What is a CDV?

Early Photographs

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth. Courtesy Library of Congress


The CDV is named for the French phrase, carte de visite. The phrase means visiting card or calling card. In 1854, a photographer in France, André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri, patented in Paris a method of printing small photographs on paper which were then mounted on thicker paper. Some credit another French photographer, Louis Dodero, with an invention date of 1851.

CDVs were traded among friends, and acquiring the CDVs of such famous people as Napoleon or Sojourner Truth was also popular in Europe and America, giving rise to the expression "cardomania." During the American Civil War these were enormously popular, allowing soldiers to carry images of their loved ones and to send their own images home.

CDVs were typically about 63 x 100 mm in size, or 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches, sometimes described as 2 1/2 by 4 inches. Many have the photographer's identity on the back; if you have one of these you are lucky if someone pencilled in the name of the subject of the photograph. Many were not labeled and are difficult to identify now.

The photographic process used a mixture of egg whites (thus the name "albumen print"), silver nitrate and sodium chloride to make the image.

The carte de visite photograph was supplanted by other methods including the tintype and cabinet cards, both usually larger in format.

Pronunciation: cee-dee-vee

Alternate Spellings: carte-de-visite

Common Misspellings: carte de ville

Examples: Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and women's rights advocate, sold CDVs of her own image at her speaking tours as a way of making a living (not unlike musicians today who sell CDs at their gigs).

See: Sojourner Truth Images

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "What is a CDV?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-cdv-3529198. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, March 25). What is a CDV? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cdv-3529198 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "What is a CDV?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-cdv-3529198 (accessed November 22, 2017).