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Early photography

Cartes de Visite

The carte de visite is a type of small photograph. Patented in Paris in 1854, the measured 54 × 89 mm, it was mounted on a visiting card (64 × 100 mm). A set of photos of Emperor Napoleon III made the format so popular that “cardomania” spread through Europe and then quickly to America and the rest of the world. The cards were traded among friends and visitors so that albums displaying cards became a common possession of Victorian families. Many albums contained photographs of prominent people and some held landscape scenes occasionally featuring windmills.

Mill cards are quite rare, as was illustrated by an eBay auction in 2010 for a carte de visite, which fetched £265. It was entitled”Victorian Sussex Mill Farm + Windmill c.1860s” and described as follows:

‘Stunning early West Sussex farming scene original albumen photo. Excellent clarity & contrast… clearer in person even than scan indicates. This is likely to be either Fishbourne House Farm, or Court Barn Farm, Birdham. Both were run by members of the Farne family, and both heads of household were listed as millers in the census records: Charles & William Farne respectively. The latter was by 1881 farming 120 acres, & employing 9 men & 1 boy.’

SIZE: approx. 2.5 x 4 inches STUDIO: J. Russell & Sons, East Street, Chichester

By the early 1870s, cartes de visite were supplanted by larger “cabinet cards” with the photograph mounted on a cardboard backs measuring 110 x 170 mm. These were popular into the early 20th Century when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera and home snapshots created a new hobby.