The American Antiquarian Society's photograph collection includes an extensive collection of cartes-de-visite. The most popular photographic format in the second half of the nineteenth century, cartes-de-visite measure approximately 2 ½ by 4 inches. Most served as mementos of family and friends, though beginning in the 1860s Americans also cherished cartes-de-visite of such prominent figures as presidents and generals. In fact, this medium allowed Abraham Lincoln to become America's first photographic celebrity.
This collection contains about 5,000 photographs from the 1850s through the 1870s, with the majority dating from the 1860s. The collection is divided by subject matter. The largest group consists of portraits of men, women and children from throughout the United States. Most of these depict their former owners' friends and relatives, but many represent such celebrities as Lincoln, Julius Booth and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The second largest group contains photographs of citizens in Worcester; this group includes, but is not limited to, a collection of "500 Citizens of Worcester" assembled in 1870.
Other groups of cartes-de-visite include portraits of Europeans, views of the United States, and photographs related to the Civil War. The Europeans include a larger proportion of well-known men and women than the Americans in the collection. The US views include scenic views, streets and buildings from states in each region of the country. And the Civil War photographs cover a variety of genres. Besides portraits of individual soldiers and officers from states throughout the Union and Confederacy, the collection includes separate groups of photographs of members of several Massachusetts infantry regiments, and of Worcesterites who fought in the war. Other groups include physicians, views of battlefields and camps, and regimental flags.
The collection also includes a number of smaller groups of photographs on a variety of topics. Among these are South Americans, Canadian views, American Indians, redeemed slave children, midgets and giants, sculptures, archeological finds, forms of transportation, and reproductions of paintings. And a few photographs that do not fit into any of these categories form a miscellaneous group.
Within each topical group of cartes-de-visite, the photographs are alphabetized by their content. Many groups also contain a number of photographs whose content the Antiquarian Society has not identified; these can be found at the end of the section. An inventory of the collection is available on this web site.
- Michael Cohen, AAS intern, August 2001