Trading Tiny Portraits

If you inherited a collection of photos and there are some people may be from the 1880s to the turn of the 20th century you do not have a clue about, it could be those photos were part of trading.

During the Victorian era (1850s – 1900), it was the practice to have a calling card, the wealthy Victorian socialite’s version of a business card, which they distributed to friends and acquaintances during house calls. With the photograph coming into use, a person could add one’s portrait to the calling card, the next step in pictorial communication.

By the 1860s a popular collection done by ordinary folks was to collect small photos of famous people, placing them in photo albums alongside images of their friends and family members. So not just calling cards, but now individual portraits were popular.

With the Civil War in the early 1860s, photos of soldiers were extremely popular and many kept by friends and family. This included famous generals during the war.

The studio background did change over the decades. In the 1860s, it was common for the portrait subjects to pose in front of a column and curtain, while 1870s imagery was all about rustic bridges. Images in the 1880s prominently featured hammocks, swings, and railway carriages; the following decade of the 1890s brought palm trees and cockatoos.

There was the desire and maybe a need to share one’s own image with others, not just family members. It was a method to announce one’s presence in the world. So you see why you just might have photos handed down of individuals who may have never been related to anyone on your family tree. They could be friends, business associates, neighbors, local politicians, etc.

Photos: Lady wearing a hat; Sheriff Edward Curtis; Male in 1890s; Civil War soldier; and child in a studio.

Related Blogs:

1870s – Victorian Photos

Smile for the Camera

Headless Photos

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