Carte de visite (French for "visiting card") image
 
 

Carte de visite (French for "visiting card")
Visiting card photograph of Frederick Douglass, prominent writer and orator; ca. 4" x 2-1/2"
Late 1800s

 


Carte de visite (French for "visiting card")
Visiting card photograph of Frederick Douglass, prominent writer and orator; ca. 4" x 2-1/2"
Late 1800s

The carte de visite photograph was popular first in Europe and then in the United States from the mid-1850s until 1905. An albumen print mounted on lightweight cardboard (about 4" x 2-1/2" in size), the small carte served as a calling card (much like the business card of today), a trading card, and a handy way to share pictures of family, friends, military men, celebrities, and royalty. Parisian photographer Adolph Eugene Disderi, who patented a camera to take multiple images at one time on one photographic plate, introduced the format in 1854. Soon the carte de visite (CDV) became the leading inexpensive way to create copies of a personal or group portrait. People avidly collected and exchanged CDVs; they were convenient to carry and to mail. Often people placed their CDVs in specially made albums. This photographic format remains a favorite collectible now, especially because there are great numbers of them still available as loose cards and in albums.

This carte de visite shows the image and printed identification ("Fred Douglass") of abolitionist, orator, and leading citizen Frederick Douglass (1817-1895). This photograph was probably taken after he had settled in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War. Douglass escaped slavery on Maryland's Eastern Shore to become one of the nation's leading abolitionists, orators, and champions of women's rights, as well as its most prominent African American journalist. Douglass's autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, first published in 1845, established his reputation as an abolitionist lecturer and writer; it refuted the claims of those who insisted that he could not have been a slave because he was so well-spoken, his appearance so imposing, and his demeanor so proud.

During the Civil War Douglass helped organize two black Union Army regiments in Massachusetts. After the war ended, he continued his career in Washington, D.C., living first near the Supreme Court building and then relocating to Cedar Hill, his estate in Anacostia, Southeast Washington. In 1877 he was appointed U. S. Marshal and in 1880 Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. His last public post was as American consul-general to the Republic of Haiti and Santo Domingo. On his deathbed, his last words were "Agitate, agitate, agitate."

With CDVs, look on the back of the card for identifications, signatures, and the imprint of the photographer.