Mary Baker Eddy's personal photo album
Carte de visite of Mary Baker Eddy, Circa 1870. P00079. Photo by H.F. Currier, Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Library. Click to see larger image
The 1859 arrival of the carte de visite forever changed the photography industry. About the size of a calling card, these small photographic prints were inexpensive to produce and easy to exchange. Those two factors facilitated a new trend in the United States of collecting and exchanging photographs.1 Like many of her contemporaries, Mary Baker Eddy collected cartes de visite of family, friends, and prominent people, placing them in a personal photo album now housed in our collections.
In 1863 the famed poet Oliver Wendell Holmes called cartes de visite “the sentimental greenbacks of civilization.”2 According to historian Andrea Volpe, his words, referring metaphorically to these photographs of friends and loved ones as currency, captured a feeling that Americans experienced when exchanging them. Mrs. Eddy’s personal album contains photographs of many relatives, including her siblings and her son George Glover II, as well as a number of students she taught in classes on Christian Science.
Cartes de visite were not just useful for family photography. They also became a popular means of producing and collecting images of contemporary public figures. Photo studios pioneered the business model of photographing celebrities and selling the images through mass-produced cartes de visite. Eddy’s album contains some of these, including such notable nineteenth-century individuals as Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Frederick Douglass—said to be the “most photographed man of the nineteenth century.”3
In addition to political figures, Eddy also collected cartes de visite of acclaimed poets, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and the aforementioned Oliver Wendell Holmes. This is not surprising, given her fondness for reading and composing poetry. She owned a number of poetry books, including The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Golden Poems by British and American Authors. We can’t pinpoint a precise date for when Eddy began collecting photographs, or for when she first started keeping cartes de visite in this album, though it was probably some time in the 1860s. Nevertheless, the object provides a powerful—and moving—visual history of a significant period in her life, and of the people she admired and cherished.
- Andrea L. Volpe, “The Cartes De Visite Craze,” The New York Times, August 6, 2013.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “Doings of the Sunbeam,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1863, 8, as quoted in Volpe.
- “Picture This: Frederick Douglass Was The Most Photographed Man Of His Time,” National Public Radio, December 13, 2015.