Mementos of Americana c. 1860 - Heroes & Villains

Today we take ‘selfies’ and tag photos on social media as remembrances of friends and events; during the Civil War loved ones exchanged Carte de Viste (also known as CDV) cards.

These were usually albumen photographs (but sometimes engravings) which were mounted onto paper the same size as calling cards 2.125” x 3.5” (the predecessor of business cards). Friends, family and lovers exchanged these tokens during the 1860’s. They were tangible and visual connections to people they may never see again or venerated as the celebrities of their time.

Two lots are featured in our April 4th, 2016 ‘Opulent Acquisitions’ auction which perfectly illustrate the importance of these cards both then and now. Lot 26 is a collection of eleven hand-signed CDV cards, six being from the 49th Regiment of the New York Volunteers (a photo of the entire group is shown above). We believe it is the most complete collection of CDV cards from this battle hardened Regiment ever offered on the open market. Each soldier has hand-signed their card; it would have been given to a friend, a family member or a sweetheart and cherished until the soldier was safely home; not all of them made it home.


Capt. Hiram N. Smith and Brigadier General Daniel D. Bidwell

Capt. Hiram N. Smith and Brigadier General Daniel D. Bidwell

Included in the group is the CDV card of Brigadier General, Daniel D. Bidwell (1819 – 1864) who was killed in action at the battle of Cedar Creek while bravely leading his Regiment’s successful charge to hold back the advance of Confederate Soldiers. His card, simply addressed to, “Yours truly” may have been the last token the recipient ever received. Capt. Hiram N. Smith of the 49th is also included in the group of the 49th Volunteers.

In addition to the 49th Volunteers, this group also includes an incredibly interesting and rare card from Abraham Frisbie, one of ‘Vosper’s Sharpshooters.’

Abraham Frisbie of the 27th Michigan Sharpshooters

Abraham Frisbie of the 27th Michigan Sharpshooters

Vosper’s Sharpshooters were a group of Union soldiers connected with the 27th Michigan Infantry who were armed with Spencer Repeating rifles. These were popular guns as they could fire up to 20 rounds per minute.  Because of the ‘Sharpshooters’ success in battle they requested the War Department supply each of them with a Spencer and rename the Regiment “Sharpshooters”. They received the Spencer rifles but were not approved to change the name. However, this didn’t stop Mr. Abraham Frisbie from signing his CDV card with the title, “27th Michigan Sharp Shooter,” from his countenance I imagine him to be both proud and deadly.

The following lot in this auction, Lot. #27 is a collection of fifteen Union and Confederate CDV cards of Generals and Major Generals from the Civil War.

These were collected in the 1860s by both sides of the Mason Dixon line and the group reads as a red carpet list of notables. All of the major players are in attendance: Lee, Grant, Burnside, Beauregard the Good: Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, known as ‘Hancock the Superb’, The Bad: Major General Daniel E. Sickles and the entrenched in Confederate values and morale: General Stonewall Jackson.

Today as then, these cards are collected as poignant reminders of the fleeting nature of life.