Victorian Women and the Revenue Stamp

One way to try to learn about the fashions of a specific time period is to study the images that are available for that era. For the four years of the American Civil War, several types of early photographic processes were available at photographic studios. A description of the specific processes is beyond the scope of this blog, but you can read about Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and albumen prints (the process usually used with CDVs or cartes-de-visites) at The American Museum of Photography’s Primer on Processes.

I have a collection of CDVs of women that I have been studying to see if I can learn anything about the jewelry that the women are wearing. CDVs were first introduced in New York in 1859 and were incredibly popular during the Civil War, most likely because of their portability. They were still popular into the 1880s, so dating CDVs can be tricky unless you pay attention to clues within the photograph and on the card the photograph is placed on (front and back).

In this blog post I’ll give a couple of examples that will show you how to specifically identify CDVs that were created between June 30, 1864, and August 1, 1866. Yes, that sounds pretty darn specific and there’s a reason for that. During session one of the 38th Congress, an act was passed on June 30, 1864, “to provide Internal Revenue to support the government, to pay Interest on the Public Debt, and for other Purposes.” This act required that photographers charged a luxury tax on “photographs, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, or any sun pictures” that varied depending on the cost of the image. To prove that the studio had collected the tax, a revenue stamp was affixed to the back of the image. The stamps were in denominations of two, three, and five cents and could have been imprinted with “Bank Check,” “Internal Revenue,” “Telegraph,” or “Playing Cards.”


CDV 09
Always be sure to look at both sides of CDVs very carefully. In this case, there is a 2-cent revenue stamp on the back (below). It is also helpful to note the name of the photographer, as that may help you further narrow down the date and location, if no other information is available.

CDV 09a

According to Yale University Library, Mrs. B. H. Russell was active in Moodus, Connecticut, between 1860 and 1869. Sometimes it’s possible to find more information about photographers and their studios, such as advertisements in newspapers or city directories. I wasn’t able to find anything else about this couple with a quick search.

Mourning CDV 01
Here’s one more example. The woman in the photo above is in mourning. The photo can be narrowed down to between June 30, 1864, and August 1, 1866, because the revenue stamp is on the back of the CDV. The image was taken by S. L. Dellinger of Marietta, Pennsylvania.

Mourning CDV 01a

From the March 16, 1861, Weekly Mariettian, online at Pennsylvania State University.

The above ad was found online showing that the photographer S. L. Dellinger was practicing his photography–as well as other business pursuits found in other ads–as early as 1861 in Marietta, Pennsylvania.

This discussion was intended to show you how to narrow down the date of a CDV, if you are lucky enough to have one with a revenue stamp on it. Please don’t ignore the backs of photographs! Not only are the revenue stamps informative, but the photographers may be the answer to your quest as well. Sometimes you are able to find the name of the photographer who took over for another photographer, perhaps indicating that the first photographer either died or moved away. University archive finding aids frequently help pinpoint this type of information, as mentioned in this blog post. Be creative in your Google searches to find what you are looking for.

If you don’t have a revenue stamp, don’t give up! I’ll give some more clues to help you pinpoint dates in a future blog post. Meantime, be sure to visit my Pinterest board with the images of Victorian women and the backs of the photos, with my comments. Stay tuned…