Walnutts FAQ’s: What Is a “CDV”?

Walnutts FAQ’s is a series of common questions… and their answers.

Q. I notice you frequently sell or post about “CDVs” on your auction page and website. What is a CDV, exactly?

A. A CDV (or more precisely a “carte-de-visite”) is small albumen print that is mounted on a standard sized 2 1/2″ by 4″ backing card. The process was patented in 1854 by a Parisian photographer, and the style gained their height of popularity in the United States during the Civil War. The were called carte-de-visite, which is French for “visiting card,” because their compact size made them perfect for “photographic calling cards” that could be presented during a social visit.

Their standardized size made them convenient for photo album makers, and they were easy to trade and collect. These types of photos also served as a way to familiarize Americans with the faces and popular images of politicians, military officers and other celebrities. They may have been presented to the public as a “souvenir” of the war or as a memorial. Around 1868, the larger cabinet card photograph became popular and by 1885, had taken over most of the carte-de-visite’s market.

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