Smaller Sized Portrait Photographs - setting the context
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 long established "carte de visite" and "cabinet photograph" formats. After 1904, many produced prints in the new postcard format, which could be used for postal communication as well as more traditional purposes. Some photographers found a way ahead by introducing "cheap work" developing smaller, less expensive, portrait formats, saving on materials, 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 smaller portrait formats, 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 which family and local historians might encounter. Specific names were given to some of these formats but there was a lot of variation and lack of precision in nomenclature. Taken together, these smaller sized portraits are a whole body of work which photo historians have not yet named or considered as a genre.
Rather sadly, the very knowledgeable photo historian, Roger Vaughan, wrote:
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 don't believe there was a single term in use covering this whole genre when these were produced. Below are some of the names and descriptions from the period.
The standard carte de visite, introduced in the 1850s, was a photograph pasted onto a slightly larger card mount. . The mount, which was approximately 2.5 x 4.15 inches, usually carried 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, perhaps printed with a rubber stamp; 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 name"carte de visite" could be used to describe all of these variations. 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 probably 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 any of 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 smaller sized portrait photographs, dressed up as something better and more traditional, by the simple expedient of sticking them onto a cheap card mount.
The cabinet photograph, or cabinet print, in use since the 1860s, was a big brother to the carte de visite, typically the mount measured approximately 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, an example portrait 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. Would these have been sold as cabinets?
There were two different types of stamp photographs. The earliest advertisement found for these is from 1863. Initially these were novelty photographs, produced roughly 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 and or with gummed backs. 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 a second version had emerged, with the term "Stamp photograph" being used to describe a tiny portrait whose similarity to a postage stamp was simply its small size and shape. There is much more on stamp photographs on our site here. A check of advertisements for photographic equipment from 1905-1919 shows a number of manufacturers offering stamp cameras with either multiple lenses or moveable backs, or both. These advertisements variably describe the size of stamp photographs as: 1 3⁄8 inches x 1 inch, 1 3⁄8 inches x 1 1⁄4 inches, 1 3⁄8 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 2 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 1 1⁄4 x 7⁄8 inches, nine on a 5 x 4 plate, or 9 or 12 on a quarter plate. From this we can deduce that the description of "stamp photograph" was applied to almost any tiny portrait roughly resembling a postage stamp.
Advertisements for midget photographs can be found in UK newspapers from around 1883, midget cartes de visite from around 1889.
The title of "midget" appears to have been used to refer to many different sizes of smaller photographs. You will find additional references to Midgets in our page on relevant cameras.
The "midget carte de visite" would appear to have been a smaller, scaled-down version of the more popular carte de visite, with a photographic print pasted onto a larger card mount and usually carrying the photographer's details on the face and / or reverse.
The British midget carte de visite mount was 15⁄16 x 2 1⁄4 inches or 3.3 x 5.7cm (according to Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography, Ed B.Jones, 1911). A study of advertisement of photographic equipment between 1905 and 1910 shows a wide variation in sizes quoted for midget photos. These include: 1 7⁄8 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 2 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 2 x 1 inch, 2 1⁄4 x 1 inch , 2 3⁄4 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 2 1⁄8 x 1 3⁄8 inches and 12 or 9 on a quarter plate. From this we can deduce that the term "midget" was widely and indescriminately applied to smaller sized photographs which were slightly larger that stamp photos. Of all the descriptive terms relating to smaller photographes, "Midget" appears to be the most widely used in advertisements for employment wanted or vacancies in the photographic trade between 1900 and 1914.
Hawkes, 8 George Street, Plymouth, a studio then established a quarter of a century, enthusiastically advertises Midget cartes de visite on Page 1 of the Western Morning News, 23 May 1883, in the following terms:
The Carte Midget - Most popular in Paris
Below is a selection of midget cartes de visite, often with mounts printed on both the face and reverse, and with the overall appearance of a scaled-down version of the traditional cdv.
This title for a photograph size appears very infrequently - the only mention found which gives a dimension is four on a quarter plate, which would be: 2 1⁄8 x 1 5⁄8 inches. See also the reference to the Victoria size of Ferrotype below.
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 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 size and type of product produced by a number of photographers, or simply a grand name given by a Sticky Back photographer to a mount used for his portraits?
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.
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 31⁄8 x 13⁄8 inches. Advertisements for photographic equipment 1905 - 1910 variously show the sizes of Promenades as: 2 3⁄4 x 1 1⁄2 inches, 2 1⁄8 x 1 3⁄8 inches and 2 1⁄8 x 3 1⁄4 inches.
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.
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.
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 photograph is unmounted and has a blank reverse. It's size just about qualifies it as a minette
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.
Reference to "panel prints" appears in occasional advertisements, but to date no advertisement has been found which lists dimensions. An example advertisement from the BJP 4 January1907 p.xx "New sizes in repeating backs for promenade midgets and panels also with black borders, enlarging lanterns, postcard printing machines. Billcliff’s Camera Works, Manchester".
The ferrotype was a positive image on a substrate made of a thin sheet of iron. American Gem portraits were tiny ferrotypes (also known as tintypes) presented behind a little aperture in a carte de visite sized mount, and held in place by a paper cover sheet glued onto the reverse. Often rather dark and murky in appearance today, there are sometimes rust (oxidation) marks showing through the gummed paper sealing the metal plate onto the back of the mount. A check with a magnet will also allow you to differentiate between a ferrotype and an ordinary photographic print. This format enjoyed a period of comparative popularity in the 1870s/80s, and survivals today are fairly plentiful. In the 1870s / 80s the American Gem extended the portrait market providing cheaper and more affordable products. The sizes of the ferrotype in these American Gems varies from that of a small postage stamp to the "Victoria", which was roughly double that size. Mounted and unmounted Ferrotype portraits and buttons in different sizes and formats were produced by many itinerant, travelling, street and seaside while-you-wait photographers, in some cases up until the 1950s.
We are delighted to have permission to host on this site a copy of Audrey Linkman's excellent article "Cheap Tin Trade: The Ferrotype Portrait In Victorian Britain which first appeared in Photographica World June 1994, published by The Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain. We have added another page to the site with additional notes on post Victorian ferrotypes.
Below is an example American Gem with a festive greeting mount. For comparison purposes two other oval mounted photographic prints are shown - the tintype is on the left, photographer unknown.
Below are three more examples of American Gem Tintypes. The one on the left, photographer unknown, is Victoria sized, the one on the right, photographer unknown,is the more common size. The one in the centre is in a mount with simple embossed decoration. There is a printed label on the reverse (shown below) holding the tintype in position in the mount. The label shows this to be by The American Gem Studio, Commercial Road, Landport, Portsmouth, Proprietor William James Robinson. According to the label they were selling Gem portraits, nine for 7½ pence. This studio was also offering "Cameos" and cartes de visite. Below these 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. James Frederick Lowrie appeared in trade directories 1878-1885.
Tintypes or ferrotypes were inexpensive to produce and were produced in many other sizes, sold mounted and unmounted. In some instances unmounted tintypes have survived because flimsy mounts have disintegrated or become detached as the gum holding the cover sheet on the reverse has failed. The example below, unmounted, measures 1 ⅝ in x 2 ½ in and shows two seated women in large hats, c.1900, photographer, location and subjects unknown. This example is hand-cut from a larger ferrotype plate.
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.
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
Other postcard publishers took forward this idea after Smith's patent expired. Below is an example from the 1920s, a Souvenir Postcard by Rahael Tuck in their "Oilette Series", photographer and sitter unknown.
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".
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".
Another way of differentiating some midget and stamp portrait photographs was to provide these with adhesive backs (gum which needed to be moistened to use). Such photos could be stuck to album pages, to stationery or to any surface. These were marketed as "Stickybacks" or Sticky-Backs or Sticky Backs.
A number of Stickyback photographers incorporated the word "Stickyback" in their studio or business names. Stickyback photographers were spoken of in somewhat disparaging terms by many professional photographers. 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:
( 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.)
We explain the origins of the Stickyback in detail on this site here
Below are a number of examples of smaller portrait photographs which could variously be described as stamps, midgets and stickybacks.
www.stickybacks.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring smaller sized portrait photographs and those who worked in this trade.
This site is powered by Web Wiz Green Hosting. We have been using their services for many years and are more than happy to recommend them to you.