Dating a Carte de Viste (Visiting Card)

I found this picture of Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Green and Anna Green on eBay that was taken by a photographer in Mishawaka, and I just had to bring it home.  The format is called a carte de visite or visiting card.


We can find help in dating the photograph on the website <> The carte de visite or CDV format was introduced in the United States in 1859 and was available until 1882, with peak popularity from 1863 to 1877.  To be a CVD, the card must be approximately 2 3/8 inch by 4 1/14 inch. The picture was generally sepia toned, printed on thin paper and glued to card stock. This was one of the first formats that provided multiple copies of the same picture, and as a result, the photographs were more economical with extra copies to share with family and close friends.

 According to our new best friends at one of the most accurate dating conventions is the shape of the card. Early CVDs had squared corners. In 1870, rounded corners were introduced to make the card easier to slide into photo albums.  This card has rounded top corners, but square bottom corners.  That was a puzzle until it was noticed that the card was not quite 4 inches long; the bottom of the card with rounded corners had been trimmed!

Size of the photograph on the card is another hint, with the earlier cards generally having the smallest pictures. Full card pictures such as this one were generally seen starting in the mid 1870’s although that is not an absolute.

1860-1864 Less than ¾ inch
1862-1867 About 1 inch
1865-1872 1 ½  to 1 ¾ inch
1874-1910 Image fills card

The background on this picture is very plain. This was most common in early photographs with elaborate backgrounds becoming popular in the 1870’s. This is not an absolute; some later inexpensive cards retained the plain background.

If the card includes a border, this can also be a clue. This is a general rule only and not always accurate.

1860-1862 No border
1862-1863 Two thin lines
1864-1869 One thin, one thicker line
1874-1880 Very thick border

Although it does not apply to this photo, always remember to check for a Tax Revenue Stamp. Photographs were taxed between August 1864 and August 1866 to help finance the Civil War, with the tax stamp affixed to the

Based on all these clues, we can place this card de visite photograph around the mid to late 1870s. The clothing and hair styles of the Green family fit within that time period.

Rather than concentrate on the Green family, for this post I decided to follow the photographer.  In the 1870 U.S. census for Mishawaka, Indiana, there is a listing for Asa F. Wells and his son Milton, both photographers:


In 1865, Asa and his family were listed in the New York State census, and by the 1880 U.S. census, Asa and Mary Wells were listed with son Milton and his family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This places A. F. Wells, Photographer arriving in Mishawaka no earlier than 1866 and gone by no later than 1879. The 1869 City Directory for Mishawaka does not include a listing for A. F. Wells, narrowing our date range to 1870 through 1879. This matches nicely with our estimated date of the mid 1870’s for our carte de visite photograph. This photo was purchased from a collector in Delavan, Wisconsin so it is possible the picture was not picked up by the Green family and was taken to Wisconsin by the Wells family.  It is also possible, but less likely that the photographers had left over blank cards and the picture was actually taken in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

I have not been able to find any additional information on the J.P. Green family in Indiana or Wisconsin, but this has not been a loss! We learned a lot about card de visite (CVD) photographs. And I have been inspired to start a database of local photographers to help us in our future searches.  Stay tuned! I will let you all know when the database is ready to be posted on the South Bend Area Genealogical Society webpage.

Submitted by Alice Clark, SBAGS President,


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