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Photograph albums from North American Private Collections 

The patenting of the Carte de Visite (CDV) by Andre Disderi of France in 1854 and subsequent introduction to North America in 1859 made it possible for everyone to have their photographic portrait taken. The cost was low, it was easy to order duplicates, the small business card size made it ideal for mailing and, if there was no photo studio nearby, a travelling photographer would soon show up in a horse-drawn carriage outfitted with cheap backdrops and a primitive darkroom. Enterprising inventors on both sides of the Atlantic created a bewildering array of devices designed to showcase numerous CDVs at once... the album being the most popular and enduring.
Whole new industries sprung up to supply the album manufacturers with special papers, boards, gilded clasps, porcelain rests etc., in addition to the leathers, velvets, carved woods, composition and thermoplastic materials used for the covers. Costly machines were invented for the cutting and gilding (bronzing) of the pages. Gilders and other craftsmen couldn't be hired fast enough. The public demand for albums was unrelenting. There was no limit to the variety and richness of ornamentation, except the means of the buyer. Prices started at 75 cents to $50 or more, depending on the decorations. While many businesses folded during the Civil War, the manufacturers of albums thrived. One of the earliest was William Harding of Philadelphia, a prominent Bible maker, who registered an album patent, possibly as early as 1853, to be followed by others up to 1872. The most prolific maker was Samuel Bowles & Co. of Springfield, Mass. Statistics available for the year of 1864 state that, in that year alone, the firm "employed about 100 hands, used 50 tons of paper and 125 tons of pasteboard and album board, with other material to match". The popularity of the Cabinet Card ca.1880-1890 spelled the end of these jewels of bookbinding.
Partially excerpted from the Springfield Republican, December 28, 1864. 



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