Click on an image to enlarge

By the middle of the 19th century, photography was becoming affordable to the average American. In its earliest forms known as ambrotypes and dagguerotypes, images were captured on glass plates. The results were fragile and lacked contrast.

In 1853, a Frenchman named Alexandre Martin introduced the tintype process by placing a sensitized collodion emulsion on a metallic sheet that resulted in a direct positive image which was both fast and inexpensive to produce. It also yielded much higher quality photographs, which were sold in various sizes, the most common of which was known as the 1/6th plate, and was 2 ¾” X 3 ¼”. The positive image was a one-of-a-kind with no duplication process involved. Innovative photographers retouched the emulsions, adding rose to the subject’s cheeks, color to their trousers or uniforms, and gilt to their buttons, buckles or headgear insignia.

Most such plates were held in a leather or thermoplastic carrying case under protective glass, fastened in place behind a brass matte. Now, the Civil War soldier could carry an image of his loved ones into the field. In turn camp photographers produced many images that the soldiers sent home to family.

Member - Mike Sorenson
Item #: CIV-169

Albumen print - George Custer

Click on an image to enlarge

Original direct contact albumen print of Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer. It was taken on or about 25 January 1864 at Stevensburg, VA by William Frank Browne, the 5th Michigan camp photographer. Custer is wearing the uniform in which he would be married to Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon on February 9th in Monroe, MI; he also had just gotten his hair cut. This photograph is #K-25 in Mark Katz's "Custer in Photographs". It is one of four known to exist and is the most representative of the General while he was in command of the Michigan Brigade.

Member - John Beckendorf
Item #: CIV-152

Additional Pages
1  2  [Next Page]