Folk Art

Antique Folk Art Drawing Lampooning Civil War Photography Stamp Tax
  • I absolutely love this folky graphite drawing which lampoons a federal revenue tax on photographers that existed in the Union for a short two year period in an effort to raise revenue to fund the war efforts. Photography had overtaken portraiture by the 1860s as a type of cheap portrait that could be made quickly and inexpensively. The start of the Civil War increased the demand for these cheap portraits as families wanted photographs of their soldier family members to keep close to heart and the soldiers wanted a way to glimpse a loved one while living through the turmoil of fighting. So, effective August 1, 1864, The Office of Internal Revenue levied a stamp tax on what it called “sun pictures.” Professional photographers organized a coalition that argued via petition to Congress that they were burdened by an unfairly high share of the National Debt and that the stamps, which had to be placed on the back of the photos, ruined their photos. Two years of hard work lobbying of Congress finally won the photography industry an end to the Sun Picture Stamp Tax as of August 1, 1866.

    During the two year period of the existence of the tax, commercial photographers went so far as to have the backs of their of their cartes de vistes and stereo view cards printed with an ornamented place for the stamp as well as their trade information.

    This wonderful trompe l’oeil drawing is executed on both sides of an actual CDV card mount. It is depicts a woman sitting for her photograph. She holds a copy of “Byron’s Poems”, sits in an American wooden chair, arm resting on a round or oval table beside her. Her flounced skirt spreads widely from her incredibly narrow belted waist. The bodice is pleated across the bust, the neckline, shoulders and hair are ornamented with flowers. Her hair is pulled back into an enormous bun that sticks out straight to the back of her head and is covered with a hair net. I’m telling you, Apollo knots of the 1820s had nothing on the extravagance of this enormous bun. Her bobble earrings are almost as large as her hair bun. The lady’s neck is so long and slender, it makes Audrey Hepburn look like she had no neck! She is as thin as Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oyl. Her serene, distinguished expression is punctuated by a rather sculptural (pointy) nose and thin slightly raised eyebrows. She is, in my best Texas twang, a Hoot! I love her!

    The lampoon continues to the back of the card on which the artist’s rendered a good caricature drawing of a United States Internal Revenue tax stamp that the “photographer” has canceled by hand (as required by the law) and the handbill notification "Photographed by Faber No. 2 / Duplicates of this picture may be had at any time". The “Faber No. 2” refers to the famous brand of pencil and the second line about duplicates was commonly printed on photo mounts. This is a really unique piece of folk art with a great social commentary.

    I’ve framed this wonderful piece of folk art in an Aesthetic period frame. Being from the last decades of the 19th century, the frame is 2 to 3 decades later than the artwork, but I think they look marvelous together and make a wonderful package. There is glass to the front and the back of the frame so that you can view both sides. I have not added a hanger to it because I think it should be displayed on an easel so that it can be picked up easily to see the back. If you want a hanger, I’ll see what I can do… is a very thin moulding but I might be able to put a small sawtooth hanger or maybe a very small loop hanger. Just let me know before you commit to it so I can see what I have. Framed size is 5” x 3 ½”. Size of the card, itself, is 4” x 2 3/8”. Condition of the card is very good with some fading of the pencil….which is expected but it is fairly light (another reason to display on an easel to draw people near). As you can see in the photos, the corners of the frame have some dings.

    This is a wonderful piece of American folk art that will be great in a folk art, stamp, history, Civil War, or just pure Americana collection. It is well known throughout the philatelic world (the study of the stamps and postal history) as it has been well exhibited and has won many awards as part of the exhibit.

    (#5343)     $550

    Provenance: Collection of Bruce Baryla

    Exhibited: Civil War Sun Tax exhibit, collected and curated by Bruce Baryla. shown in judged competition at national and international stamp exhibitions from 1987 to 2012. List of awards won by the exhibit listed at

    Baryla, Bruce, The Civil War Sun Picture Tax - TAXED PHOTOGRAPHS 1864-1866, retrieved from on September 4, 2015.

    Zeller, Bob, The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography, Praeger, Publishers Westport, Conn. (2005) at 211 n. 10.