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Lincoln-era Cartes de Visite

The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd.Historical Prints

Cartes de Visite of Lincoln and Contemporaries

Lincoln Reading to Tad Tom Thumb Family Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln Kate Chase Sprague Unidentified children


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Cartes de visite, so named for their size (which resembled a small calling card), became popular in the 1850s and 1860s. Developed in France in 1854, the process employed multiple lenses on one camera to create multiple exposures from a single negative. Using a specially-designed camera, eight different poses could be printed on one sheet of photographic paper, then cut up and mounted on small, pocket-sized cardstock. For families separated by war, photographs of loved ones were treasures, displayed or carried with care. The same photographic technology that allowed loved ones to exchange likenesses also afforded thousands of Americans the opportunity to own pocket-sized portraits of public figures, from images of performers such as Tom Thumb to politicians like Abraham Lincoln.

This most popular president was one of the first to use photography to advantage in his electoral campaigns, becoming such a well-known face to American voters that even his whiskers became a matter of public opinion. Both solo and family portraits of Lincoln were fast sellers for photography studios, and copies were made and altered at a rapid pace. After Matthew Brady made the much-beloved photograph of Lincoln reading to son Tad, the portrait was altered to include Mrs. Lincoln and eldest son Robert, though such a family photograph was not known to have been taken in real life. After Lincoln's assassination, the mourning public rushed to own and display images of the martyr-president as both politician and family man, and print shops and photography studios stocked a ready supply.

In addition to reproducing famous photographs, some enterprising printers and photographers used the format to reproduce popular prints on the cheap. Photographing engravings and lithographs simultaneously reduced the image to pocket-size and created a printing matrix that could be quickly employed to satisfy popular demand for inexpensive images. Not unlike celebrity magazines today, cartes de visite were the nineteenth century's answer to curious Americans who wanted greater access to public figures and popular icons. For modern collectors, they are marvelous literal and figurative snapshots of nineteenth century culture of the everyday.


1. After Matthew Brady. [Abraham Lincoln reading to Tad.] Chair lightly retouched; else, faithful to Brady's original. NA

2. After Matthew Brady. [Abraham Lincoln reading to Tad.] Chair heavily re-touched; Lincoln's hand and book slightly altered. NA

3. "Mr. & Mrs. Lincoln." Composite print. Lincoln's image after 1862 Brady photograph. NA

4. "A. Lincoln." After engraving from photograph. NA

5. "Abraham Lincoln." Boston: L. Prang & Co. Wood engraving. NA

6. [Lincoln]. With birth, death, and inauguration dates. Facsimile inscription and signature below image. Photograph of lithograph. $125

7. "Lincoln Family." Photograph of composite image using Brady photograph of Lincoln reading to Tad, superimposing image of Mrs. Lincoln seated next to her husband and Robert in military uniform standing behind his father's chair. Note: though Willie's death is acknowledged by his absence from the picture, Mrs. Lincoln is not shown in mourning dress. NA

8. "Death of President Lincoln." Photograph of Currier & Ives lithograph, New York, 1865. NA

9. "Champions of Liberty." [verso] Photograph of lithograph by Samuel Marshall, published by P. S. Duval & Son, Philadelphia, 1865. $90

10. "Columbia's Noblest Sons." Photograph of lithograph by Kimmel & Forster, New York, 1865. $95

11. "Mrs. Lincoln." Probably from photograph taken around Lincoln's second inauguration. $100

12. [Lincoln bust portrait]. [verso] Ticket. World's Columbian Exposition Chicago, 1 May to 30 October, 1893. NA

13. "Andrew Johnson." With birth, death, and inauguration dates. Facsimile inscription and signature below. Photograph of lithograph. $75

14. "Andrew Johnson." [verso] Engraving. Verso is advertisement for Wanamaker's magazine, Everybody's Journal. Ca. 1867 $75

15. "William H. Seward." Photograph of engraving. NA

16. "Tom Thumb Family." Photograph. $70

17. "James Fisk, Jr." Photograph. $65

18. [General Winfield Scott Hancock]. Photograph. $85

19. [Kate Chase Sprague]. [verso] Photograph. NA

20. [Clara Barton]. [verso] Photograph. From Frederick H. Meserve Collection of Americana. Reprinted from Matthew Brady negative, ca. 1910. NA

21. Unknown young man. [verso] Photograph. $35

22. Unknown children [verso] (girl, around 5 years; boy, around 3 years). $35

23. "The Independence Hall, Philadelphia." Photograph of engraving. Ca. 1876. $45



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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated September 7, 2013