Gilded framing

SD CDVs 13

Today’s CDV for review is a fine image from America taken during the Civil War era. Although the card bears no backmark, so we can’t identify the photographer, it does have the remnants of stamp adhesive. During the Civil War, Congress passed a revenue tax on luxury goods. Beginning in 1862, items such as playing cards and telegrams were assessed a tax that was used to help fund the war. In 1864, photographs were added to the list of items considered luxury goods, and therefore taxed. Customers were charged the fee for their photographs, plus the additional revenue tax. The tax was repealed in 1866, but many photographic cards bore these stamps, which were applied and cancelled by the photographer. They became popular with collectors, and so we now have many photographic cards that show the evidence of a stamp once having been there, but that was removed at some point.

The color and denomination of the stamp would have indicated the value of the purchase. The tax went from 1 cent all the way to 1 dollar – which at that time was quite a lot of money. Most photographs carried a 1 or 2 cent tax stamp. For more reading the tax stamps, see the links below this post.

The type of gilded framing of the image is also a clue that this is a Civil War era image. This ornate decoration as well as embossed decorations were popular styles of framing the images. There was a trend in the early years of CDV photography to center the image with almost no background, which to our modern eyes looks a bit like a head floating in space. I would imagine that the addition of framing helped to emphasize the image, and also allowed the owner to place it into a simple frame.

This subject’s adornment is also interesting. You can see she has a small white collar above her neckline. It is not a “peter pan” style collar as was very popular, but it is a simple band. The collar was detachable and protected the garment from the dirt and oils on a person’s skin. When it became soiled, it was removed and laundered, then basted back into place. The fabrics used for dresses were the types that could not be easily laundered – wool, silks, and blends of these fibers with cotton or linen, for example. So, collars and cuffs were made to be removable and laundered, while dresses were spot cleaned as needed. The bow tie she is wearing is probably pinned into place, rather than tied around her neck.

You can also see that she has some type of hair covering, such as a decorated net. The hair is glossy, as was fashionable at that time. It was drawn back over the ears and dressed in some fashion, then covered with a net to keep stray wisps from looking untidy. The net is not a “snood” – a word coined in the 1930s. The net was made of fine threads that covered the hair and were of the same color as the hair for the most part. The net could be decorated with a band of ribbon, making it look like a headband.

All in all, this is a fine image from the American Civil War era, and I’m very pleased to share it with you today!

Additional Reading

Tax stamps during the Civil War – via Old Photographic

Revenue stamps – via Wikipedia

Dating Old Photographs with Tax Stamps – via Genealogy Bank


Three men and a finger

Three Men

Now, listen here, boys…

Today’s post-Civil War era CDV shows us three men, two of them ostensibly listening to the third. The three men are all dressed nicely, slacks, vests, coats, etc., and are well groomed. The gentleman on the right of the image has his hand raised, finger pointed, as though lecturing the other two. They could be discussing anything from the recently ended Civil War, or the price of tea in China.

A few more details caught my attention.

  • The left hand seated fellow is holding something in his hand. I can’t make out what it is, and it looks for all the world like a cell phone, lol.
  • The men’s shoes are nice Oxford style shoes, one of the most popular menswear fashions ever, as they are still available today.
  • The fellow standing also seems to be holding something, in his far hand. It might be a glove or other textile item.
  • The photo itself was shot slightly off kilter, giving the whole thing a left leaning feeling, even though the print is placed relatively centered and squared on the card.

I date the photo to 1864-1866 due to the tax stamps on the reverse.

Three Men Back

3 cents per image, please

Although the stamps have been removed – probably by a collector – they were poorly removed and we can see the fellows paid 3 cents tax on the image. The tax was collected to help pay for damages and reparations from the devastating Civil War. Luxury items were taxed at certain rates, photographs included. The rate of tax was based on how much the individual paid for the item.

Another tax stamp


Today from the Leather CdV Album is a photograph of a woman made between August 1864 – August 1866. The tax stamp in this case has been cancelled by pencil marks across Washington’s face. The lady is finely dressed and my costumer friends will notice how the tops of her sleeves are trimmed. First, they have large pleats to fit the voluminous sleeve to the small armhole, then a button was sewn over the pleats in such a way as to accent the quality of the work. The sleeves look like a cross between bishop and coat sleeves; there is a large amount of fabric made to fit into small top and bottom bindings, but the cuff area is finished as a coat sleeve would have been (not a cuff) and then undersleeves were used. Her dress is of a dark color, but I do not believe it to be a mourning dress because of her white collar and undersleeves. It is lovely and probably was silk or fine wool. Her hair has a glossy sheen that to our modern eyes looks like it needs a wash, but “back then” was attractive. It was probably oiled and/or pomaded as well as not washed in modern hair care products that strip away a lot of the natural oils from our hair.

The photographer of this lady was Evans & Prince photographers in York, PA. It is interesting to note that the print number 3416 was handwritten on the back, but also just under the right hand side of her skirt on the photograph.

To see all the photographs from this collection, scroll down the categories to Leather CdV Album.

Early middle age



Next in the Leather CdV Album is an earlier 1860s photograph of a woman in early middle age. The image is rather typical of the time: smallish image of just the face and neck centered on the mount. The back of the card reveals a tax stamp, which dates the photo to between August 1864 to August 1866. The tax stamp was a means of collecting revenue to pay for the costs associated with the American Civil War. In this case, the photographer had some sort of rubber stamp for the cancellation of the tax stamp. The photographer was Israel & Co of Baltimore, MD.

Tax Stamp Lady


The photographic tax stamp was applied between the years of 1864-1866 as a means to recover costs incurred during the American Civil War. The first income tax in America was also a means of paying for the war, however this photographic tax was specific to the luxury of photographs, ambrotypes, daguerrotypes and any other form of photography.  The amount of the tax was based on the cost of the photograph.

Photographs up to 25 cents = 2 cent tax

Photographs 26 to 50 cents = 3 cent tax

Photographs 51 cents to $1 = 5 cent tax

Photographs greater than $1 required additional 5 cent taxes for every dollar or fraction of a dollar

When you consider that the photograph might have cost 20 cents, a 2 cent tax was a whopping 10%, just for a photograph! And so, the luxury tax was born. The photographer was expected to collect the tax, cancel the stamp by some means such as writing his initials across it, and then submit the taxes to the Federal Government in Washington DC.


Brother and sister

These adorable children are brother and sister. Their dresses coordinate. The boy, on the right, is younger than 5 years old, as that was the typical age boys went into short pants and no longer wore dresses. Modern conventions that boys not wear skirts or dresses are from the 20th century, although I don’t know what brought about that change.

Something else about these CdVs is very interesting. On the backs of both photos is a revenue stamp.

The revenue stamp was affixed by the photographer and then cancelled in some way, either with the photographer’s initials, an X, or hand stamp, and sometimes included the date. These stamps were cancelled only with a scribble, but we can date them as having been taken between 1864-1866. The stamps were part of the Federal Government’s fundraising efforts to pay for the Civil War. The 2 cent stamp was applied to photographs costing up to 25 cents.

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