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Stamp Photographs

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Portrait Stamps or Photograph Stamps or Stamp Photographs

Postage stamp sized photographs, some with printed postage stamp like borders, with gummed backs and in perforated sheets were occasionally offered as novelty items from a few photographers from the 1860s until the start of the 20th century. Here we describe the stamp photograph in more detail.

The photographic “portrait stamp” was first introduced in 1863 by Alexander Bassano (1829-1913) of Regent Street. By April 1863 these stamp sized photographs were described as a great success and already several young ladies had commenced portrait-stamp collections. (Illustrated Times - Saturday 25 April 1863 p10.) Later that year others were taking up the idea. An advertisement for Mr Aldis, photographer of the Portman Studio, Baker Street, near Madam Tussaud's, listed among his offerings "the greatest novelty in photography - the new penny signature portrait stamp, 120 for 10s., adhesive and perforated." (Marylebone Mercury - Saturday 26 September 1863 P1). The following year the North of England Photographic Company 6 Ridley Place, Newcastle and Henry Street Carlisle were advertising: "Your portrait for a penny. The new penny adhesive portrait stamp used instead of signatures in writing to friends, 8s 4d per hundred" (Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury - Saturday 18 June 1864, p1).

Stamp photograph from the 1860s on a cdv sized mount   This superb early example of a stamp photograph is from the 1860s. The tiny photograph of an unknown man in half profile measures 0.9 x 0.9 inches. The mount is plain white card the size of a carte de visite and printed on it is a rectangle in blue the exact size for the stamp photo, with an engraved border resembling the postage stamps of the day. In the four corners are tiny boxes bearing the photographer's initials LJPD. The photographer has given a name to the overall design which appears in print in the top and bottom border "Posto-Photo Portrait". At the bottom of the mount is the studio information "Duprez's Private Studio 2 Crescent Place Plymouth" followed by the word "Registered". The reverse of the mount is blank. This is an unusual example of a photographer taking what would otherwise be a piece of cheap work and presenting it as a high quality novelty product which could be added with pride to the family album. Mons Louis Duprez operated his private studio at this address from June 1867 to May 1869 when he moved premises to The Hoe, Plymouth.

This stamp photograph is reproduced by kind permission of Daniel from The border is believed to be copied from the British penny lilac stamp issued from 1881 to 1901 with an oval within a dotted rectangle frame. Photographer and subject currently unknown.


  Stamp photograph example

These examples, which do not have perforations, have been fixed to a plain cream carte de visite sized mount so that they can be shown in a photo album. The engine turned style of cris-cross pattern surrounding the portraits is vaguely reminiscent of the engine turnings which appear on the background of the Penny Black stamp, while the cross fleury in each corner looks less in keeping with a postage stamp design. The overall size of each stamp is 1.3 x 1.7 inches. Photographer unknown.

Two stamp photographs on cdv mount
Stamp photo attached to carte de visite

This example shows a perforated stamp photograph stuck onto the carte de visite from which it was copied. There are no details of the photographer who took the carte de visite or the photographer who made the stamp photographs. The stamp is 0.9 x 1.0 inches. The owner's portrait is in an inner oval with scroll work in each corner. The stamp is perforated This carte came from the album of Fanny Pearce, b: 24 Oct 1871 in Gosberton, Lincs. The photograph, probably from the 1890s, may be of Fanny, or one of her sisters; Lydia or Florence. The carte de visite was a donation to help with fundraising for St Bartholomews Church West Pinchbeck, Lincs.

Two stasmp photos of boys, from the margin of a photo album page These two stamps of boys have oval stamp like borders with an inward facing arrow in each corner. They are perforated and have been stuck onto the border of a page from an old album containing albumen prints of scenic views. The image above is of Eton College Gateway and Masters House by Francis Frith.These may date from around 1900. These stamp photos measure 1 x 0.8 inches
Small stamp photograph affixed to envelope c.1900

detail of small stamp photograph c.1900

This example, affixed to an envelope, addressed to "Auntie", measures just 1 inch x 3/4 inch.The owner's portrait appears in a rectangular window with the two top corners rounded. This is contained within another rectangle with scroll work along the bottom, shading on the two sides and more scroll work in the top two corners. It is perforated 17 to 2cm. The image is of an unknown young man, date unknown, possibly around 1900.

Stamp photograph by unknown photographer

This example measures just 1.0 x 0.8 inches, and had a gummed reverse. The sitter is in side profile and his portrait is contained in an oval window with a simple celtic square pattern border. There is a star in a circle in each corner. Overall the design has a crisp and realistic postage stamp appearance, perforated 12 to 2 cm. Sitter and photographer unknown.

Stamp photograph by unknown photographer

This example again measures just 1.0 x 0.8 inches, and had a gummed reverse. The sitter is taken full face looking at the camera. The border is believed to be copied from the British penny lilac stamp issued from 1881 to 1901 with an oval within a dotted rectangle frame, and is printed on glossy paper. Perforated 14 to 2 cm. The stamp producer has not made the best use of the oval space within which the sitter's portrait appears. More od a close-up would have given a better result. This stamp photo has been stuck onto a piece of thin cream card 1.8 x 2.2 inches, possibly for insertion in an album. Sitter and photographer unknown.

stamp photograph of an unknown lady

Another example stamp photograph of an unknown lady, semi-profile. Dimensions, 1 inch x 0.8 inches, perforated 14 to 2cm. The border is believed to be copied from the British penny lilac stamp issued from 1881 to 1901 with an oval within a dotted rectangle frame, and is printed on glossy paper.

A Stamp photograph of Miss Florence Halle, The Furze, Esher from around 1900

A Stamp photograph, semi-profile, of Miss Florence Halle, The Furze, Esher, from around 1900. The stamp photograph measures 1.0 x 0.8 inches, perforated 14 to 2cm. The sitter's portrait appears in an oval contained in a rectangle. There is scroll work in each corner of the rectangle, with a rather prominent inward facing stylised arrow in each corner. This shows the use of a stamp photograph to enhance a personal calling card, 3.5 x 2.5 inches, which, in this instance, has been used to send best wishes at Christmas 1900. The word "Miss" has been struck through, suggesting the recipeint was someone well known to Miss Halle

Photographies Timbres-poste, illustrated in La Nature 1891

This example is by Francis - see below, reproduced from an article in a French periodical, La Nature, 1891. It is an engraving, an illustration from an article by G Mareschal on "Photographies Timbres-Poste", a novelty photographic format. Note how the engraver has incorrectly shown two rows of perforations between the stamps.

The stamp photograph or portrait stamp was proclaimed as a popular photographic novelty many times in subsequent years and was offered as a product by a number of photographers. A few examples are listed below in date order:

Description Supplier Advertisement / Reference

Portrait stamps 12 for 1s 6d

Edinburgh Photo Company 7 Leith Street, Rutherford’s Stair, Top flat.

The Scotsman Tues 25 July 1871 p1

Beautiful postage stamp photographs of actresses 100 post free for 1s 8d; 25 for 6d.

E.McCabe, Lurgan, Ireland.

Western Daily Press Tuesday 2 January 1877 p1, 5 Jan 1877 p1, 6 Jan p1, 8 Jan p1,

The Postage Stamp Photograph for heading letters, 2s per dozen (now very popular in England)

J. MACK, Artist, &c., Proprietor. 84 York Street Belfast

Belfast Telegraph, numerous entries from Mon 17 May 1880 p2, - Wednesday 19 June 1880 p1

The new patent postage stamp photographs, printed by a special process, price 4s per 100

George Lawrence, the inventor and patentee, 57 Queen Street, Cardiff

Cardiff Times Sat 1 Oct 1887 p8

A curiosity. Your picture reproduced by photography and made in sheets perforated and gummed the size and style of postage stamps. By using the novel portrait stamps you can affix your portrait to all your letters cards, books etc .

J.F.Foot and Son 44 Camden road London NW

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Saturday 29 September 1888 p26

Your picture reproduced by photography and made in sheets, perforated and gummed, the size of postage stamps. By using these novel portrait stamps you can affix your portrait to all your letters cards books &c.

James Wylie, photo artist, 27 Eglinton Street Beith

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald - Friday 11 January 1889  p1

Your photograph reproduced in the style of portrait stamps 50 for 3s 6d perforated and gummed.

C.Wilkie, Cork

Cork Constitution - Friday 22 February 1889 p1

Photographs reproduced in style of portrait stamps 50 3s 6d; 100 4s 6d

C.Fanner, Botley Station.

Portsmouth Evening News - Saturday 23 February 1889 p4

50 PO R T R A I T S, 3s. A Crowning Triumph. Any Photograph reproduced in the novel style of Portrait Stamps, made in Sheets, Perforated and Gummed like Postage Stamps. Thus you can put your Photograph on all your Letters, Cards, Circulars, Books, goods, &c. An unparalleled success. Everywhere receives the highest commendation

J. E. Foot and Son, 44, Camden road, London, N.W

The Era - Saturday 20 April 1889 p11

New POSTAGE STAMP PHOTOGRAPHS, which are equal in every respect to a first-class Cabinet or Carte. Being perforated and gummed, like postage stamps, they can be stuck on Visiting Cards, Envelopes, Programmes, &c,, thus forming an excellent advertising medium.

W. FRANCIS, 104, Mallinson-road, Wandsworth-common, S.W.

The Era Saturday 5 Oct 1889 p18

They are similar in size to the ordinary postage stamp and in a neat artistic border bear a well executed reduction of the carte de visite or cabinet photograph of the person who desires to use these admirable mediums of personal advertisement by affixing them to letters, circulars &c.

Messrs Green and M. Allan of 3 Ludgate Circus

The Era 21 June 1890 p18

the latest novelties hit upon by the ingenious photographer. As a work of art the portrait-stamp has much to recommend it; to egotistical persons and adventurers it ought to be treasure. You simply send in your ordinary carte to have it reduced, and the result is surprising.

Photo Novelty Company, Eden-quay, Dublin

Flag of Ireland Sat 4 Oct 1890 p6

Photograph of a design for producing stamp photographs, an oval in a rectangular border.

Copyright owner and author of work: George Piner Cartland, 7 High Street, Eton.

The National Archive COPY 1/404/441 and similar at COPY1/404/473 Registration stamp: 24 June 1891.

“An elaborately planned suicide” - reporting on the death of Sergeant Horace Tarrant. "Much sensation was also caused by the production of a number of visiting cards which were found on the deceased. Each card bore a loving memorial inscription to members of the family and friends, and pasted upon each card was a small stamp photograph of himself."

Not known

Hampshire Telegraph Sat 2 Jan 1892

Your photograph reduced to size of postage stamps 50 2s 9d,

The Portrait Stamp Co 2 River Street, Bedford.

Bedfordshire Times and Independent - Saturday 03 December 1892 p5

Stamp sized photographs. the finest reproduction obtainable in Lincoln and County from carte, cabinets or sittings, for Xmas cards or presents, 1s per dozen

Seaman's, Mint Street, Lincoln. See our page of additional information about the Seaman family. Edward Seaman patented a printing frame for stamp sized photographs in 1895.

Lincolnshire Echo - Saturday 18 December 1897 p1

Photographic Stamps. These little oddments have been found useful in many ways and for several purposes. As the title signifies they are generally portraits akin to postage stamps in size and appearance . They are issued ready gummed. 45 – 2/6d, 90 - 3/6d, 180 - 5/6d

W Tylar 41 High Street Aston, Birmingham.

The Photographic Annual 1898 Henry Sturmey Ed, London, p621

Palace New Brighton. At this popular place of amusement all the attractions are in full swing, the one constant round of entertainment is provided for the visitor. Attractions included the photographic stamp studio

Not known

Liverpool Mercury Thursday 22 June 1899 p8

In around 1900 James Whyte designed and sold a "Photo Stamp Album and Autograph Book". The book measured 9.5 x 6 in and had a thin card cover - reminiscent of the kind of albums used for cigarette cards. The book was marked out in rectangles for 180 stamp photos up to 1.25 x 1.5 inches in size with a space beneath each for a signature. The album was printed by J and J Murdoch of Glasgow and sold for 6d. A non perforated stamp sized photograph of Whyte appeared on the flyleaf, where he also offered "Your own photographs 12 for 1/-"

James Whyte, photographer, 37 Jamaica Street, Glasgow. More details about Whyte's work are here: on this excellent site on Glasgow photographers:

Cambridge University Library 1900.9.87, acquired in 1900.

The first advertisement below appeared in The Stage 25 Jan 1900. By April that year the second advertisement took its place, with slight variations over time, in a range of different local newspapers. The advertisements ran until March 1902.

Grossigraph stamp photos ware described as one and a quarter inches, later, double width prints were available for more than one subject

Grossigraph, 25 Lime Street, later 77 Paradise Street Liverpool. Spiridione Nicolo Grossi (1877-1921)

The Stage 25 Jan 1900. Numerous other newspapers 1900- March 1902 including: Lincolnshire Echo, Lichfield Mercury, Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle, Cambridge Daily News, Peterborough Advertiser, Warminster & Westbury Journal, and Wilts County Advertiser, Kerry Evening Post, Cornish & Devon Post. This is the range of the campaign picked up by the indexing of the British Newspaper Archive - there were probably advertisements in additional newspapers not included in the Archive or found by its index. Interestingly Cambridgeshire was clearly targeted by the campaign, and so some of these early stamp photographs are likely to crop up in Cambridgeshire family albums.

Grossigraph advertisement 1900   1901 Sticky back advertisement
Description Supplier Advertisement / Reference
The Aptus Repeater Camera for stamp and midget photographs. Stamp and midget mounts. Sharp and Hitchmough, 103 Dale Street, Liverpool. British Journal Photographic Almanac 1905 p386; 1905 p1451
Royal Mail Stamp Camera advertised. Each field 1 x ¾ inch takes 15 up, can take photographs of a sitter or copy from a cabinet photo. W Butcher British Journal Photographic Almanac 1908 p.537
Advertisement for 3 different postage stamp cameras with 6 lenses and multi positional backs. The 408 camera with 6 lenses was offered in 9 different versions covering cdv, postage stamp and midget sizes. J Lancaster and Son Ltd, Birmingham British Journal Photographic Almanac 1909 p.412
Advertisement for photo jewellery, photo buttons, miniatures and “Stamp photographs plain and fancy border, perforated etc”. Dorrett and Martin Electric Photoworks, Belle Vue Rd, Upper Tooting London SW

British Journal Photographic Almanac 1912 p.407
1913 P421, 1914 p425, 1915 and 1916 p.176. Their later adverts, 1917, 1918, 1919 did not mention stamp photographs.

Stamp photos, enlargements, Postcards etc offered Wells and Co, Southgate, London N British Journal Photographic Almanac 1914 p.1334

The photographer, working from the customer's carte de visite, would have to copy part of the original carte, then make a number of prints from the negative, cut these out and paste them into a sheet of empty frames, re-photograph the whole sheet then print whole sheets from the resulting negative. Finally the sheets would need perforating with a hand or treadle perforator. Later it became easier for photographers to produce these stamp photographs, but by then they were going out of fashion. In the Photographic News Yearbook of Photographs and Amateurs Guide for 1907/8, Messrs Butcher and Sons of Camera House, Farringdon Ave London EC were offering a "Royal Mail Stamp Camera" (shown below) which simultaneously took 15 portraits or views on a quarter plate film. Ready perforated photographic print out paper was supplied so that a print taken from the negative was ready immediately for forming into postage stamp portraits. The complete kit cost just twenty five shillings. A better illustration of this camera and its operation can be found on the fabulous site.

The Royal Mail Stamp Camera

The Sheffield Photo Company, 95 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, advertised in 1907 a "Complete Outfit for Midget and Stamp Photos". Illustrated below, this comprised a camera with bellows, rack and pinion focussing, rotating back for upright or group pictures and fitted with No 4 repeating back for six stamp photos size 1⅜ x 1 in on ⅓ of a half plate. Also in the kit was:

  • No 7 repeating back for 4 midget photos size 1⅞ x 1½ on half of a half plate
  • Camera stand stained and varnished
  • Quick acting short focus midget portrait lens
  • Acme shutter for exposing with ball and tube
  • No 2 printing frame for 6 doz stamps
  • No 2A printing frame for 4 doz midgets

The price for the complete set was £6.6.0. less 10% for cash for the complete set. (about £800 in today's money)

In the same advertisement, the Sheffield Photo Co offered a series of mounts to go with the stamp and midget photos.

  • Paste on squares 8/6d per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 59 Midget green oval 2/6d per 100, 20/- per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 60 Brown oval, 1/9d per 100 20/- per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 61 grey fancy line 2/6d per 100, 23/6d per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 62 square gilt scroll 3/6d per 100, 30/- per 1000
  • No 22, 37, and 45 assorted, 1/6d per 100, 12/6d per 1000

They also offered POP postards at 2/6d per 100, 24/-per 1000 and gaslight post cards 3/- per 100, 28/- per 1000. Their full list of mounts, 75 pages in total, was available for threepence. (British Journal Almanac 1907 p.1149)

Midget and stamp camera from the Sheffield Photo Co.

This is the camera, with two backs, advertised by the Sheffield Photo Co. The illustrations show the camera backs labelled "Billcliffe Manchester". This link will take you to a similar camera on the amazing earlyphotography site and Billcliffe camera is mentioned on our site in relation to an unknown stickyback photographer in Derby. The camera back could be moved up and down on the camera, and within the back, the plate holder could be moved from side to side, with a catch and a series of slots ensuring the correct position. The photographer would have to keep track of which parts of the plate had been exposed.


By the beginning of the 20th century there appeared to be de facto two different types of stamp photos. One type was the small stamp sized photo with a stamp like border round the edge, perforations and possibly with a gummed back. The second type was simple a small stamp sized portrait.

A number of early 20th century advertisements for cameras for stamp photographs illustrate borders which they provided, which were to be placed around a photograph being copied. Below are the examples found so far which might assist with identifying the camera used .

x Image from Sharpe and Hitchmough, Liverpool, 1906, of stamp photos by their Aptus Stamp camera
 n Image from W.Butcher and Sons London 1908 advertising their Royal Mail stamp camera. Butcher and Sons also provided pre-perforated printing out paper for stamp photographs.
n Another image from W.Butcher and Sons London 1908 advertising their Royal Mail stamp camera
n Image from advert by George Houghton and Son for their Holborn stamp camera.


Top of page is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring smaller sized portrait photographs and those who worked in this trade.
This page was last modified: 05 October 2022, 16:01

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