The majority of the scans in the library are taken from photographs in the collection of Paul Frecker, a London-based dealer in nineteenth-century photography. The primary focus of his collection is British and European cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards, particularly portraiture and anything reflecting his taste for the odd, the quirky and the unusual.
The ‘Cartomania’ craze was a social phenomenon of widespread popularity during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Small portraits of approximately the same size as a standard visiting card were exchanged between friends and family members and assembled into albums, many of which were expensively and lavishly decorated. These were prominently placed within the home, where visitors could peruse the contents and assess the calibre of the host's social connections. In many ways the experience of looking through someone's album would have been similar to that of looking through someone’s friends on Facebook today.
Portraits of celebrities were also available from a variety of stockists, and these revealed the political leanings and cultural tastes of the album's compiler. On long winter evenings and wet afternoons a family could pore over the album, pulling apart and criticizing the clothes and physical appearance of all those within its pages, or enthusiastically commenting on those heroes and celebrities who were currently in favour. Again, there's a modern parallel in today’s celebrity magazines.
Most portraits were produced for semi-private consumption within the home, but many more were available commercially via a variety of different stockists. Various reports in the photographic press of the day attest to the large crowds that would gather around shop windows to view the display of the latest cartes.These photographs, produced for pubic consumption, accurately reflect the mood, the tastes and the interests of their time. Photographers produced images that they hoped would sell, so it was important that they always remained up-to-date and relevant in an ever-changing market place. Every cause célèbre, every historic event and every social phenomenon that caught the public imagination was therefore captured in the two formats.