This post is about photography but it doesn’t include any photographs! The graphics used by Victorian photographers on the backs of their cartes-de-visite were often as interesting as their photographs.
The earliest were backed by copperplate signatures or simple coloured logos. In later decades, Victorian ornamentation intertwined elaborate fonts around stylised flowers and patterns. Art Nouveau influences are to be found in the early 20th century before a return to plainer modernist styles in the 1920s and 30s. The backs I have featured here are all from Irish studios of the 1860s and 70s.
During this period printers often used different coloured inks for photographers’ logos and the ones featured here include an attractive aquamarine, chocolate brown and indigo.
Several of the logos include line drawings of the large box cameras which were used in studios during this period. In addition to the expected camera motif various signs and symbols recur such as the sun and artists’ easels and palettes. Palettes are visible on three of the Irish cards emphasising the artistic nature of photographers.
In attempt to give their studios prestige and pedigree two of the above studios have adopted mottoes. Adolphe of Grafton Street uses ‘Nunquam non paratus’ meaning ‘never unprepared.’ and Thomas North, also of Grafton Street used ‘animo et fide’ which means ‘courageously and faithfully’. One wonders how much courage was required to run a photographic studio during the period?
Other heraldic devices include the belt and buckle which encircles the box camera on the carte by Adolphe and the griffin like creature which appears on the example from A.D. Roche in Cork.
Early designs were probably commissioned from local printers using designs copied from other cards. As the industry grew and progressed specialised firms, based mainly in France and Germany, mass-produced cards which could be customised to include the local studio details. An example by one such company, Marion, was used by Hugh Kerr from Northern Ireland. Roger Vaughan has written a very detailed guide to dating the cards produced by this company which is available here and shows that the card above was from the company’s earlier period of the 1860s or 70s.