HOME, Introduction, Biography, Gallery, Studio Location, Princeton College, Family, Charles Howell, James Howell, West Point


Backmarks were the photographer's identification stamp, usually found on the reverse side of the photograph. Backmarks are useful for estimating the year in which the photo was taken. Over time the backmarks became more elaborate. The Howell backmarks below are from carte-de-visite-sized (pronounced: cart-day-viz-eat) photos that were popular from around the Civil War period (1862) to about 1870. The term is French for visiting card and it measured about 4" x 2 1/2". The black and white photograph was chemically tinted to a gold hue, trimmed, and then glued to a stiff paper card. The cards were traded like baseball cards are today and usually kept in albums. The dates are approximate.





The cabinet-card sized photograph (about 6 1/2" x 4 1/2") became popular around 1870 until the early 1900s. Many cabinet cards did not have backmarks, so only two examples are shown below.  As the carte-de-visite, the actual photograph was glued to a stiff card that was somewhat curved to give the appearance of depth.


Ca. 1878

Facsimile of Howell's Vienna awards and his signature





Business cards courtesy of Donald White.


For further reading on American photographic history see:  Robert Taft Photography and the American Scene-A Social History, 1839-1889 (one of the best books on the history of American photography) and William S. Johnson Nineteenth-Century Photography: An Annotated Bibliography, 1839-1879.