For Exhibit Only – Some Serendipity


Unidentified man and viewer; carte de visite by F. W. Schneider, Green Bay, Wisconsin, ca. 1878; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

The above carte made by a Wisconsin photographer is one I bought a few years ago at a going-out-of-business antique store in Cartersville, Georgia. I think it is a fine image, and the object on a stand to the right of the gentleman really intrigued me. At that time I asked others on the Photo History list if they had seen anything like the object on the fancy stand, and no one contacted me who had.

A few months ago, in a search for a Georgia man’s patent listing, I was perusing the ever-useful American Photographic Patents – The Daguerreotype & Wet Plate Era 1840 – 1880 by Janice G. Schimmelman, and I stumbled upon an image of the patent drawing (page 99) for an object that looked very familiar. The patent image reproduced in the book was for “Improvements in Picture-Exhibitors” which was granted to a George A. Lauer, of Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 18, 1876. It is noted that Lauer assigned one-half of his right in the patent to a J. W. Taft, of Chicago, Illinois.


Sheet number one of the two descriptive drawings attached to the text for G.A. Lauer’s patent no. 172.328, granted Jan. 18, 1876.

I looked closely at the scan of my Wisconsin photographer’s carte-de-visite, and yes, it did seemed to be the very same viewer-object! I sought out the entire Lauer patent data via Google patent search and saved the entire document as a PDF.

In the document G. A. Lauer submitted to the patent office he explained his invention, and here is the pertinent portion:

Figure l is a perspective View of a photoalbum or cabinet, embodying my invention. Fig. 2 .is a partial perspective view of the frame for holding the picture. —- the pictures are exhibited and secured within a stand or case [and it] consists in part of a certain construction of the case or cabinet and arrangement of glasses or lenses, whereby the best light is thrown upon the pictures, —- and the pictures being secured to an endless belt, by operating which, one picture at a time will appear at a given point of view.

I posted the main image from the patent and reposted my own photograph onto the Photo History List and asked if any or all agreed that the two “viewers” – the one in the patent drawing and the one in my photograph – were one and the same.

I received only one comment, and it was all I needed. The commenter and I exchanged photographs, a digital image of my carte in exchange for an image of that exact viewer in his collection!


Lauer picture-exhibitor, aka Revolving Photo Cabinet; photo courtesy of



Label attached to the carte-de-visite viewer by Lauer, now known as his Revolving Photo Cabinet. Photo courtesy of

The label attached to the bottom of this cabinet tells us that the viewer, now  known as the Revolving Picture Cabinet, was manufactured by Ta[aft] & Schwame, of Chicago, Illinois. Now we know why Mr Taft was assigned one-half of the patent.

This viewer is the one Lauer designed for cartes-de-visite, but I am told he also designed one to hold cabinet cards.





Reverse of ca. 1878 carte-de-visite showing back mark for F.W. Schneider, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

Could the man in my carte be George A. Lauer? If not, why is this man standing next to this particular photograph viewer? And why go to a Wisconsin photographer if it is Mr. Lauer of Cincinnati, or possibly Mr. J.W. Taft of Chicago?

These are questions that may never be answered. But I would be excited if they could be. Because these are not strictly Georgia-related, I won’t take time to pursue it. Contact me or leave a Comment to this post if you can help to answer those questions. Meanwhile, make the most of your hunting and gathering, even if questions remain!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.




  1. Frances Osborn Robb · · Reply

    What a terrific piece of sleuthery! I am impressed. Just goes to show what diligence will come up with! Hope your revamped eye is giving you no trouble and a lot better vision is on the horizon. I’m thinking of you.


    1. Thank you, Frances! My next several posts will be fairly short, like this one, as I again find myself overcommitted. I believe my readers will be happy to see shorter posts here!

  2. Lee, I agree with my friend Frances Robb about your sleuthing. Excellent. But allow me to temper your hypothesis that the man in the pix is either of the principals. You suggest that the revolving cabinet is important to the person in the image. I counter that given the Victorian “lust” for bric-a-brac, clutter, and parlors well appointed with gadgetry, that the person is posing in a studio that owned a revolving cabinet and thought it was too cool to not put in this and, I’ll wager, many other photos. But, as my personal motto states: I Could Be Wrong ™.

    Marty Olliff

    1. Goodness, I did not mean to imply it was definitely one of those two men! Maybe I better re-visit what I did say! I only meant if it were one of the two, then why in the world a Wisconsin photographer — i.e..possibly not they….

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Jimmy Leiderman · · Reply

    Great stuff Lee!

    1. Thank you kind sir!

  4. polruan · · Reply

    Where did you find the reference to the possibility that a cabinet card-sized version of this viewer might also have been produced? It might provide further leads.

    1. I have not seen it but the gentleman who owns the cdv viewer used on my blog post, tells me that there is also one for cabinet cards. That is all I know!

  5. Wonderful detective work! I would love to know more about the machine, should you know the answers. How many photos could it hold? What was the process for adding or removing the photos like? Overtime are the photos damaged at all by being placed in the viewer? Further to that question, I presume the main purpose of the gadget was to protect the images, but how successful was it in that?

    1. Thank you! Oh, my, I need to look at that patent again and see if answers to your questions are there! I do know of collectors who have these machines, one has the one built for cabinet cards, I believe, and I will see if I can contact them. I believe more detective work is in order.

      1. Always one thing leads to another and another. Hard work but discovering new information is exciting!

  6. Susan Kay Sisco-Berry · · Reply

    I recently purchased one like this. Just let me know if you’re interested in details, pics, etc.

    1. Hello, I will contact you.

    2. Hi, I recently inherited an antique Taft / Lauer revolving photo viewer cabinet. It is a beautiful and interesting little curio filled with antique photos. Any additional information and its approximate value would be very appreciated!

      1. Hi, I really can’t tell you anything about value, you can compare to those that may be on ebay (set a search to continue to find them), or contact the various photo history sites on Facebook. They would also be interested in the photos it holds, are they a particular type, subject, or family? Good luck with this unique heirloom!

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