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RHS Cartes de visite - John LindleyThe RHS Lindley Library houses a collection of more than 700 carte-de-visite photographs, mostly of 19th-century botanists and gardeners.  Many of the people shown in the photographs have never been depicted in published sources.

The process of making cartes de visite was patented by French photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854.

When were they popular?

It is usually said that cartes de visite became popular in 1859, but one of our cards depicts George McEwen, head gardener at Arundel Castle and latterly at the Horticultural Society, who died in 1858.

Frederick J Chittenden historic photographThe last of the cards is that for Frederick Chittenden (pictured),  made in 1900, by which time cartes de visite had largely fallen from fashion.

Most of the RHS Lindley Library collection came from two sources. One of the six albums belonged to the Society’s former Assistant Secretary, Andrew Murray (1812-1878); it contained a number of entomologists as well as botanists. Murray never labelled his album, preferring instead to insert signatures clipped from letters underneath the photographs.

The other five albums were compiled by Richard Dean (1830-1905), seedsman and market gardener, and horticultural journalist. He travelled the country visiting nurseries and attending flower shows, and compiled a large collection of cartes de visite of the nurserymen and florists.

He was also the organising secretary for the International Botanical Congress of 1866. One of his albums consisted of cartes de visite of the botanists and other dignitaries (including the King and Queen of the Belgians) who attended.

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How were they made?

  • An albumen print on thin paper was pasted on a slightly larger card, 4x2¼ inches, which could bear the photographer’s logo and details on the back.
  • Most of the cartes in our collection are in this format; a certain number are ‘cabinet cards’, measuring 6½x4½ inches, a format that became popular in the 1870s.

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How important are they?

The RHS Lindley Library collection is of great importance as a source of otherwise unobtainable portraits of nurserymen, amateur growers of florists’ flowers, garden designers, professional gardeners, botanists, RHS officials, and entomologists of the 19th century. There are few portraits of women, but the daffodil grower Mrs R O Backhouse is included.