BackSides

Art and Artistry of the Carte de Visite BackStamp

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1860 ? 1880

 

 

Timeline / History of the CDV

Creation

Carte Mania

Decline

 

Components of a Carte

Cardstock ? Composition

Front side

Backside

Dating

 

The Process of Creating a Backstamp: Innovation and Perspiration

Creating the Design

Artistic rendering

Creating the engraving

The purchasing of the Carte blanks

 

Evolution of Backstamp design

Early 1860

?Mid 1860

Late 1860

The 1870?s

The 1880?s

 

The Backstamps 1860 ? 1880

1)      Geometric (Square, Circle)

2)      Floral (Leaf, Flower)

3)      Personalized (Initials, Unique Design, Full Back)

4)      Borrowed Influence (Cartouche, Banners)

5)      Scenic Backgrounds (Animals, Landscape)

6)      Human Forms (Men, Women, Hands)

7)      Photography (Equipment, Cameras, Studio Backs)

8)      Service Promotion (Rates, Locations, Skills, Awards)

9)      American Movements (Patriotic, Egyptian, Oriental, Mason, Transport)

10)  Special Backs of Note (Rebus, Patriotic, Photographers image)

 

 

 

Timeline / History of the CDV

 

Creation

The dawn of the photographic process began in 1839 with the development of a process to capture a human likeness onto a polished silver surface, the daguerreotype. In the first fifteen years of photography image "fixing" was practiced by adventurous artists and entrepreneurs a process reserved for those well-heeled patrons capable of paying for the privilege of being "frozen in silver".??

 

Innovations during those early years led to the development of the ambrotype, which significantly lowered the cost of production and broadened the appeal to the public. The ambrotype utilized a light-sensitive coating applied to a pane of glass. The process created a "glass negative" which required a black backing to convert the negative into a positive image. Shortly after this process replaced the daguerreotype, it was replaced itself with the collodien or "wet plate process". Here the basics of the ambrotype ?glass negative? were repeated but instead of producing a unique "hard" image on glass, the plate was used to produce low cost paper "prints". The glass negative was placed over a sheet of sensitized paper. The sensitizing agent was a solution of egg whites, called albumen. The resulting prints thus were termed "albumen prints". The egg-white concoction and its fixing agent yielded a finished product with warm tones ranging from brown to deep purple.

 

 

The French Connection

 

 

In France during the early 1800?s it became "en vogue" to for socialites to carry small "name" cards and present them to all hosts as a small remembrance of their visit. This practice quickly spread to England and finally to America as both the production and distribution of these "Visiting Cartes" became the established custom. These cards were slightly smaller than a modern business card but allowed the presenter great latitude towards personalizing their sentiment much like it is customary today to personalize Christmas cards and invitations with photographs inserted within them. These cards were often placed in special baskets placed near the front door of residences and were probably one of the earliest forms of "collectable", finding their way into small keepsake books sold during the period.

 

Andre Adolphe Disderi, working in France in the early 1850?s was one of the innovators of the albumen process. This process would go on to be the precursor to picture albums and photo books that are still in use today. During the early years of photography, the camera had a fixed lens producing an image on a single photographic "plate". The introduction of the stereoview (precursor to the modern "viewmaster") required a dual-lens system producing two nearly identical images on that same plate. Disderi would expand the multi-lens camera to include models with four, eight, twelve and sixteen lenses all still fitting on that same photographic plate.

 

[A series of 4 images by Yeager of Pennsylvania taken with a multi-lens camera. Slight derivations in the perspective can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of each image.]

 

By the mid 1840's, photographers on both sides of the Atlantic had dabbled with the notion of affixing small albumen photographs to the standard "visiting card" but the early versions had met with little support from the buying public. Disderi would be credited with producing the first commercially successful "photo visiting card", and with a little fortuitous promotion, the popularity of this new form of photography would sweep around the world in short order. With his multiple-lens camera it was possible for Disderi to produce several similar images and affix them to "visiting card" stock, but legend has it that a chance encounter with Napoleon III helped launch the Carte de visite into public mainstream far beyond Paris.

 

As the tale goes, Napoleon III was leading his troops to war in Italy in May 1859 when he stopped by Disderi's studio in Paris to have his likeness captured by the young photographer. Napoleon left for battle with his paper image in tow, leaving Disderi in possession of a glass negative of the powerful leader. Sensing the marketing potential of this moment, Disderi began reproducing the image of Napoleon III and selling these "Carte de Visites" to his patriotic-minded public, igniting the first flames of the CDV era. Capturing the likenesses of both the rich and famous as well as the common relative had finally found a place with the buying public due to both it?s durability and low cost. Now the common person may never brush up against the ruling class, but they could have an accurate likeness of them just the same, kept in a book by the window. This ability to "keep" images of folks from all walks of life ignited passions in France and abroad.

 

While it is debatable that Disderi was the first photographer to ever adhere an albumen print to a calling card, he's credited with popularizing this marriage and of coining the phrase "Carte de Visite" (abbreviated CDV). The irony is that the term implies that these cards served the same purpose as the earlier "calling cards" but there's little empirical evidence to suggest that any of the earliest "Cartes" were ever deposited into the calling card baskets of the day. By 1860 these small 2.5" x 4" images were spreading across the globe and photographers, lured by both the ease of the process and profitability of the venture were rushing to meet the demand of their anxious public. As evidence of this, by 1861 it was said that Disderi had earned nearly $50,000 a year from one of his studios alone.

 

These mini portraits had several key factors working in their favor; their size allowed them to fit into the pockets and calling card cases of the day and they were light- weight capable of surviving being dropped, unlike their glass-mounted predecessors. Most importantly they were priced within the means of the common patron, thus ensuring a large renewable customer base.

 

 

Carte Mania

 

Like the "gold fever" which ran rampant across the young America, causing seemingly levelheaded men to drop everything, grab a pick and head to California, ?Carte Mania? had a similar effect ten years later. This so-called "mania" caused young entrepreneurs, most with little or no training in the photographic arts, to purchase cameras and set out to photograph their waiting public.

 

The common practice of the day was for the sitter to visit a local photographer and have two or more (often a dozen) Cartes created. These would then be sent to friends and family with the understanding that they would receive Cartes of these people in kind. Cartes of the famous, or infamous could be purchased from the photographic studios or, as in the case of circus performers, from the carnival barkers themselves.

The following notation on the back of a CDV from this period helps to illustrate this point.

 

"For Ed. Ellen and Charley. And Ada wants yours all in return. Remember"

 

These images would be stored in new fangled "Carte albums" that would hold between 10 and 200 images. Most albums were small bound affairs with embossed leather covers resembling the literature books of the day. The small albums sought to duplicate the earlier "personal viewing" experience of opening a cased daguerreotype or ambrotype by placing one image on a page. These albums could easily fit onto the bookshelves of the day and be easily transported should the owner begin to migrate. Larger ?folio-size? albums would follow in the 1880?s, putting between four and eight images on a page as collections grew.

 

 

[This "album insert" Carte would have occupied the first opening in a ca. 1860 CDV album. "..that all are expected to add to my book.." illustrates the prevailing sentiment during this period," see mine and please give me one of yours". ]

 

The voracious appetite for Cartes of famous people also spurred a market for copied or "pirated" views. Photographers would obtain a legitimate "original" image of an important sitter. He (or she) would then use their own equipment to take a photo of the original, usually with mixed results. The lower quality results also tended to be issued on generic stock, not imprinted with photographic credits since in most cases this work was technically "off the books", but was still sellable. A photographer may have the ability to produce decent ?first generation? material, but they also may have had a supply of this ?pirated? material at the ready for a public hungry for a ?president? or ?circus oddity? to take home as well. They would sell these images, but not take credit for its creation.

 

During this ?manic? phase, lasting roughly from 1860 to 1870, photographers sprung up in almost every town in America and enterprising individuals even set up ?moveable galleries? on railroad cars and horse-drawn wagons to reach areas that didn?t have a permanent photographer to meet the local need.

 

[Movable gallery]

 

The outbreak of the Civil War also contributed mightily to the popularity of the CDV. Soldiers kept images of loved ones with them during battle, tucked into wallets and bibles, their low cost allowing soldiers to visit studios during their fighting campaigns and slip an image into the correspondence sent back to their loved ones on the home front.

 

 

Decline

 

In the late 1860's as the country became saturated with both Cartes and photographers, pricing wars broke out in an attempt to drive out competition and secure the business of a more discriminating clientele. Cartes that may have initially sold "4 for a dollar" were now discounted to ?12 for a dollar? during the decline.

 

Another factor in the Carte's decline was the emergence of larger cameras and cheaper supplies that led to the creation of the larger mounted ?Cabinet Card?. The same factors that let to the Carte?s popularity; ease of transport, durability and low cost also applied to the cabinet card, with the added advantage of size. Cabinet mounts were roughly three times the size of the Carte and as with most things in America, ?bigger is better.? The small personal and private appeal of the Carte album gave way to the heavier cabinet album, which could no longer fit onto a bookshelf but rather could be found in almost every living room in the 1800?s.

 

The Carte de visite would continue to be produced in great numbers into the early 1890?s, but the ?mania? of the 1860?s had clearly passed, as the Carte became just one size offered by photo studios of the time.

 

 

Components of a Carte

 

The Card Stock ? Mount

 

The rectangular board that the albumen image is affixed to is referred to as the "mount". As the CDV process and marketing evolved from 1860 through the 1880?s the mount evolved as well.

 

In the late 1850?s a supply chain had yet to be established for this new process, so individual photographers were left to affix their images on card stock found in the studio. Numerous examples exist of CDV images being mounted on odd-sized and shaped boards, indicating that at least a few photographers were willing to accept the unusual shaped end product as being ?good enough? for their public. With the emergence of a reliable supply chain of materials, the CDV mount was standardized to roughly approximate 2.5? wide x 4? wide. These same suppliers also produced Carte albums so this standardization behooved them greatly. The length and width measurements were adopted quickly and so universally that?s it?s rare to find images after 1863 that don?t comply with this standard.

 

?Where there is a fair amount of variance is in the thickness of the mount. Early paper-making processes used during the late 1850?s and early 1860?s produced mounting stock made of scrap paper compressed under great force to produce a very thin mount usually creamy white in color.

 

As paper manufacturing evolved over time, the card stock production standardized around a stack of between 5 and 10 individual layers of paper tightly glued together and the mount became thicker. Towards the end of the Carte period solid core mounts were used, most resembling modern mat board in both feel and construction.

 

 

 

 

?Frontside? Graphics - Borders

 

Obviously every Carte has both a front and backside. While this book is primarily aimed at the artwork that appears on the back, the graphic elements present on the front side should get a cursory examination as well.

 

The earliest CDV?s had no front-side graphics and remained a creamy white.

Within the first 2 years of production, the mounts started having a solid border running around the outside edge of the card, forming a ?frame? around the mounted image. This migrated into either a single or double thin blue line during the ?war years? of 1861 ? 1866. In addition to the rectangular lines, often photographers would chose a front-side cartouche design, usually with an oval opening for the photograph. These ?cartouche? fronts generally were used for seated views and were ideal for early images as the vignette cameras produced smaller images that didn?t come close to filling the larger rectangular space provided on the standard mount. Into the late 60?s the double-lines remained but soon reverted back into a single-line, then vanishing again in the 1870 as the backstamp design elements took on a more prominent role. The ?cartouche? front-side element faded quickly after the war as larger cameras were employed producing larger portraits that filled the Carte more effectively.

 

Backside Text ? Image Emergence

 

The main focus of this book is the artistic impressions used to promote and advertise photographers during the CDV era. The first Cartes had no such artistic expressions, stating simply, in small block letters, the name and address of the photographers studio. This information was applied to card either by be preprinted by a local printing operation or thru the use of a hand-stamp. It is interesting to note that the earliest backstamps also contain the smallest type. This may be indicative of the artists not wanting to detract from their artistry with a gaudy personal ?signature?, or perhaps these pioneers were seeking to emulate ?makers marks? found on silver and pottery. This small type is almost always an indication of an early 1860?s effort.

 

During the 1840?s and 1850?s, producing daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, the enterprising photographer interested in promoting their work could 1) have their name stamped into the brass mat overlaying the image 2) have a small card inserted behind the image or 3) have their name stamped on the plush pad opposite the image inside the case, or any these combinations. While these early efforts served the purpose of identifying the artisan who created them, the vast majority of images created during this time are un-attributed. This may be due to the costs associated with having these materials created before the paying customer walked into the studio.

 

The evolution of backstamp design during the last half of the 1880?s closely parallels that of the albumen photographic process itself. Early in the ?Carte evolution?, the photographers were presented with a prime opportunity for direct promotion of their skills. Since the images were uncased, the back of the card mount provided a readily accessible ?professional space? to promote their name, location and specialties. Initially these Carte photographers didn?t take advantage of this readily accessible space, printing only the bare necessities: the name and the location of the studio, in the smallest legible print. As the cameras got larger and the process faster, the small type was gradually replaced with larger and more varied artwork to make the backstamp something to take note of, and in many cases, rival the image on the other side.

 

 

 

[A typical early 1860?s text-only backstamp. Note this image is reproduced in the exact size found on the original CDV]

 

 

 

Which Design Came First?

 

In assembling this collection, the question arose, ?What constitutes the earliest ?artistic? effort found on the back of a CDV?? While there were many early 1860?s backstamps employing a straight horizontal line to separate the photographer?s name from the studio location, it was when that straight horizontal line started evolving into an ?artistic squiggle? that will be considered our ?starting point?.

 

The early text-only backstamps were simple affairs handled between photographer and typesetter. By adding even the simplest of artistic elements, the process now involved an artisan, choice by the photographer and competition for the typesetter. This simple ?squiggle? did much more than add a little flair to a simple back mark; it spawned a competitive industry.

 

 

[This is the ?squiggle? that started it all. This element was not present in a typesetter?s kit and as such had to be created per the customer?s request.]

 

From that simple ?single element? used with typeset fonts, the backside of a CDV would become an advertising staple for the descendant ?Knights of Daguerre? and help to stretch the creative possibilities during an energetic era in photographic history. As will be illustrated later, the roughly ten square inches of ?real estate? were more than enough room for these artisans to promote their individual tastes and display a unique flair for personal promotion.

 

 

Dating an Image by it?s Component Parts

 

When I began collecting images, my mentor, Jack Leckel would astound me by guessing the age of a CDV without turning the image over, merely picking it up. I asked him once for his ?secret? and he chuckled and said, ?after you?ve handled a few thousand CDVs, you get pretty good at it.? In the intervening years I?ve probably handled over 100,000 CDVs and I think of Jack whenever someone asks me to date one ?by touch?.

 

While it would have been a lovely thing to have each Carte printed with a ?born-on? date including artist credits, the simple fact is that less than 1% of all CDV?s were dated, either mechanically or by written notation by a previous owner. None-the-less, the rapid evolution of the medium makes it fairly easy to estimate a Carte to within a year or two. Several factors including those discussed above can be combined to form an objective ?CDV-DNA? to use as a guide. The one persistent counter-argument to definitive dating methods is that some photographers would buy a large supply of cardstock and be using that same material for several years. Thus dating based solely on cardstock or backstamp is never definitive. The surge in photographers during the profitable ?carte mania? days waned dramatically after the pricing wars stripped those profits

 

Characteristic Traits of Images from 1860 ? 1862

Mount Color ? Cream, white

Mount Composition ? Thin, Bristol board

Mount Corners - Square

Front-face Border ? Single wide band to the edge, single thin lines 1/8? from the edge of card

Back stamp ? None, Small text, entire backstamp no bigger than a dime

 

[From left: square corner with no border treatment, square corner with solid border and small text backstamp with no design]

 

Characteristic Traits of Images from 1862 ? 1866

 

Mount Color ? Cream, white

Mount Composition ? Thin, Bristol board

Mount Corners - Square

Front-face Border ? Single or double thin lines 1/8? from the edge of card

Back stamp ? Designs larger than a dime, emergence of the engraved backstamp, generally no larger than two inches high by one inch wide

Other ? U.S. Revenue Stamp November 1864 thru August 1866.

 

[From left: square corner single-line, square corner double-line,

Small cartouche ?actual size?]

 

 

Characteristic Traits of Images from 1866 ? 1870

 

Mount Color ? Cream, white, other pale shades

Mount Composition ? Thicker composite board

Mount Corners - Rounded

Front-face Border ? Single or double thin lines 1/8? from the edge of card

Back stamp ? Text, larger designs, and text as artwork

Other ? Cartes begin to list pricing, promote techniques and offer duplication services from negatives kept by the studio

 

[From left: square corner with double line, ornate backstamp roughly 2? x 1?]

 

Characteristic Traits of Images from 1870 ? 1880

 

Mount Color ? All muted shades

Mount Composition ? Thicker composite board

Mount Corners ? Rounded, possible edge bevel and gold tinted

Front-face Border ? None

Back stamp ? Text, imagery, colors, text as artwork, Full Back designs, diverse subject matter

 

[From left: rounded corner single-line, medium sized artistic element, and fullback artistic element]

 

 

 

Using these traits as a guideline, the dating of any particular CDV can be considered fairly accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Process of Creating a Backstamp

Innovation & Perspiration

 

Creating the Design (Block Text Printing, Engraving)

 

Once the commercial side of photography began to ramp up during the early years of the Civil War, the companies supplying and supporting the photographers also ramped up their catalogs to handle the increased need for an emerging clientele.

 

In the earliest days of the CDV, there was no standardization as to the size of the cdv and a typically process had the photographer creating the image, cut it out from the contact sheet, mount it to a piece of scrap board, roughly trim the mount to size and then possibly apply his backstamp. During this period (before the use of pre-printed backs), the photographers ?mark? was usually accomplished through the use of an adhesive sticker applied to the back of the card or a hand signature by the artist. The stickers allowed the photographer the freedom to mount their image on any cardstock available, but were less permanent than outright printing.

 

Once the CDV size was standardized supply houses would provide quantities of precut mounts that could then be taken to the local print shop to have a photographers imprint applied. By the early 1860?s the reliance on local printing was diminished as the supply houses expanded their services to include pre-printing the mounts for their clients. This service helped to dramatically expedite the production process and further ?standardize? the photographic industry.

 

[Unused CDV cardstock pre-printed with Edward?s Gallery, Rushford Minnesota imprint applied. Unmounted prints are scarce, but unused cardstock more so.]

 

 

 

Artistic Rendering ? Empirical Evidence in Backstamp Selection

 

With so many competing shutterbugs and a savvy and discriminating clientele, photographers were under increasing pressure to both deliver a superior product as well as effectively communicate their abilities to their waiting public. Local newspaper ads did a respectable job of letting the local public know of the establishment?s existence, but the most effective promotional material in many ways was the photograph itself. Since each CDV was its own ?calling card?, these images were often views as hand-held testaments to the photographer?s skill (or lack thereof). Anecdotal evidence collected by looking at roughly 100,000 images for this book would indicate that while there were over 2,000 operators producing Cartes during the 1860?s a small proportion of these would be considered masters of their craft.

 

The ?birth? of photography is generally considered to be 1839 with the work of Daguerre. Since this new medium required a considerable amount of preparation and chemical knowledge, the initial purveyors were almost equal parts scientist and artisan. As the process became more standardized, those behind the lens tended to come from more traditional lines of artists, painters, sculptors and even silhouette artists. Their classic training and view of their own skills in this new medium were also evident in the backstamp text they chose.

While an itinerant photographer might name his ?studio? using his own last name and refer to himself as a ?photographer? or even a ?photographist?. The classically trained purveyor tended to identify himself or herself simply as an ?artist?, leaving the possessor to infer that photography was but one of the skills available from this studio.

 

[Insert Artist Samples Here]

 

 

Creating the Backstamp Engraving

 

The printing world was also undergoing a transformation in the early 1830?s as illustrators switched mediums from copper to steel. Copper engraving had many advantages going for it. Working in copper was easy to engrave, offered a soft tone to the lines and relatively easy to ?re-engrave? should pieces (i.e. maps) need to be redrawn. The downside to engraving on brass plates was that the images would need to be reworked after a few hundred prints. In the early 1800?s, as availability of illustrated books grew along with the number of book publishers, it became apparent that a more permanent engraving medium was needed to keep up with this new demand.? Steel became the medium of choice. It was harder to work with in both the initial carving as well as re-working, but offered the artisan the ability to create works having much finer line weight with the advantage of holding up for several thousand prints.

 

Since the advent of the CDV occurred some thirty years after this conversion, the backstamp designs were most assuredly created first as steel engravings. As we?ll see later, enlarging some of the more intricate backstamps reveals the true art incorporated into backstamp design.

 

Backstamp Inspiration

 

It has been hard to determine whether the plethora of backstamp designs were driven by the demands of the photographic studios or limited to the imagination of the artisans creating these emblems. Most likely it was a combination of these forces.

 

In trying to categorize the catalog of known backstamps, the backgrounds fell into one of a handful of main groupings. Examples in three of these areas, Geometric, Cartouche and Floral appear to be rather generic in appearance and most likely derive from other influences in both the art and printing worlds.

 

?[Insert examples]

 

Within categories such as Initials and Unique Designs the influence seems to have been client driven since the results are personal to a specific operation. One interesting observation made regarding image selection is that there appear to have been a decent number of small elements that recur in several design patterns labeled ?unique?. This would seem to indicate an alliance between the photographer ordering the back and the publisher (or supplier) who created the backstamp. One can almost envision the conversation between the two as the publisher suggests adding a ?lotus leaf? element to a customer?s design.

 

Trends in backstamp creation can also be noted that echo public sentiments at the time. The American Civil War in a broader sense and patriotism in particular were well represented in the backstamps during the early to mid 1860?s as it appears that several photographers promoted their patriotism thru the backstamp designs they chose.

 

The Purchasing of Cardstock (Bogardus Variation)

 

With the development of a reliable supply chain, the photographer could order the raw materials from several firms supplying the industry. It is believed that up to 90% of the existent backstamp designs were ordered from one supplier in Philadelphia. This company would produce heavy catalogs showing the latest innovative designs from which to choose from.

 

[insert catalog page]

 

?It is thought that most photographers would order general supplies often to retain freshness, but anecdotal evidence would suggest that cardstock was ordered a few times a year, giving the operator an opportunity to change the backstamp if a new design appealed to him or her. In the Reinhart book [insert correct spelling/name] they supposed that photographers ordered stock about six-months in advance. While frequent orders were placed, actually changing the backstamp design wasn?t done all that often, considering the plethora of designs available by the mid-to-late 1860?s. In my research for this book I looked at well over 100,000 images and can recall many distinctive backs, but it was the rare studio indeed that changed it?s design more than 5 times in the period of a decade. There is little empirical evidence to support that these backstamps were collected in any fashion, so the modern mantra of ?collect them all? with regard to variants hardly applies to this work.

 

The Bogardus studio in New York enjoyed a long run as a profitable and popular studio noted for the quality of its photography. Many famous and infamous characters warmed their posing chairs from 1860 thru 1880. Over the lifespan of the studio the backstamp was changed many times as evidenced by the backstamp variants encountered.

 

[Bogardus backstamps showing evolution from ornate small floral designs to full back display]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolution of Backstamp Design

 

Early 1860?s?? Backstamps from the earliest period are smaller in size but contain a high-level of intricacy in their engraving

 

Mid 1860?s???? During this period the artistry of the backstamp flourished as competition and individuality spurred artisans to expand the catalog of design elements. Patriotic themes flourish as the studios seek to draw the attention of the patrons by more ornate backstamps

 

Late 1860?s??? Following the war the designs focus on more personal themes including studio buildings and the beginnings of advertising. Designs occupy roughly half the back side area

The 1870?s????? Competition spurs a surge in ?informational backs? touting the talents and low prices of a particular studio. Use of multi-colored and full back designs emerges

The 1880?sThe full back design reigns as photographers develop backstamp ?brands? used on both CDVs and cabinet cards. Use of colors more prevalent

 

 

 

 

The Backstamps

Geometric

 

One of the most rudimentary backstamps is the geometric design based on circles, squares and diagonals. While the design may have had a basic shape initially, the engravers were forever embellishing this creating a myriad of variants.

 

Floral (Cartouche, Leaf, Flower)

 

Backs featuring a floral motif were fairly uncommon as a stand-alone design, more frequently appearing as elemental theme in an existent cartouche motif. Floral cartouche design appears to be more prevalent during the early 1860?s and as the cartouche designs faded from popularity, so did the floral backstamp. Considering the wide variety of floral motifs found in other forms of engraved ornamentation of the time, it?s surprising that more backstamps don?t employ a floral element.? Anecdotal evidence may suggest a general lack of feminine appeal in backstamp design in general and perhaps the floral motif was one found to be unsatisfactory to the largely male purchasing public.

Personalized (Initials, Unique designs, Full backs)

 

This category is by far the largest and most varied. With the advent of print-to-suit mounts and a competitive market clamoring for the new and unusual, the personalized or ?vanity backs? illustrate the endless possibilities used to fill the ten square inches of a standard backstamp. Generally broken down between designs featuring the photographers initials worked into a stylized monogram and the back featuring a design relatively unique to the requestor, the ?personalized? back was a major driving force for this publication. Considering that approximately 80 ? 90% of all backs in the early days featured no design elements at all, to uncover an early back design that truly expresses the individual preference of the photographer still makes my heart race.

 

Borrowed Influence (Cartouche)

 

Probably the most common of all the backstamps featuring a design is the cartouche. The repetitive nature of the form and it?s ?boilerplate? appearance would seem to indicate that these designs were plentiful and easy to reproduce for the engraver, familiar and ?good enough? for the studio with no particular preference when it came to a backstamp. The definition for what constituted a ?cartouche? took a bit to refine, but in its basic form, the design has to answer the following question: ?If you removed the client-specific text from the backstamp would you be left with an element that could be used to promote any number of items?? If so, then it?s a cartouche. Generally speaking the design will have an opening or other overlay conducive to the application of a customer logo, location or sentiment.

 

Scenic Background ? (Animals, Landscapes)

 

Scenic backgrounds were generally more prevalent during the later 1860?s through to the1880?s. While some of these designs could be considered ?personal? to the photographer, they include elements that have been (or could have been) reused by another requestor with very little re-working required of the engraver. Often the landscapes related to the local area where the photographer worked, such as the Colorado Rockies

 

Human Forms (Men, Women, Allegorical, Hands)

 

These backstamps obviously contain both generic and specific depictions of of the human form. With the exception of the ?photo studio? backstamps, Cartes showing the people are some of the most highly detailed ever produced. Included in this category are the ?allegorical? backs depicting full-standing women in incredible detail. In addition, there are rare instances where the individual photographers vanity drew him to select a back featuring his own likeness. Empirical evidence indicates that backs featuring the human form or full-body allegory scenes are the rarest of all backs, accounting for a fraction of 1% of all backs produced. Some designs have been known by a single surviving example indicating either a very small initial order and/or a short career for the photographer.

 

 

 

Photography ? (Equipment, Cameras, Studios)

 

Owing to the burgeoning photographic industry, backstamps featuring a camera, studio or other related items are fairly common. The rarer backstamps feature either an exterior or interior view of the studio itself and generally include some of the finest engraving work since these scenes required a fine amount of detail as a custom depiction. The emergence of the photographic arts led to numerous backs that combined the artist?s palate with the camera, forever correlating the photographic camera as an artistic tool equal to the painters brush.

 

Service Promotion ? (Rates, Locations, Skills, Awards)

 

During the post-war years photographers used the backstamp as a space to trumpet their personal achievements, competitive pricing and skills to help the discerning public decide which establishment to visit. Mostly these backs promoted services and prices in a non-confrontational manner, but in rare instances it?s evident that a particular studio was facing unusual circumstances and chose to use the backstamp as a marketing tool to smear the talents of his competitors and impart a particular personal message.??

 

American Movements

 

America was growing rapidly during the ?Carte Age? and the backstamps serving as an early advertising venue were also employed to appeal to the varied sentiments of their buying public. The most notable of all ?movement? themes is the ?Patriotic? back. Images including the American flag, shield, eagle and or snake all fall within this category. While it?s difficult to determine if the use of these patriotic backs increased customer traffic, it?s clear that a great number of photographers working during the war years at some point ordered backs featuring one or more of these elements. While the vast majority of photographers were working in the northern states, it?s interesting to note that to date no backs have been found promoting the cause of the rebellion states.

 

This section also includes backs showing post-war influences that were affecting both fashion and design during the 1870?s and into the 1880?s. Oriental themes and to a lesser extent Egyptian movements were fads during this period and elements of these movements made their way onto backstamps as well.

 

 

Special Backs of Note:

 

In compiling this compendium on the backstamp, there were several backs uncovered that were clearly more than just selections made from a catalog. After looking at close to 100,000 backs, these are the designs and engravings that symbolize the art of the backstamp to it?s fullest. While it?s easy for the author to tick off the greatest backs uncovered so far, it?s the backs that are yet undiscovered that keep the quest alive.