The Cartes de visite portrait craze started in the late 1850s. It’s not hard to see why people should be fascinated by this early form of portrait photography but by all accounts it peaked about ten years later, with people using them like business cards, swopping and collecting them, then settled down, before disappearing around the turn of the century as people turned to more regular studio portraits. My theory is that it was the first big photo trend, and walking pictures were the next, starting in the early 1920s.
Many families have at least a few in their albums, and I have been making an effort to identify and date those we have. Remarkably my Great Grandparents on my Mother’s side seem to have arranged sittings for all their children at an early age, and all were done at the same studio in Hull, Turner and Drinkwater, in the 1880s (the firm’s purpose built building still survives). I’ve posted them all with some more information on the site, but here’s Thomas around 1884, the eldest. These cards were all very much alike, a thin paper print fixed to a rigid card backing with the firm’s details pre-printed, and usually rounded corners. The firm named their building The Studio Royal having managed to get one of the royal family in there to pose!
There are always hundreds of these Cartes de visite at fairs and antique centres, most of which have been tipped out of albums so we’ll never know who they are.