You may have seen some of our larger than life portraits of legal figures such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. or John Marshall, but did you know that we also have a wonderful collection of pocket-sized portraits in the form of cabinet cards and cartes de visite? The collection features more than 700 formal portraits of lawyers, judges, and law professors, primarily from the United States and Western Europe. These photographs will be of interest to those studying legal history, the history of photography, and anyone curious about the past.
Patented in 1854 by French photographer, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1899), the carte de visite is a small photograph mounted on a stiff piece of card the size of a formal visiting card (hence the name). Compared to daguerreotypes, they were much less expensive to make and easily leant themselves to mass production and marketing. Cards featuring public figures such as entertainers, royalty, and politicians were marketed as collectibles to the European community.
The 1860s marked the height of the carte de visite craze and by the 1870s they were being replaced by the larger “cabinet cards.” While the small size of carte de visites (approximately 4.5 x 2.5 inches) made them ideal for being collected in albums, cabinet cards (approximately 6.5 x 4.5 inches) were large enough to display on their own and viewed across a room.
Whether you want to investigate nineteenth century facial hair, compare wigs on English barristers, or learn more about a Wisconsin lawyer, this collection is worth some time exploring. For those interested in further information about the collection, we have an inventory we’d be happy to share with you. Inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Baldwin, Gordon. Looking at Photographs: A guide to technical terms. Malibu, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with British Museum Press, 1991; Linkman, Audrey. The Victorians: Photographic Portraits. London: Tauris Parke Books, 1993; Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints. Rochester, NY: Eastman Kodak, 1986.