Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A New Presentation

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A New Presentation

Article excerpt

Because of its simplicity, cheapness, and ability to imitate a carte de visite, the ferrotype prospered. But because the photographic business was so competitive, costs associated with materials and labor had to be reduced. One such cost reduction was in the ferrotype's presentation.

Although cases continued to be used for standard-size ferrotype plates throughout the 1860s, gem ferrotypes were mounted on less expensive cards destined for photographic albums. Styles varied. Some were printed. Others were embossed. In spite of a trend toward cards that were less expensive to manufacture and easier to use, mounting a gem still required additional attention. The alternative was either a paper holder or an envelope into which one could easily slip a ferrotype. Although somewhat more expensive, they would eventually replace the more labor-intensive card mount.

With the exception of an uncut sheet of tintypes, it is unlikely that a ferrotype ever left a gallery without being presented in a case, on a card, in a holder, or in an envelope. Such presentations enhanced the image aesthetically, protected it from damage, especially if it were not yet completely dry, and prevented its recipient from being injured by its sharp edges. No matter what form it took, presentation was always an important part of the photographic portrait, and by extension the photographic business.


The earliest card presentation was introduced by the summer of 1862. It consisted of a gem ferrotype mounted in a one-piece miniature brass foil mat and preserver, which was then attached to a plain or decorated card mount in the style of a CDV (see chapter 4). Gem ferrotype preservers were probably manufactured only through 1864, since the cards upon which they were mounted seldom bear a U.S. revenue stamp, required as of August of that year.

To understand this novel presentation, however, one must first turn to the new brass foil mats designed for standard cased images, which the gem ferrotype preserver imitated. On December 24, 1861, John Dean, of the firm Dean & Emerson, was issued a U.S. patent for a die-cut and pressed brass photographic mat with rounded corners (fig. 73). By his method, several mat sizes could be stamped from a single sheet of brass foil, nested within each other, thereby wasting less material than in the past. Although gem ferrotype preservers were not mentioned in the patent application, Dean was careful to note that "all the metal that is possible has been made into mats."1 Most gem preservers easily could have been made from the center cut of a ninth plate mat, further reducing waste. One could argue that Dean's new embossed brass mat gave rise to the gem preserver, and with it the new card format for the ferrotype. Like most manufactured products, brass foil mats as well as gem preservers were likely available months before the patent was granted.

Rectangular gem ferrotype preservers were manufactured by Holmes, Booth & Haydens.2 They came in three sizes. The smallest and most common was ¾ × 1 inch; the other two measured 1 × 1 ¼ inches and 1 ½ × 1 7/8 inches (figs. 74, 75). Although a few card mounts were printed with a decorative border especially designed for the smallest rectangular gem preserver, most operators used the same CDV mounts manufactured for albumen prints. Their conversion to gem ferrotypes was not always sympathetic-rectangular preservers were often inserted into card mounts with oval patterns.

A much rarer oval gem preserver was also manufactured for insertion in a card mount. Consisting of a simple outer ring, they were made in two sizes: ¾ × 1 inch and an even more precious 5/8 × ¾ inch (fig. 76).

On July 1, 1862, Humphrey's Journal reported that twelve tiny card-mounted melainotypes in rectangular ferrotype preservers cost seventy-five cents to one dollar.3 This was at a time when the price for albumen card photographs was as low as eight for one dollar. …

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