I’m sure I must have come across carts de visites dozens of times while rummaging through books shops and vintage stalls, but it was only last year that I actually began to take real notice of them—and to add them to the other bits of ephemera that increasingly fill my home.
Originating in the mid-1800s and measuring some 2½ by 4 inches, this popular form of small photograph were used as calling cards and as keepsakes. Invented by photographer Louis Dodero but popularised and patented by André Disdéri, they employed Antoine Claudet’s ‘multiplying camera-obscura’ that allowed several images of the subject to be taken quickly. The sitter could choose from the available images or order additional copies at a later date. The phrase ‘copies may be had’ is consequently found on the reverse of many of the cards. In the late 1800s, the collecting and trading of cards became very popular in Europe and the USA; a demand that lasted until the interest in outdoor and informal photography provided other distractions.
Not only are the pictures of the sitters engaging, but the cards often have another equally fascinating element; the wonderful photographer’s advertisements that occupy the reverse of the images. Some of these advertisements use only a minimum of text and detail, while others have beautiful illustrations, motifs or ornamented initials. Each one is a miniature study in design—derived from establishments that have long since disappeared, and from cities and streets that are often changed beyond recognition or have been erased from the urban landscape altogether. They are small, ephemeral links to our collective past.
A number of the photographs from the items I’ve collected are included in a short booklet that I’ve recently published called ‘Copies May be Had‘. More details are available on my website http://www.fastfootpress.co.uk , and copies can be bought from my online shop.
This substantial, late Victorian house, is located in the Scotforth area of Lancaster and was originally known as Temple Villa. The ornate lettering with its ‘tuscan’ embellishments, refers to Edmund (1835-1908) and Isabella Langstreth (1846-1918).
Although Edmund was a Town Councillor, I’ve so far been unable to uncover much more about the lives of the Langtreths or why the house was given its name. There are though, some tantalising suggestions of links to New Zealand and the United States. There is a record of an Isabella Langstreth of Lancaster (a widower, aged 66), departing Liverpool in 1912 onboard the ship Cedric for New York, accompanied by May Langstreth (aged 28). Could this be the same Isabella, leaving Britain four years after the husband’s death?
One sad fact that I have been able to uncover is that that their son, Edmund, an engineer and later a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, served at Gallipoli and on the Western Front and died on active service in November 1916, aged 28. More information would be of interest.
The letters have accompanying numerals giving the date of 1889, along with the rose of Lancashire.
Location: Scotforth Road, Lancaster, UK.
A relatively rare example constructed in ceramic (terracotta), this plaque is found on a row of terrace houses. D & H refer to the builders, Dowthwaite & Huntington.
Location: Addle Street, Lancaster, UK.
These simple numerals are found above the door of a mid-nineteenth century house (No.7) on St. George’s Quay, Lancaster.
Location: St. George’s Quay, Lancaster, UK.
These letters – broad, white serifs on grey-blue ceramic – are found on the frontage of a block of flats on Dury Lane. Presumably they refer to Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1851-1816), Irish playwright and owner of the nearby Theatre Royal, who was also a member of Parliament. The buildings were constructed around 1900 by London County Council for rehousing purposes on land originally owned by the Duke of Bedford.
Location: Dury Lane, London, UK.