A carte de visite consists of a small albumen print photograph on paper mounted on cards of around 2½ by 4 inches. The size of the format was patented by a Parisian photographer, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854, and soon spread to the UK and the US. The standard size meant people could exchange portraits or even buy celebrity portraits and place them in special carte de visite albums. Cartes de visite could also be sent easily in the post unlike the previous daguerreotype and ambrotype photographs.
Carte de visite photographs were created in a camera that had multiple lenses, allowing several images on a single large glass photographic plate to reduce the cost. Since the negative was on a glass plate (using the wet collodian process) any number of further copies could be made.
In England, carte de visite were very popular, with sales running into hundreds of millions annually, and they also became popular during the American Civil War as soldiers and their families posed for photos. Most images were taken in the studio, though there were some of landscapes.
Sales of cartes de visite reached a peak during the 1860s, but they remained popular until the early 20th century despite the introduction of the larger cabinet card in the 1860s. Earlier examples usually use thinner card and the card had square corners. Rounded corners on the mount were introduced in the 1870s.
The introduction of the simple and inexpensive Brownie camera by Kodak in 1900, meant home photography became much more affordable and the studio portrait less necessary.