A collection of 19th century carte de visite photographs might be seen as no more than a series of images taken by long-dead photographers. However, look a little closer and a theme begins to appear. Many c-d-vs indicate that if there was one thing that our Victorian forebears were doing, it was going places.
Emigration was big in the 19th century. Many fled Europe for Britain or America, while in the same breath British nationals were taking off to new worlds in the colonies and all other points of the compass . All this is revealed by the information on the little photographs that they left behind for posterity.
Britain proved a popular destination for European emigres, some of whom promptly set up photographic businesses. Some examples of their work is seen below. Settling in England’s north-east, German born Bolko Schmiechen soon established a flourishing business, married a local girl and raised a family. Others followed the same pattern, among them Ceaser Ferranti, French born despite his Italian sounding name, Jules Guggenheim, from Hungary, and Polish-born Augustus Mahalski.
While these new settlers were making England their home, British travellers were sending images of themselves and their families back to the country of their birth. Some photographs came from as far away as Australia, like the one of Maisie Barker, snapped in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne. Another example is that of James Ferguson, possibly Scottish, who had travelled to the Mediterranean island of Sicily and sent his image from there. In the Netherlands a young woman had her image captured as a souvenir for her ‘dear mother’, when she left home to go to Leipzig. The studio was that of Wegner and Mottu and their trade card shows a canalside view much like those that can be seen in Amsterdam today.
It is likely that thousands of carte de visite crossed oceans and continents in the second half of the 19th century, uniting loved ones and families separated by the miles. Many kept these precious little pictures, often for generations, so that we are able to view and enjoy them today.