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Sub carte-de-visite size portraits - setting the context for the stickyback

Towards the end of the 19th Century, as competition forced down prices between professional photographers, so some looked for new markets and for new products beyond the well-known carte de visite, cabinet and postcard formats. Some found a way ahead by introducing "cheap work" developing smaller, less expensive portrait formats, using less material, and marketed these, sometimes as novelties, to those who hitherto may not have been able to afford more traditional photographic products. Some photographers shifted primarily to these products, while others added them to their existing offerings. So we find from around the 1890s to perhaps the 1920s a variety of different offerings and formats of tiny portraits, some with different names, no standard nomenclature, a whole body of work which photo historians have not yet named or considered as a genre. These might be loosely described as a “sub carte-de-visite size formats”. A few of the formats produced did, and still do, have names, and we will first list these before going on to discuss the important "Stickyback" remainder.

The shrinking carte de visite

The standard carte de visite was a photograph pasted onto a slightly larger card mount which was approximately 2.5 x 4.15 inches. The mount usually had printed information about the photographer, often within an elaborate graphic design, on either the face or reverse or both. Costs could be reduced by using cheaper mounts, perhaps without any customised printing; by reducing the size of the photograph stuck to the mount; then by reducing the size of the mount itself as well as the size of the photograph. The composite photograph below illustrates these trends - in the top left hand corner is a fairly standard cdv by Gates Brothers, Cambridge. The top row has four other identical sized mounts but with reducing sizes of photographs attached; all four mounts have no printing on the front or rear, but instead bear the photographer's details impressed into the card with a hand embossing machine (the photographers are, left to right, Geo Pendry Nottingham, Geo Pendry Nottingham, J.Kerby and Son Ipswich and Harwich and Frank Hull of New Barnet). All of these top row images would have been sold as "cartes de visite" and would be regarded as such by today's collectors. The next two rows show a gradual reduction in the size of both the photographic images and the mounts, the smallest of these is a photograph just 0.85 x 1.2 inches on a mount 2.4 x 2.85 inches (by G Wilson of Grange). Would the photographers concerned have sold these as cartes de visite, or under some other product name? I don't think that today's collector would call these smaller versions "cartes de visite". They are tiny photographic portraits, dressed up as something better and more traditional, by the simple expedient of sticking them onto a cheap card mount.

Collection of shrinking cartes de visite

The shrinking Cabinet Photograph

The cabinet photograph, in use since the 1860s, was a big brother to the carte de visite, typically the mount measured ​4.25 by ​6.5 inches, the image was slightly smaller. No doubt a number of photographers cut the cost and price on cabinet type products by reducing first the size of the photographic image on the cabinet mount, then reduced the quality and finally the size of the mount itself. The image below of an unknown young woman, by The Novelty Studio, 184 Union Street, Plymouth (c.1913-15) , is just under 2 inches in diameter on a mount measuring 3.25 x 5 ins.

Novelty Studio reduced cabinet card

Stamp Photographs

These were novelty photographs, produced postage stamp sized, with a postage stamp like appearance, generally with a portrait within a stamp-like border and in some cases with perforated edges. The earliest advertisement found for these is from 1863. An example pair of stamp photographs are shown below. These have, perhaps unusually, been stuck onto a blank carte de visite mount, probably to display them within an album. By the early 20th century the term "Stamp photograph" was being used by some to describe a tiny portrait whose only similarity to a postage stamp was its small size and shape. There is more on stamp photographs on our site here.

Two stamp photographs

Midgets

UK advertisements for midget photographs can be found in newspapers from around 1883, midget cartes de visite from around 1889. The term "Midget" became so widely used that it might have been applied to a whole range of different sizes of smaller prints and mounts. You will find additional references to Midgets in our page on Stickyback Cameras.

The British Midget, or Midget carte de visite, mount was 1516 x 214 inches or 3.3 x 5.7cm (according to Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography, Ed B.Jones, 1911).

Hawkes, 8 George Street, Plymouth, a studio established a quarter of a century, enthusiastically advertises Midget cartes on Page 1 of the Western Morning News, 23 May 1883, in the following terms:

The Carte Midget - Most popular in Paris
The Carte Midget - Takes well in London
The Carte Midget - Bound to go in the provinces
The Carte Midget - First introduction in the West
The Carte Midget - Most suitable for the present style of dress
The Carte Midget - Can be rendered at half the normal price
The Carte Midget - Noted in the extreme
The Carte Midget - You are bound to like them
The Carte Midget - Grand style for gentlemen’s half-lengths
The Carte Midget - Equally suitable for children
The Carte Midget - Vignettes are most charming
The Carte Midget - Come and see them
The Carte Midget - Most comical little pictures
The Carte Midget - Wonderfully taking little pictures
The Carte Midget - Just what has been wanted for a long time
The Carte Midget - Look at Hawkes’ window 8 George Street

Below is a selection of midget cartes, often with mounts printed on both the face and reverse, and with the overall appearance of a scaled down version of the traditional cdv.

A range of midget cartes de visite

Miniatures

Painted miniature portraits were an art form for those who could afford them from the mid 18th century until after the introduction of Daguerreotypes and photography. Some painters of miniature portraits became photographers as photography became established. The word "miniature" seems to have been used as a general descriptive term applied to smaller photographs since the 1850s, for example "miniature photographs to fit in lockets". Today collectors and sellers often refer to "midget" cartes (see above) as "miniature" cartes. However this does not seem to have become the name for any specific sizes or types of photographs or mounts.

The Royal Miniature

The image below is of a small portrait, about 2 in x 1.5 in, in an ornate embossed card mount 3 in x 2.25 in. The mount is labelled "The Royal Miniature" and on the reverse is shown the studio - "Sticky Backs, 48 Biggin Street Dover and Atlanta Pier Road Ilfracombe". Was "The Royal Miniature" a standard size and type of product or simply a grand name given by a Sticky Back photographer to a mount used for his portraits?

Royal Miniaturereverse of Royal Miniature

The American Midget

The example below is a portrait measuring just 1.35in x 1.2 in, on flimsy photographic paper, stamped on the reverse "The American Midget, Lime Street, Liverpool". There is a dappled background and the print has faded somewhat. Although this sounds like a format size, it may simply be the name of a Liverpool stickyback studio from the early 1900s. The precise address of this photographer in Lime Street Liverpool is not shown. It is likely that the photographer was American Galleries, 7 Lime Street Liverpool. They were operating from around 1912-1918 and also had studios at Kinmel Camp and 17 High Street, Rhyl, North Wales, and at 259 Argyle Street Glasgow. Below is a postcard portrait, by American Galleries, of an unknown gent in bowler hat with walking stick. Below this is another small photograph, 1.5in x 1.9in of a seated lady. This has been inserted into a green embossed mount which bears the legend: "The American Midget, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Glasgow, Rhyl, Douglas IOM and Birkenhead." It is impossible to know the original size of the mount as it has been cropped, to approximately carte de visite size, presumably to fit into an album. The aperture in the mount measures 1.4in x 1.9in. The mottled backcloth in these three portraits appears similar.

American Midget photograph

American Galleries portrait, postcard format

American Midget

The Promenade Midget

Below is an example of a Promenade Midget carte de visite by W.M.Harrison of Truro. The mount is black card, printed on the face only, with rounded corners and a plain reverse. From the dress of the subject this would appear to date from 1890s. The carte unusually caries the description "PROMENADE MIDGET" on the face of the mount. Its size is 3.2 x 1.55 inches. Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography, Ed B.Jones, 1911, describes the Promenade Midget mount as 318 x 138 inches.

Promenade Midget carte by W.M.Harrison of Truro

The Minette

According to photo historian Peter Stubbs ( www.edinphoto.org.uk ), Minette photos measured about 1.5 ins x 2.5 ins mounted on cards 1.625 ins x 3 ins (broadly similar size and proportions to the ubiquitous cigarette card). Photo historian Jeremy Rowe (www.vintagephoto.com) gives the size of a minette carte as 1.5 x 2.38 in or 2 x 3.13 in. A search for the word "Minette" in the British Newspaper Archive does not provide a hit on a single photographer's advertisement mentioning this product. The variation in possible sizing and lack of advertising suggest that this must be a rather unusual product. The four photographs below could be Minettes from their sizing, but may not have been either labelled or sold as such.
From left to right these are:

  1. unknown boy by Cambridge photographer Ralph Starr (cropped slightly at the bottom) measures 1.4 in x 2.65 in on a mount 1.5 in x 3 in,
  2. unknown man by D.B.Seaman and Co, Douglas IOM on a single piece of photographic paper measuring 1.6 x 2.75 in,
  3. unknown girl, seated, black border, unmounted and printed on photographic paper, photographer unknown, 1.5 x 3.5 in, and
  4. vignette of unknown girl, photographer unknown, unmounted, printed on photographic paper and dated 1932, 1.8 x 3.45 in.

Four Minettes

Below are four further examples, possibly Minettes, from one photographer, Morris and Co, 1 Denmark Street, Bristol. These are 1.75 x 3.25 inches and are printed on a glossy photo paper, unmounted, with the photographer's details impressed in the bottom border with a hand embossing machine. The well dressed subjects are unknown, the images are first class and have not deteriorated in any way over time. They date from around 1907-09.

Four portraits by Morris and Co, Bristol

The next portrait of a boy standing on a wooden seat measures 1.7 x 3.4 inches and is by Derbyshire's Studios who were at Wigan and Chorley. Gillian Jones in her Lancashire Photographers 1840-1940 has James Alfred Derbyshire at Wigan in 1913 and 1920, and at Chorley 1905 to 1913, and at Blackburn in 1909. The size of this photograph is unmounted and has a blank reverse. It's size just about qualifies it as a minette

Minette sized portrait of a boy standing on a wooden seat, by J.A.Derbyshire c.1913

The Morrotype

The first image below of an unknown man in a straw boater measures 1.6 x 2.05 inches, and has been inaccurately cut on a slant from a strip. Across the bottom of the strip is written "Morrotype" and a number 855. In the bottom left corner are some other numbers or letters which are indecipherable, but may be a partial date, best guess 1907. There is a similarity with a stickyback photograph, but this is slightly larger and does not seem to have had an adhesive back. It could be a contemporary copy, possibly an improvement, of the Stickyback. The second photograph is a Morrotype apparently dated 12 June 1905. This image is reproduced with the kind permission of the owner, Penny Guest, and shows her Great Uncle, Sam Stephenson, b. 1881 who served in the Royal Marines Light Infantry and the Royal Navy Fleet Reserve. In 1905 Sam had connections with Halifax and Portsmouth, so it is possible that the Morrotypes were produced at one or other of these locations. On the other hand, the dress and demeanor of the other sitter suggests a possible seaside or holiday location. Presumably a photographer with the name of Morro, (or possibly Morrot), claimed this as his or her own invention. No obvious trace has yet been found of such a photographer in the British Newspaper Archive, 1901 and 1911 England census returns, UK Patents of the period, or trade directories of Yorkshire and Hampshire. Below the two Morrotypes is the reverse of the 1905 image which has the remains of what might have been a photographer's or a picture framer's label - any suggestions as to its origin would be most gratefully received.

Morrotype1905 Morrotype of Sam Stephenson

Reverse of 1905 Morrotype

The American Gem

These were usually tiny little tintypes presented in a little oval cut-out in a carte de visite sized mount. Often rather dark and murky in appearance, there are sometimes rust (oxidation) marks showing through the gummed paper sealing the metal plate onto the back of the mount. Below is an example with a festive greeting mount. For comparison purposes two other oval mounted photographs are shown - the tintype is on the left, photographer unknown.

Gem type and two other oval mounted small portraits

Below are three more examples of American Gem Tintypes. The one in the centre is in a mount with simple embossed decoration. There is a printed label on the reverse holding the tintype in position in the mount. The label shows this to be by The American Gem Studio, Commercial Road, Landport, Portsmouth. According to the label they were selling Gem portraits nine for 7.5 pence. This studio was also offering "Cameos" and cartes de visite. Next is a tiny tintype of a boy, on a pale blue embossed mount - on the face is the name of the photographer J.F.Lowrie 10 Jamaica St Glasgow. The tintype is held in position by a label listing Lowrie's other studios in Fleet St London, Birmingham, Liverpool and America.

Three American Gem tintypes

Reverse of American Gem tintype

Gem Portrait by J.F.Lowrie

Tintypes were inexpensive to produce and were produced in many other sizes, mounted and unmounted. The example below, unmounted, measures 1 5/8 in x 2 1/2 in and shows two seated women in large hats, c.1900, photographer, location and subjects unknown.

Small tintype of two women

Postcard Mounts, e.g. Schofield's Patent Postcard Mount.

Shown below is a scan of a postcard sized mount, 5.5 x 3.5 inches, into which is inserted a tiny photographic portrait. The photograph is around 1.2 x 1.6 inches, the oval aperture in the mount is 1 x 1.3 inches. The portrait is held in place by a stuck-down paper backing sheet, printed in dark green, as a divided back postcard. Printed on the paper back is "Schofield & Co, Burnley. Patent No 11531". The face of the mount has an elaborate embossed floral design, which rather swamps the tiny photograph displayed. There appears to be some hand coloured detail applied to a printed and embossed design. This afforded a way of turning a tiny inexpensive photograph into a more impressive looking product. Several other examples of these mounts have been seen with different floral designs.

Schofield & Co was a tobacconist firm at 99 St James's Street, Burnley. In 1903 their premises were offered to let (Burnley Express - Wednesday 04 March 1903 p1). It would appear that the business was taken over by William Henry Smith, (b.1865 Burnley, d.1949), a tobacconist and the son of a cotton mill manager, who continued to trade from the premises in the name of Schofield & Co. By 1907 William Henry Smith, still a tobacconist, had a lucrative sideline. He was manufacturing and publishing picture postcards. He appeared before local magistrates for breach of the Factory Acts, allegedly employing young girls for excessive hours for "bronzing picture postcards". The hand-applied detail in the design below, now a dull brown, may well have been bronze when applied. Smith was acquitted on the charge after agreeing to pay costs. (Burnley Express - Saturday 11 January 1908 p8). The firm of Schofield and Co continued to operate in Burnley as tobacconists and wholesale tobacconists at least until 1949. William Henry Smith died on 16 May 1949 (Burnley Express - Saturday 21 May 1949 p10) It is not known over what period Smith produced these postcard mounts. His patent was in fact No GB190611531, application dated 17 May 1906; patent accepted 28 Feb 1907. In the Patent specification Smith stated: "This invention has reference to pictorial postcards, and consists in providing means for the ready attachment of a miniature photo, or other small picture, or object, or representation, to the postcard, between the picture and the back of the card, and in such manner that the same will be exposed to view through a sight opening, cut or punched, in the picture, whereby the same will present the appearance of being mounted in the picture or forming part of the same." Smith went on to give two examples of how this design might be used. First, by inserting a miniature photo of a visitor into a postcard with a view of the seaside resort or other watering hole visited, so that this will "convey to the mind of the recipient an association of the sender, or party depicted with the particular place , in a way which is likely to be impressive." His second example was "by the representation of the headless body of some grotesque figure or figures, animal, dwarf, or other image, over which may be fixed the head of the sender, or of a friend, in the shape of a photo". No examples have yet been found of these two different applications of the patent, but Schofield & Co also produced a number of other postcards, largely of either a topographical or a sentimental theme, which were not also photographic mounts. William Henry Smith was mentioned again in the local press, seeking redress from a non-paying customer, in 1915. (Burnley Express - Saturday 15 May 1915 p12). We have not yet seen one of these Schofield Postcard Mounts bearing the name of any photographer or studio. Willam Henry Smith was a successful businessman, publisher and inventor. His obituary states that, in addition to his wholesale tobacco business, he was Chairman of Directors of the Alhambra Cinema, Burnley, and of a cinema at Church. He was also owner of the Capitol Cinema, Nelson and with his son-in-law he was joint-owner of a laundry at Church Stretton, Shropshire. (Burnley Express - Wednesday 18 May 1949 p3) His estate was valued in 1949 at over £84,000, the equivalent in today's money of almost £3m.

Postcard mount by Schofield & Co Burnley.

A product review in the Amateur Photographer periodical,  September 5 1905 p200 may contain the inspiration for Smith's patented idea. The Ensign slip in postcard was reviewed as follows. "These cards are really slip in mounts printed on the back with the regulation postcard matter, the front having a cut out opening to accommodate a small print. There is an assortment of highly artistic designs in each packet. The mounts being faced with mounting paper in soft neutral tints while the design is embossed in low relief in colours which harmonise most charmingly with the mounting pattern. After the print is inserted the card is gummed at the edge, the opening closed and there is no possibility of the print coming out or getting lost". Ensign postcards were available from Messrs Houghtons Ltd 88, 89 High Holbourn

Ensign Slip in postcards 1905

Other mount sizes

There must have been other mount sizes and products with specific names. The first two cartes below for example are obviously on mounts by professional mount manufacturers and do not fit into any of the above descriptions. That on the left, on a cream mount, is by Hawke of Plymouth measures 4.25 x 2 inches. That on the right, photographer unknown, on green facing card, with maroon reverse and gilt chamfer edges has no information about the photographer and measures 3 x 2.25 inches. Both have blank reverse sides. The third photograph below is a diamond shaped print with rounded corners, pasted onto a cream card mount within a grey printed diamond. There is no other printing on the mount. The actual photograph is 1.0 x 0.85 inches and is perfectly shaped and so was probably cut out from a larger print with a specially shaped hole punch. The mount measures 2.8 x 1.6 inches and appears to be roughly cut by hand. The printed diamond within which the photograph is pasted appears to have been made with a rubber stamp, a perfect match to the size and shape of the photograph. Perhaps one of the photographic suppliers sold the cutter and rubber stamp as a matching pair. The mount may have been cut down to fit in an album, or the photographer may have finished it imperfectly. There are no details of the photographer, but in pencil on the reverse is written "Miss Harcourt".

Two cartes of unknown format

Diamond designed portrait of a Miss Harcourt

Bijou / Midget Postcards

Below are two examples of another, more economic version, of an existing photographic format. The first real photo postcard below is just 3 in x 4 in and depicts a teenage boy in shorts, the soft focus is probably due to subject movement. The reverse is a postcard back, with the title "Bayley's Bijou Post Card" and the address of Bayley's Studio "22 East Street, Newquay". This is from the early 1930s. Bayley's Studio also did "Walking Pictures" in Newquay. Below this is another even smaller example, 3.5 x 2.5 inches, depicting an unknown lady and an aspidistra. No photographer's details are shown, but on the reverse, on a divided postcard back is the description "Midget Post Card".

Bayley's Bijou Post Card, portrait of a boy.

Midget Postcard, unknown photographer

Other Tiny Portraits - Stickybacks

Once the various named formats of smaller portraits are taken into consideration, we have left a variety of tiny photographic portraits, generally un-mounted, examples of which are illustrated below. (scales shown are in inches)

Rather sadly, the very knowledgeable photo historian, Roger Vaughan, wrote:
"In every collection there is a small amount of dross left in the bottom of the drawer - well here is mine! - I do not fully understand what they are, but they appear to be early 20th century, and from some sort of photo booth? they have numbers above their heads 302, 304. .... The small size of these (2 inches by 1 inch and a half) makes me wonder what they were for? Just a cheap format perhaps. [I am told that they were suitable for cutting up and putting in lockets]" He illustrated this page with just a few tiny portraits. (www.cartes.freeuk.com/small/small.htm) .

Roger Vaughan's comments probably represent the views of today's collectors and photo historians. We think these tiny portraits deserve greater recognition. As to what they are called, we believe that, were we able to show these to professional photographers of the time when they were taken, they would simply call them "Stickybacks". To illustrate the point, three different writers to the editor of the British Journal of Photography in 1911 referred to the sector of their trade producing this type of work as:

  • "the cheap jacks, the postcard, stickyback and 1s 11d enlargement branch of photography";
  • "the third rate, stickyback or postcard man";
  • “stickybacks and postcards .......class of business”.

( British Journal of photography 17 Feb 1911 p 130, British Journal of photography June 16 1911 p466, British Journal of Photography Sept 15 1911 p712.)

So perhaps today's collectors and photo historians should recognise these tiny portraits as "Stickybacks", even where the image does not include that word, or the address of a stickyback photographer on a sign board within the image. Perhaps also "Stickybacks" need not even exhibit adhesive gum on the reverse. This may never have been present, or may have disappeared after use. Below are some examples of the genre (the scales shown are in inches).

Variety of sub carte de visite size portraits (1)

 

Variety of sub carte de visite size portraits (2)

 

Variety of sub carte de visite size portraits (3)

 

Variety of sub carte de visite size portraits (4)

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www.stickybacks.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring the Stickyback photograph genre and Stickyback Photographers.
This page was last modified: 29 July 2019, 18:05

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