British photographic history

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Anyone researching or interested in "sub carte de visite size portraits"

Towards the end of the 19th Century, as competition forced down prices between professional photographers, so some looked for new products beyond the carte de visite, the cabinet and postcard formats and for new markets. Some, perhaps today we might describe them as from the lower end of the photographic trade, found a way ahead by developing smaller, less expensive portrait formats, using fewer materials, and marketed these, sometimes as novelties, to those who hitherto may not have been able to afford more traditional photographic products. So we find from around the 1890s to perhaps the 1920s a variety of different offerings and formats of tiny portraits, with many different names, no standard nomenclature, a whole body of work which I don’t believe photo historians have yet named as a genre. These might be loosely described as a “sub carte-de-visite size formats”. These include stamp photographs, miniature cartes, midget cartes,  American midgets, promenade midget, minettes, stickybacks, Morrotypes, and no doubt  other formats named after particular studios or by individual photographers. 

Some of these portraits are poorly produced, indifferent quality images, but some are delightful little gems, full of character and detail and depicting different clients to the middle classes found on surviving  cdvs. But these images don’t seem to have survived very well, smaller un-mounted items being easily damaged and lost, and few purchasers preserved them in albums, even though there were albums for tiny portraits.  Some are wrongly identified as photo booth portraits, few have the benefit of surviving captions and so many have not survived clearing the estates of at least two passing generations. 

Higher volume low cost portraiture posed another problem for the photographer – matching the right print to every sitter. This was achieved in many cases by showing a negative or job number  within the image itself, sometimes by the simple expedient of hanging a number on the backdrop, sometimes with a camera which simultaneously photographed an internal number and the sitter.  There would have been a range of specialist moveable camera backs and printing devices associated with these products, with patents by photographers such as Spiridione Grossi, Dennis Benjamin Seaman, George Thomas Bayley and others. 

A lot of good research has been done into Stickybacks, especially by David Simkin (see the amazing , but is there anyone out there researching or interested in this whole forgotten genre of sub carte-de-visite size portraits. 

The attached image shows an example group of sub carte-de-visite size portraits, the largest of these is 2.25 x 1.75 inches , and the smallest 1.1 x 1.6 inches , none are mounted, and only the Stickyback and the Morrotype images have indications of the photographer who took them.

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Yes, I'm interested in these too, although I have few examples to share, and even less in the way of information. I'll post a few that I have from A Seaman and Sons of Chesterfield (and further afield, DB Seaman who you mentioned being one of the sons of Alfred).

Regards, Brett


a couple more from my collection


Some interesting examples Brett. These are all examples of tiny portraits which have been made into better looking, bigger,  products by mounting them on different types and sizes of card mounts. Perhaps this whole genre should be divided into "mounted" and "un-mounted" sub carte de visite size portraits. Might it be possible to find a name of each of these different sized offerings? I have added another scan of a few more mounted examples. Top left is an embossed mount with impressed  "G.Wilson Grange", top centre is by "E.H.Hazell, Clevedon", Top right is labelled as a "Promenade Midget" by "W.M.Harrison, Truro". (The Promenade midget format was therefore 3.2 x 1.55 inches) There is no identification on the lower two items in the scan. 


I have added a couple of images of studio camera backs used to take midget and stamp sized negatives. Both are from Marion and Co's 1906 Photographic Catalogue. The first is a "Repeating Midget Back". This could be used with a 1/2 plate, six on, or with half of a half plate four on. The second is the more sophisticated  "Soho Repeating Back for stamp and Midget Photographs" patented by George Thomas Bayley. This took six exposures on a quarter plate. The circular device at the top of the apparatus showed which of the six positions was being taken, enabling the camera to be used by different operators without them losing track of which parts of the plate had been exposed. These repeating backs would have produced negatives with a theoretical maximum size of 2.17 x 2.13 inches or 2.13 x 1.63 inches or 1.42 x 1.63 inches - but with borders and or overlaps and trimming, final contact prints would have been smaller than this.


Thank you, Les. This helps to put it all into some perspective.

According to Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography, B.Jones, 1911, there were specific British sizes for mounts, not only "Midgets", but for "Victoria Midgets", "Cabinet Midgets", "Promenade Midgets", "Boudoir Midgets" and "Panel Midgets". See attached image. Nothing yet found on sizes for unmounted sub carte-de-visite size portraits.


I'd not seen that. Very useful, thank you.

I've now added some of these and some new text on the genre to my site at - I would welcome comments or additional information please.

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