Monday, October 24, 2011

Photos: Cartes-de-visite (CDVs)

1890-Louisa v Beverhoudt (Medium) (2)
Louisa van Beverhoudt, 1890
This weekend I spent a big chunk of time going through the old pictures from St. Croix.  The pictures seem to run from about the 1880's to the 1980's in a variety of formats, including 4x6 cabinet cards and little cartes-de-visite.  I discussed the Cabinet cards in by post Profile: Mary Conrad Simonsen.  Most of the oldest pictures are of that format.  The "carte-de-visite", or CDV, was another popular format, approximately 2.5" x 4" and, like the cabinet cards, mounted on thick cardboard.  Sizes weren't variable since they were made by cutting down standard film sheets to pre-defined sizes. The process was developed around 1854 and became popular because it was easier and cheaper than older photographic processes.  It was common for people to get many of these printed up and hand them around, as the name suggests, as visiting cards.
When dealling with 19th century photography, it is important to understand a little of the history of photography.  The earliest photos were daguerrotypes (c. 1839) which were imaged on silver.  Ambrotypes (c. 1854) were on glass, and tintypes (c. 1856) were on cheaper iron (not tin).  This brought photography in reach to the masses.  Portraits of common
people didn't take really take off until the development of photography on paper, beginning with the CDV (c. 1854) and later a larger version, the Cabinet Card (c. 1866).  The latter is so named because you could set it on a cabinet and see it from across the room. 

Both cabinet cards and CDVs were albumin (egg white) based and suffer aging rather strongly, showing yellowing and foxing (the orange spots that develop).  Virtually all of my 19th century photos show strong effects. Since the photos were kept in St. Croix for nearly 100 years, I'm amazed they survived at all!
Back of Photo
Louisa van Beverhoudt, 1890
In my box, I found several cabinet cards, but I found these two CDVs.  The first, of a middle aged woman, has written on the back, "Token of  affection to my dear brother Claudius van Beverhoudt and my  niece Hester." it is dated 13th July, 1890.  The signature clearly says "Louisa", but the surname is unfamiliar and hard to read.  I know that my great-great-grandfather Claudius had a daughter Hester and a sister named Louisa Elize van Beverhoudt (I referred to her in my post Case Study: Adelaide’s Maiden Name .
According to census documents Louisa was born around 1840 and appears in the St. Croix censuses through 1870.  She may have married or left the island by 1880.  Perhaps the name on the back is her surname name.  Sure wish I could read it though (If you think you know what it says, please let me know). Looking at the picture, she could easily be about 50 in 1890, which would match the information I have.
Along with Louisa's CDV is a second card, same size and style, and the writing appears to be in the same hand.  It is an older gentleman with a full white beard.  This card is similarly notated: "Token of affection to my niece Hester," and dated 13 July 1890 as well.  I can't quite make out the signature, although it looks like "Capt. Haytian".  I have found no record of anyone by that name so far.
1890-Beverhoudt Husband (Medium)
Photo of "Mystery Man"
So, what can I learn from these photos?  The cards are virtually identical in style, suggesting that they were made by the same photographer, although neither bears a studio name.  Although they are both dated the same, the date could refer to when they were sent, rather than when they were taken. It does seem likely, though, that this "Mystery Man" and my great great aunt were together.  His card refers to Hester as his "niece" which would suggest marriage, although this is by no means conclusive.  I'm particularly troubled by her surname which, although I can't read it, is different from both her maiden name (van Beverhoudt) and the Mystery Man's name.  Perhaps she was widowed and in an unmarried relationship?
Mystery Man back
I also don't know where the pictures were taken.  They may have been on St. Croix, but could just as easily have been St.  Thomas or even somewhere else.  The census records don't show anyone with either of these names (or similar names) on St. Croix in 1880 or 1890, but I don't know about St. Thomas. The St. Thomas censuses have not been indexed.  I would have to go through them all, line by line.  A daunting proposition, since they aren't available on-line either.
On the plus-side, what this picture find does tell me is that the conclusions that I reached through census documents: that Hester's father was named Claudius and that Claudius had a younger sister named Louisa, seem stronger. 

It also tells me that I am going to have to look for a lot more information on Louisa.

1 comment:

  1. 'Cap Haytian' on the back of Mystery man's photo may not be his name, but instead may refer to a place: the port of Cap Haitien on the north coast of Haiti.

    I know that the spelling 'Haytian' was a common spelling for that era and that during the 1880's and 1890's that there was a fair amount of trade between Haiti and St. Thomas, at least in my merchant families.