February 3, 2020, by Kathryn Steenson
Monday Mystery: Celebrity Scrapbook, 19th century style
The Manvers family of Holme Pierrpont were one of the most influential families in Nottinghamshire in the second half of the 19th century. The men held high-ranking positions in various Army regiments, served as local MPs, and held other important civic offices, such as magistrates or Master of the Hunt. The archives we hold very much reflect their roles and responsibilities as land owners and estate managers, with many deeds, manorial court records and estate correspondence.
What we don’t have is much in the way of family papers, the diaries, letters and other personal papers that permeate some of the other estate collections here. Which makes this item, a gorgeous volume with decorated enamelled boards, containing a series of 19th century cartes de visite photographs of royalty and famous people, slightly odd. It’s like a scrapbook of Victorian celebrities in the middle of a business archive.
A carte de visite is a photograph mounted on card, and these are about twice the size of a modern business card. Until the 1850s it was difficult to get more than one photograph from the negative. French photographer Andre Adolphe Eugene Disdéri recognised there was a demand for mass-produced prints of photographs, and in 1854 he patented his format, and the carte de visiste craze was born. It became really popular in the UK when carte de visite photos of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family were printed in 1860.
The decorated – and heavy! – enamelled boards on the cover have a lovely floral design and are edged with what is probably copper alloy. There are clips on the inside, indicating that the individual panels could be swapped out. The pages fore edges are gold, as is the decoration around each photo slot, and the volume fastens with a proper metal clasp. It’s clearly an album that was meant to be admired, and what better way to show off your modern new hobby? It’s half-empty, although there is evidence that at one stage there were more images in it. The images that it does contain are virtually all unlabelled, but seem to be mostly studio portraits of famous people who would have been well-known to Victorian society, such as Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III), explorer David Livingstone, and the Queen of Greece (Olga). None of them are dated, but given some of the subjects, and the fact that the fad for collecting them peaked in the 1860s and 1870s, most are probably from around this time.
But who are the rest of the people? The vast majority are studio portrait images. Unfortunately our knowledge of 19th century celebrities is lacking and without a name or date we’re struggling to put names to these faces. This one of the two girls is unusual in that it’s labelled, but the names are so common it’s not much help. The image of the young men is one of several that has been labelled “FWLB”, and in this case whoever FWLB was, he was at school in Switzerland.
If you can suggest who these people are, leave a comment or email us at email@example.com. We’ll be posting further images from the album on Twitter @mssUniNott as part of our #MondayMystery series this year, and the album itself is available to view in our Reading Room on Kings Meadow Campus – get in touch to let us know when you’d like to come in and quoting the document reference Ma 7 Ph/3.