American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

Surgical Set collection from 1860 to 1865 - Civilian and Military

Civil War:  Medicine, Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

 Dr. Michael Echols  &  Dr. Doug Arbittier


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American Civil War Surgical Antiques

Research and Identification

Civil War Era Surgical Sets, Surgeon's Images

Civil War Surgeon Education & Medical Textbooks

Established 1995    .     Dr. Michael Echols Collection


As seen in:  Warman's Civil War Collectibles, Antique Week, Northeast Antiques, Antiques & Collecting publications, and various TV programs

Photographic CDV Prints During the Civil War

Dr. Echols' research notes on the process and identification of photographic techniques from various websites and individuals

The most common image, the carte de visite or CDV:


The size of a carte de visite is 2⅛ 3 inches mounted on a card sized 2 4 inches. It was made popular in 1859 in Europe, and from 1860 in the United States. During the Civil War Congress passed a law to collect taxes to aid in funding the Union War effort. One of these taxes was to be applied to the relatively new fad of photography. The duties were collected on images from the years 1864 -1866. (Beginning August 1 1864) Hence if you have an image in your collection with a stamp on its reverse side you know that it had to have been taken in the years 1864, 65 or 66.


You will find these stamps on Carte-de-Visite, Albumen Prints and all forms of hard images (i.e. tintypes). The stamps are most commonly located on Carte-de-Visite (a.k.a. CDV) images, due to the fact they were by far the most popular image of the day.

Following are the tax rates for printed images during the 1860;s:

on each picture, retail price not over 25 cents ...................02 cent stamp
over 25 cents and not over 50 cents ...................................03 cent stamp
over 50 cents and not over $1 ..............................................05 cent stamp
Every add'l $1, or part thereof, 5 cents more.


From: David Rudd Cycleback:


CDV Definition:

A CDV is a paper photographic print pasted to a larger card, the card measuring about 2-1/2” by 4.”  Most cartes de visite used albumen prints, though other prints, including the gelatin-silver print, were used later on.  Carte de visite is the singular.  Cartes de visite is the plural.  Also popularly referred to as CDV and carte. 

1850s-60s cartes usually had the albumen print pasted to a thin mount that is white, off white or light cream.  The mount corners are square.  A square cornered CDV is reliably dated the 1850s or 1860s.  While often there is the studio name printed on back, there usually is no printed text on the front.  1860s cartes often had one or two thin red or blue lines around albumen print.  Unusually small vignetted images (oval images) date to this period (example pictured on next page). 

The carte de visite photograph proved to be a very popular item during the American Civil War. Soldiers, friends and family members would have a means of inexpensively obtaining photographs and sending them to loved ones in small envelopes. Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and other celebrities of the era became an instant hit with the public. People were not only buying photographs of themselves, but also photographs of celebrities. 

The mount thickness changed over time, with the earlier ones being thinner than the later ones.  The 1860s mounts are typically thinner than the 1870s mounts which are typically thinner than the 1880s and later mounts.  Having inexpensive examples from different years on hand will help judge thickness.

The photography studio’s logo on the back of the mount changed in size over time.  In the 1860s the logo was relatively small and with conservative font.  As the years went by the design became larger and more ornate, sometimes taking up the entire back.  Note that 1860s and early 1870s CDVs that were used as trade cards (give away cards advertising a product or service) can have larger advertisements on back.

Tax stamps:

Tax stamps on the back of CDVs help give a date.  From August 1st 1864 to August 1st 1866 the US government required that tax stamps be put on photographs.  A later amendment allowed for 1 cent stamps to be used.  CDVs with a 1 cent stamp date between March 1864 and August 1866.  Blue stamps are from the summer of 1866.  The stamps often have a cancellation date.  Tax stamps can be faked, so the collector shouldn’t rely alone on stamps.  However, if everything else looks consistent with the era, a tax stamp is a great bonus and will usually raise the value.


Hint: For surgeons,  Full length and 3/4 length views are always more desirable than cameo views.


Hint: Be cautious about buying 'red line' border CDV's as they are often copies of the original.

Click on the image to enlarge and note the border is a 'red line'  One collector says 'red lined' borders are more prone to be fakes than not in his experience. 


Hint: Double brown border lines are correct and typically from early in the Civil War.


Click on the image to enlarge and note the border is a 'double brown line'  One collector says 'double brown lined' borders are early Civil War in his experience. 


Mathew Brady:  (Keya Morgan, of

The most famous photographer during the Civil War was: Mathew B. Brady (1822-1896).  Brady was born in Warren County, New York and was the father of photojournalism. He was the greatest American photo-historian of the 19th century, and undoubtedly Abraham Lincoln's favorite photographer. Nobody in the history of photography could claim to have taken more photographs of important historical personalities during the 19th century than Mathew Brady.

Mathew Brady logo

Brady was the first to undertake the photographic documentation of the American Civil War. Brady was almost killed at Bull Run, VA. He got lost for three days and eventually wound up in Washington D.C., nearly dead from starvation. Film maker Ken Burns who is famous for his television series "The Civil War" (1990), said his Civil War series could not have been made if it were not for Mathew Brady's photographs. He called them the backbone of the series. As a matter of fact, the reason the Civil War is so much more popular than the Revolutionary war is because we can actually witness the war and its heroes through photographs

Types of Photography Prints:

Albumen (Egg) PRINT - The albumen print was invented in 1850 by Louis-Desire Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872), but was rarely used in the United States until 1860. Up until 1890 it was the most prevalent type of print. Albumen was the term used for eggs in the 19th century. Egg white (albumen), sugar from grape juice, salt (sodium chloride) and silver nitrate were applied to paper to produce the albumen print. The albumen prints were mounted on various-sized cards to prevent the thin fragile paper from curling or tearing. For the first time in photographic history there was a means of inexpensively producing multiple images from a single negative.

The following types of card photographs were used:


Fake images

Fake albumen print on the left, real on the right  (From: Frohne & Son Historic Militarty)

Print Sizes:

Carte-de-visite (CDV) 2 6/16" x 4" inches
Cabinet card (Imperial Carte-de-visite) 4 1/4" x 6 "
Victoria card 3 1/4" x 5"
Promenade card 4" x 7"
Imperial card 12 3/4" x 17 3/8"
Stereograph 3" x 7"

The different sizes of the daguerreotypes and ambrotypes

Sixteenth plate 1 x 1 3/4 inches
Ninth plate 2 x 2 inches
Sixth plate 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 inches
Quarter plate 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches
Half plate 4 x 5 inches
Whole plate 6 x 8 inches
Double whole plate 8 x 13 inches

Cabinet Card - Towards the end of 1865, Mathew Brady began manufacturing "Cabinet cards" as they were later called in England. He called them "Imperial Carte-de-Visite". Cabinet card photography did not become all that popular in the United States until the early 1870's. Prior to 1870 they were almost never used. This style of photograph lasted till the turn of the century.

Click on the image to enlarge and note cabinet card border size is much larger than a CDV


Definition:  A cabinet card is a photographic print pasted to a larger card, the card measuring about 4-1/2” X 6-1/2”   Duration: 1860s-1920s.  Most popular 1880s-1890s.

The cabinet card is a larger version of the carte de visite, which it replaced in popularity.  It received its name because it was popular to display the mounted photograph in a cabinet.  Cabinets depict a wide variety of subjects, including normal families, Presidents and celebrities, animals, buildings, nature and school classes. High end cabinet cards depicting famous athletes regularly sell for hundreds of dollars and more.  From: David Rudd Cycleback


Carte-de-Visite:  The Carte-de-visite (CDV), was the style of photograph which was universally adopted for photographic portraiture in 1860. The first carte-de-visite was patented in Paris in 1854 by Adolphe-Eugene Disderi. It later spread to London and then to New York. As its name suggests, it was very similar in size to the common visiting card of that period. It consisted of a photograph that was generally printed on albumen paper and then mounted on cards measuring 2.5 x 4 inches.


Daguerreotype: Daguerreotypes were the first form of photography to become available to the world. A Daguerreotype is a highly detailed photograph developed on a silver plated sheet of copper. It was invented by L.J.M. Daguerre in France and made available to the public in 1839. They were made in different sizes (see Ambrotypes for the measurements). The Daguerreotype process slowly died out in the late 1850's with the invention of the Ambrotype, tintype, and carte-de-visite. Daguerreotypes were so expensive, time consuming and impractical that with the invention of the carte-de-visite they received their final death blow. (For more information see, L.J.M. Daguerre and S.F.B. Morse)


Determining fake writing on the back of a Civil War era CDV  (From: Frohne & Son, Historic Military)

The image is an authentic period Brady cdv of a union sergeant, but the carte has had a fraudulent identification added to the verso.

Click on the image to enlarge it and examine the ink handwriting that has been added....faked.  There is a close-up to the right showing the running of contemporary inks.

Bleeding ink on a faked Civil War CDV Close-up of the bleeding ink

The close up scan of the identification shown below shows a "bleeding" effect of the ink around each letter, which is a dead give away that the signature has been added with modern ink. Regardless of what a dealer or fellow collector may say, it is an established fact that modern ink applied to old paper almost ALWAYS bleeds like this, excluding ball point pen and certain markers (you would recognize these inks as modern so they won't be used). They sell modern "antique" fountain pen ink, and that is usually what the forgers use when adding fake id's to books, documents, images etc. In fact, the famous forger Mark Hoffman eluded detection for a long time because he found a way to stop this "bleeding" by adding a certain chemical to the ink (this is a great story, check it out on the net). It took the FBI quite a while to figure this out after he became a suspect in the bombings in Salt Lake City. Old paper and modern ink do not get along.


Note the faked information in the upper example and the real 'non-running ink' in the lower examples

Bleeding ink fake and real

Bleeding ink real signature for comparison


What to look for is the consistency and the color of the ink itself. Notice the different color blotches, not noticeable to the naked eye, but very obvious under magnification. The fake signature is jet black, not brown. The only signatures of the period that are still black are ones that have not been exposed to air for any great length of time. This is the exception, not the rule. In the scan of the authentic id you will notice the beautiful texture and brownish color of old authentic ink.


Finally notice the single line in the center of the signature (its obvious, just look) instead of the double line of the normal quill pen from that period of time. The final scan (the one on the right) has a great comparison of the fake and an authentic period signature. This shows the double lines of the period quill pen. Have a good look and learn.


The posing for CDVs seem substantially different than that for earlier formats like Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. The subjects in these earlier types were usually posed seated because with slow emulsion speeds, it was easier to hold still when seated. The faster speeds with the albumen process mean erect standing up postures were possible, albeit with support stands. Portraits in the 1860s often do not fill the image with the subject.  As such they seem less intimate that the dag and ambro images. The 1860s portraits often pose the subject standing in a very sparsely furnished set with plain backgrounds. The 1870s posed are more varied. Elaborate backgrounds and more intimate poses with fully furnished sets are common.

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American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques Index

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Civil War Medical Collections 


Direct links to all medical & Civil War collections on this site                         

American Surgical Sets:

Pre-Civil War:  1 | 2  -   Post-Civil War:  3  -  Civil War 1861-1865:  4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   INDEX

Medical Text-Books:

1 | 1a | 2 | 2a | 3 | 3a | 4 | 4a | 5 | 5a | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9a | 10 | 11 | 12    INDEX

Surgeon General's Office Library printed catalogues: 1840 | 1864 | 1865
Medical Lecture Cards: 1 | 2 | 34 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21    INDEX

Medical Faculty and Authors:


Navy Surgeon Exams:

1863 Navy Surgeon Applicant Exams with Biographies   INDEX ONE | INDEX TWO

Surgeon CDVs, Images:

Army: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8    INDEX

Navy: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8   

Hosp Dep't Bottles, Tins, 

U.S. Army Pannier:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

American Civil War Medicine & Surgical Antiques

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 Arbittier Museum of Medical History Tour:   1 | 2 | 3


Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016