Card Photos

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Though paper-based photographs were introduced in 1839, at about the same time as Daguerre announced his invention, the daguerreotype outshined its non-metallic competition for a full decade. The paper photograph made its comeback in 1850 when Frenchman Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard developed the albumen paper print process. These photos derived their name from the albumen component of chicken eggs used in their image-bearing surface.


In 1854 Blanquart-Evrard’s countryman André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri patented the carte-de-visite, a photo card inspired by the popularity of leaving a calling card with one’s name on it during a social visit. A carte-de-visite consisted of an albumen photograph of the caller mounted on a thin card uniformly sized to approximately 2.5 x 4 inches. The concept of the photo calling card never really caught on as intended. Nevertheless the CDV, as it was quickly known, became immensely popular between 1860 and 1866. For the first time in history an average person could own multiple copies of the same photo at an affordable price. A photographer’s imprint on the back or verso of the card often included his or her name, address and logo.

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Cabinet cards

By 1866 a new and larger photo format, the cabinet card, had achieved popularity. The cabinet name possibly refers to cabinets that held collectible items or the small cabinet canvases made by Dutch and Flemish painters. At 4.5 x 6.5 inches the cabinet card format allowed mounting of a bigger, more detailed photo that was easier to view. The larger format also encouraged photographers to print their names and other advertising elements on the front of the cards. Cabinet cards enjoyed a comfortable popularity well into the 1890s and some photographers offered the format into the 20th century.

Larger format cards

By the 1870s innovators hoping to ride the card photo wave of popularity were marketing other names and sizes including:

Victoria: 3.25 x 5 inches

Promenade: 4 x 7 inches

Boudoir: 5.25 x 8.5 inches

Panel: 8.25 x 4 inches

Albumen prints, very thin by nature, required mounting on card stock for their survival. With the introduction later in the 19th century of the heavier gelatin silver prints, that could stand alone, the card formats waned.

Stereograph cards

In the 1850s another variation of the card photo became a sensation. The stereograph consisted of two nearly identical photos of a view made with a special double lens camera. The dual prints, precisely mounted side-by-side, provided the illusion of a single, three-dimensional scene when viewed with an apparatus called a stereoscope. The first stereograph cards featured albumen prints, as did the other card formats, but because the stereograph genre was successful well into the 20th century the albumen photos gave way to gelatin silver prints and eventually to mass printed reproductions.

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Items on display in this exhibit

Cards (16 items)

Stereographic views (6 items)

The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab.


1/025-1 Hood's Brigade veterans, carte de visite1/25-1 Hood's Brigade veterans, carte-de-visite

This carte-de-visite (CDV) depicts nine veterans of John Bell Hood’s Brigade. The shorter exposure time of albumen prints resulted in more natural poses from subjects, who appeared less rigid and stern than in earlier formats. Posing equipment however continued to be used and photographers still controlled angles, studio backgrounds and props. The card verso includes the imprint of the studio of Stone and Waggoner, which was located on the second floor above William Oliphant’s popular jewelry store on Pecan (now Sixth) Street in Austin. Affixed to the verso is a green three-cent tax revenue stamp, introduced in 1864 by the Union government to raise funds to fight the Civil War. The stamp indicates that the photograph cost between 25 and 50 cents.

1/104-214 Big Tree and Satanta, carte de visite1/104-214 Big Tree and Satanta, carte-de-visite

This carte-de-visite is probably a souvenir edition produced by Austin photographer H.B. Hillyer from an earlier photo. The Kiowa warrior cousins may have originally been photographed between 1871 and 1874 at Huntsville, Texas or Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

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2011/348-20.61 Federal revenue tax stamps on reverse of carte de visite2011/348-20.61 Federal revenue tax stamps on reverse of carte-de-visite

On the back of this carte-de-visite photo, made by John T. Poe, we see not only the photographer’s printed advertisement, typical of day, but also two federal tax stamps. The tax was repealed after the Civil War, making the stamps obsolete.

1964/306-399 Carte de visite portrait of small child1964/306-399 Carte-de-visite portrait of small child

Hamilton Biscoe Hillyer was a successful photographer in Anderson, Texas. He enlisted in the 17th Brigade, Texas State Troops during the Civil War, but by 1868 he was back to photography and had an established gallery on Pecan (now Sixth) Street, Austin. Like other photographers of the time, Hillyer supplemented his business in Austin by sending out tent studios to small towns.

1979/031-4 Anna Boardman, albumen portrait on glass1979/031-4 Anna Boardman, albumen portrait on glass

The image side of this albumen print is adhered to the underside of a piece of convex glass giving the portrait an extra measure of beauty and elegance. This photograph is a much less complex version of an image known as a crystoleum that was popular from the 1870s until World War I. In a crystoleum photograph, oil colors are applied to the back of the print producing a translucent, colored portrait. A second piece of glass is then fitted behind the first with a piece of white cardstock applied to its back and bound together with gummed paper.

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1975/070-5237 Gregorio Cortez,  cabinet card1975/070-5237 Gregorio Cortez, cabinet card

Gregorio Cortez, a tenant farmer, was branded the "sheriff killer" after he shot and killed the Karnes County sheriff in 1901. The sheriff, who had been questioning Cortez and his brother while trying to locate a horse thief described as a "medium-sized Mexican," was the first to shoot at Cortez and his brother. Cortez killed two other men of the law during his escape and a $1,000 reward was announced for his capture. He became a folk hero among some Mexican Americans and a traitor among others. He was captured ten days later and sentenced to jail, then granted a conditional pardon in 1913 and released. Cabinet cards of "celebrities" like Cortez were widely collected in the late 19th century but started to lose their popularity after the 1900s.

1963/084-3 Adam Rankin Johnson, cabinet card1963/084-3 Adam Rankin Johnson, cabinet card

Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson moved to Burnet County, Texas from Kentucky in 1854. He soon gained a reputation as a surveyor of virgin territory in west Texas. When the Civil War began, he returned to Kentucky and enlisted. One of his most remarkable feats was the capture of Newburgh, Indiana from a large Union garrison with only 12 men and two joints of a stovepipe mounted on the running gear of an abandoned wagon. This episode won him his nickname. He was shot at and lost the use of his eyes during another attack on a federal garrison in 1864. After the war, he returned to Texas and founded the town of Marble Falls, also known as "the blind man’s town."

1965/087-3 Thurlow Weed on pony, large format card photo1965/087-3 Thurlow Weed on pony, large format card photo

Thurlow Brush Weed was only 22 years old when he received his embalming license. His father, Valentine Osborn Weed, was the undertaker of the city of Austin. In 1910 Weed Sr. was selected to oversee the removal and reinterment of the remains of Stephen F. Austin from Peach Point, Brazoria County to the State Cemetery in Austin. In 1938 historian Louis Kemp requested that Thurlow go to Potosi, Missouri and bring back the remains of Moses Austin. Upon meeting with resistance from the Missouri state government, Weed hired a few locals to begin the disinterment on his own. He was forced to leave Missouri without the elder Austin’s remains and a brief period of hostility prevailed between the two states.

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1/104-24 Scottish stone cutters, boudoir format card1/104-24 Scottish stone cutters, boudoir format card

In 1881 the second Capitol building of Texas burned to the ground as plans were already underway for a new structure. Construction began in 1882 but was delayed until 1884 when the decision was made to use sunset red granite donated by a quarry in Marble Falls instead of limestone for the exterior. The state gave the stone to the contractor along with 1000 convicts to quarry it. In 1885 the granite cutter’s union objected to the use of convict labor and boycotted work. The contractor responded by importing experienced stonecutters from Scotland, as seen in this image. After the project was completed, a number of the workers chose to stay in Texas and lend their skills to other construction projects.

1964/306-418 R. Niles Graham with banjo, by Chapman, Austin, TX1964/306-418 R. Niles Graham with banjo, by Chapman, Austin, TX

Richard Niles Graham, born in 1881, was a successful Texas businessman and social figure who was instrumental in the development of numerous communities in Austin and throughout Texas. Graham was also the grandson of former Governor of Texas, Elisha Marshall Pease. The Pease family was a prominent and affluent family that possessed substantial land and mineral rights throughout Texas. They resided at the historic Woodlawn home, built by Abner Cook in 1853, in Austin, Texas.

1964/306-137 Henry Hoxey Ladd, by Journeay, Austin, TX1964/306-137 Henry Hoxey Ladd, by Journeay, Austin, TX

The verso of this cabinet card notes that Ladd was age 2 years and 10 months when this studio portrait was made, in 1892. During World War I, Ladd would serve as a first lieutenant with the 384th Infantry, 96th Division, though the war ended before the unit could be sent overseas. Ladd afterward returned to his family farm in Texas. He died in California in 1965. William O. Journeay worked as a photographer in Austin, Texas in the 1880s and 1890s. The Archive’s Artifacts Collection includes the violin his father Henry Journeay made while imprisoned in Mexico with other Mier Expedition participants.

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1946/1-38 Mary Lowry with cat, Black Bess, by S. B. Hill, Austin, TX1946/1-38 Mary Lowry with cat, Black Bess, by S. B. Hill, Austin, TX

This studio portrait of Mary Lowry, age five, shows her holding her cat, Black Bess. The image was taken by Samuel B. Hill, who most likely began his photographic career in the partnership Adams and Hill in Austin in 1878. By 1879 he had opened his own studio at 817 Congress and was one of the leading photographers in the city. He is known for his portraits and pictures of local businesses, homes of prominent families and landscapes. By 1882 he was experimenting with the new dry-plate process to produce stereoscopic views of Austin.

2011/348-20.92 Children’s play or pageant, by Green Gallery, Matagorda, TX2011/348-20.92 Children’s recital, by Green Gallery, Matagorda, TX

These girls in pioneer costume, each with a doll, are posed at a musical recital along with a man playing violin and a woman possibly at a piano. While the exact location and reason for the event are unknown, the image shows how photography had become accessible enough to capture community celebrations such as this, outside the studio.

2011/348-20.99 Albert Wadworth, by Sink, Calvert, TX2011/348-20.99 Albert Wadworth, by Sink, Calvert, TX

This young boy is shown posing at a studio prop wooden gate. His left hand and the straw hat he is holding are blurred, indicating that he might have found it irresistible to swing the hat. Daniel P. Sink practiced photography in Calvert and Vernon, Texas from about 1880 to 1899.

2011/348-20.91 Two men with dog, by Robinson, Yoakum and LaGrange, TX2011/348-20.91 Two men with dog, by Robinson, Yoakum and LaGrange, TX

The dog in this photograph was kept mostly still by having its attention held by someone outside of the frame of the photo. He may belong to the seated man, on top of whose shoe the dog is partially sitting. Both men proudly show their watch chains, and the seated man has a ring on his left hand.

2011/348-20.95 Child with dog, by Holland, Wharton, TX2011/348-20.95 Child with dog, by Holland, Wharton, TX

The curious expressions on the faces of the boy and dog seem to match in this studio portrait, their attention held by someone slightly to the left of the camera. Thomas A. Holland photographed in Wharton, Texas in the early 1890s and later may have worked in Brenham, Texas.

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Stereographic views

1981/088: Battleship Texas, coming home from Santiago, 18981981/88: Battleship Texas, coming home from Santiago, 1898

The caption on this card reads, "The proud 'Texas' – Captain ‘Jack’ Philip coming home from Santiago." The USS Battleship Texas participated in the July 3, 1898 battle off Santiago that destroyed Spain’s naval forces in the Western hemisphere. Captain John W. "Jack" Philip was her commanding officer. Spanish Admiral Cervera’s fleet of four cruisers and three destroyers were all sunk. Captain Philip is remembered for saying, "Don’t cheer, men; the poor devils are dying." The captain presented the state of Texas with a piece of the battleship armor that was pierced by a shot from the enemy in the battle. The armor is part of the Artifacts Collection at the Texas State Archives.

1/035-25: Alamo Mission, San Antonio, 18801/35-25: Alamo Mission, San Antonio, 1880

The Alamo Mission (one of five Spanish missions) was established in San Antonio by the Franciscan order on May 1, 1718. At the time of the battle of the Alamo in 1836, the structure did not have the classic bell-shaped façade now seen adorning the city landmark. For years thereafter, the Alamo stood in ruins. In 1847 a plan to restore the Alamo to make it usable for the U.S. Army was carried out. In addition to repairs, Army engineers directed the completion of the roofless mission church between 1850 and 1852, when they installed its distinctive arched gable. Efforts to further preserve the site began during the 1880s.

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1/028-4 Steamer Aransas, Morgan Line, in Galveston Bay, about 18801/28-4 Steamer Aransas, Morgan Line, in Galveston Bay, about 1880

This card presents a stereographic view of the steamer Aransas, an iron vessel carrying assorted cargo that left Morgan City, Louisiana for Brazos de Santiago, Texas every ten days. The Morgan Lines was the first steamship line in Texas founded by Charles Morgan in 1837. In 1858 it had three sailings a week from Galveston and two from New Orleans. By 1860 the company had a monopoly of coastal shipping. In the early 1880s the line was sold to C.P. Huntington of the Southern Pacific Railroad but continued to operate as the Morgan Line.

1/035-31: Mexican market, Military Plaza, San Antonio, 18801/35-31: Mexican market, Military Plaza, San Antonio, 1880

The Military Plaza or Plaza de Armas was first established in San Antonio in 1722 as a parade ground and market square for Spanish soldiers. Once Texas became part of the United States, the plaza developed more into a community gathering place where town events, markets and shows were planned. The tall building seen in this image is Hord’s Hotel, situated on the southeast corner of the plaza. Nicholas Winther was a photographer based in San Antonio. In 1874, he and another prominent photographer of the time, Henry Doer, were partners in the Doer and Winther studio in the city.

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1/025 Old limestone Capitol after fire, Austin, 18811/25 Old limestone Capitol after fire, Austin, 1881

This stereograph card by Austin photographer H.B. Hillyer shows the remains of the 1856 limestone capitol after it burned on November 9, 1881. Long decried as inadequate and an eyesore, the building was the site of a meeting to plan its replacement the day the structure caught fire. Stone rubble from the ruins is thought to have been carted off and used in local construction projects. Photographer Hillyer eventually left Austin complaining of the ongoing boom and bust business cycle in the city.

1/035-32 Peddler, San Antonio, 18801/35-32 Peddler, San Antonio, 1880

Street vendors were a common sight in San Antonio in the late 19th century. Some would sell their wares while riding atop donkeys, goats or sheep. Others, like the candy peddler in this image, would carry their products on their person and walk slowly through the neighborhoods trying to make a sale on their daily rounds. Alexis V. Latourette was a talented photographer who worked in parts of Texas and northern Mexico in the 1870s and 1880s.

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016