Studio Print Cards - No.2

This article looks at a few other studio prints (or Carte de Visites) as they were commonly known.

I have extracted a couple of topics from the book "Wellington through a Victorian Lens" by William Main who is the expert on this topic and which clearly explains these to us.

It is recommended you obtain a copy of this book to read the information in and research completed on this topic in relation to the early photographers of this area.



The carte takes its name from the similarity in size to a common visiting card. It was an albumen paper print, pasted on to a card measuring 2.5 by 4 inches. These small portraits were mass produced from wet plate negatives exposed in a special camera mounted with 4,8 or 12 lenses. Its main propagator was the Frenchman Andre Disderi who had a reported annual income of 48,000 pounds during the height ot their popularity in Europe in the early 1860,s. These cartes are important to us today because they make it possible to identify many photographers with their work, and allow a comparative study of their individual styles. While the very early cartes do not carry any information and are often just pasted ona plain piece of card, subsequent editions often carry attractive pieces of Victorian graphic design incorporating valuable information such as the name and address of the photographer plus medals and awards won at various exhibitions. Even more important to the historian is the occassional date.

Such matter for the cartes was not confined to local inhabitants. Great personalities would either grant a sitting or be paid for one. The resulting sales to the public were enormous. An English photographer, Mayall, reportly sold 70,000 cartes of Prince Albert whenthe consort died in 1861. On the local scene the only person to approach such illustrious company was a soldier of fortune, whose likeness in Victorian albums of the 1860's even rivalled that of the Queen herself; Gustavus Ferdinand Von Tempsky.

The craze of collecting cartes spread all over the world. Handsome albums were made to house collections and these were proudly displayed in Victorian parlours. Basically their popularity was confined to the 60's but there is plenty of evidence to show they were quite commonly encountered up until the First World War with photographers still quoting them in their price lists. The cost of a sitting in New Zealand varied from town to town. In Auckland in 1865 a practitioner was receiving twentyfive shillings per dozen, whereas a Wellington photographer in 1868 was charging seven shillings and sixpence per half dozen, with individual views of the city available for one shilling each. This was a vast improvement on the guinea(s) being asked for daguerreotype a few years earlier or the six to ten shillings being asked for ambrotypes. Photography was at last reaching out to the masses and this was to play a major part in the documentation of our country.



Photography for all

Up to this time views of the city had been comparatively rare and a luxury for an indulgent few. Photographers had little choice but to remain in their studios catering for the ever increasing portrait business. But as patronage grew and partnerships were founded, a sharing of the duties allowed New Zealand firms freedom to venture out into the streets to record inexpensive carte views which the public eagerly bought to send to relatives overseas.

An article in the Wellington Independent of the 23rd of April 1863, mentioned views of Wellington being taken by a Mr Richards "...of a size suitable for albums so much in vogue..." The talents of Mr Richards were recognise New Zealand Exhibition in 1865. The Jurors stated "... Among them may be specially mentioned a little picture of Thorndon Flat, as deserving of great praise for the delicate manipulation and care bestowed upon it...." The same report mentioned another Wellington firm with the following criticism "... in two or three pictures, there is evidence of imperfection in the manipulation of the plate, a dullness that might have possibly been avoided....", this describes some of the entries from a newly formed partnership, Swan and Wrigglesworth.

Swan who had carried on alone for five years, since his brief association with Davis, must have yearned for a reliable partner to help him with the booming carte craze that inundated his Wellington studio. Doubtless he eyed with business acumen the areas to the north of Wellington that did not boast a resident photographer. When he journeyed to Napier to found his Hawke's Bay branch, he left his practise in the charge of James Dacey Wrigglesworth. This seeed a well-timed move, but there is speculation that his departure was motivated by the return of Mrs Foley's Theatrical Company to the area. Eventually Swan sold out his Napier photographic interests to Samuel Carnell in 1870, having previously dissolved his partnership with Wigglesworth after a three-year association. While Swan's career in photography was not a lengthy one when compared with some others, he made several important contributions to the craft. His coverage of news events and his involvement inthe theatre combined to add a touch of showmanship and personality to early New Zealand photography. His later life was by no means dull. For many years he held controlling shares of a brewery in Napier and later served a long term as major of the city. His interest in politics eventually took him to Wellington where he represented his district in parliament. The final years of his long and eventful lifes were spent in Wanganui.

Swan's successor, Wigglesworth, had a long and extensive association with Wellington, which began as a hairdresser in 1854. After his association with Swan was dissolved in1867 he carried on alone for several years before joining up with Frederick C. Binns in 1874.


Their names virtually became household words throughout the country, as they followed their Wellington success with branches in all the major centres. Wellingtonians have every reason to regret the disastrous fire which enguulfed the premises of Wigglesworth & Binns inlower Willis Street in 1901. Undoubtly the bulk of Swan's plates, along with those views Wigglesworth took in late 1860 and early 1870 were destroyed by the flames. The criticism made by the jurors in the exhibition in 1865 must be taken at face value with littl hope of a fresh evalution. Whether the photographs in question originated from either Swan's or Wigglesworth's camera is of little consequence. A reassessment of their talent through a comparison of their work with that of their contemporaries, is reduced to a handful of authenticated prints which have fortunately survived. Because of the small number involved, this can hardly be considered absolute and definitive.

Early Carte De Visite 'Burton Bros.'- Dunedin

Early Carte De Visite 'Burton Bros.'- Dunedin

Nice early Carte de Visite card issued by Burton Bros- Artists and Photographers- Dunedin, about 3 by 2 inches and in VG condition

Extract from P.15 of the book "Wellington through a Victorian Lens" by William Main

Dunedin's colossus

The Dunedin firm of Burton Bros., was founded in 1867 by Walter John Burton, who waslater joined in partnership by the elder brother Alfred. The working arrangement between them appears to have been that Walter managed the protrait business and Alfred became the roving partner in every sense of the word, photographing all that appealed to his selective and enquiring eye. His first major photographic tour outside Dunedin's immediate environs, was to Fiordland in March 1874, the region he was to favour for many years to come. His exploits and achievements in this direction can be assessed by comparing him to the great American explorer-photographer W.H.Jackson, whose adventure into the unknown areas of his owncountry during the early 1870's were directly responsible for the establishment of many National Parks in the West of the United States. The results of Burton's expedition to Fiordland, were shown in Wellington barely a month after the conclusion of the tour. The New Zealand Mail of 11th of April, 1874 carried a lengthy article on the merits of Burton's handiwork and breathtaking views of his camera had captured.

While Burton's photographic explorations did not lead to the same level of recognition that his American countrpart enjoyed, his continuing pilgrimage to the Sounds, Lakes and Alps of the South Island, became a personal crusade which readily stands out when one consults the statistics in his negative catalogues. Over a 30 year period he visted these areas 26 times taking just over 1,200 whole plate photographs, a negative size which he favoured almost exclusively. When one looks for a purpose and reason for these activities beyond the normal professional one, one can only interpret it as a spirit of adventure and dedication to the object of gaining satisfaction from recording what he saw and felt. Burton's preoccupation with our national heritage will come as a surprise to those who consider him a photographer of streets and cities. Certainly his visits to communities, both great and small are not to be taken as a matter of course, but they appear to have been slotted in between his passion for the unsullied landscape and other major undertakings in 1880's. "Camers in the Coral Islands" (1884 - 250 plates) and "The Maori at Home" (150 plates c.1886), were two considerable achievements squeezed into a decade of bustling activity. Wellington's share of the Burton cake was 250 views, spread over several visits to the capital, starting in the late 1870's and carrying through into the 1890's. Naturally Burton's home town came in for the biggest share of his work volume. The rich city of Dunedin provided him with a sure financial footing for his various tours, the products of which were used as the basis for the firm's handsomely produced albums of New Zealand scenery.

Wellington has every reason to be grateful for his photographs. he had an eye of a professional and an uncanny instinct for composition and point of interest which even today seems impossible to improve on.

When Burton sold the firm in 1896 ( The brothers having Gazetted the termination of their partnership in 1877 of their whole plate catalogue alone totalled nearly 6,000 negatives. Other cameras were used during the period discussed, icluding a giant 18 + 14 inchmodel which was carried along during an expedition to the Southern Alps in 1893.


Below are a couple of other New Zealand early victorian carte de visite cards showing the photographers logos. As I locate the imformation on them - I will add also. Reason for this is - a few years ago I came across a large collection of these CDVs which had been handed down through the family (One of the early family members was a studio photographer) and these proofs that had been kept were in very unkept conditions by the present family members - and in all probability - destroyed shortly after my visit - the complete disappearance of prominent members of our early society - not recorded (Unfortunately I did not see any notations to the individuals in the sittings - But with careful research - could have possibly identified many of these citizens. Part of early New Zealand lost forever.

Early CDV 'Coxhead & LeSeur'- Dunedin

Early CDV 'Coxhead & LeSeur'- Dunedin

Nice early Carte de Visite card issued by Coxhead and LeSeur, Princes St, Dunedin , about 3 by 2 inches and in VG condition

Early CDV 'London Portrait Rooms'- Dunedin

Early CDV 'London Portrait Rooms'- Dunedin