One hundred and fifty-four years ago this week, seven friends sat for a portrait at Nathaniel L. Merrill’s Photographic Gallery in Springfield, Vermont. They look young enough to be in high school, or perhaps recent graduates. The carte-de-visite photo has a revenue stamp on the back, affixed and cancelled by the photographer on December 22, 1864. Were these fellows about to head home for Christmas or winter break? The end of the war was still six months away, but they had no idea how much longer it would last.
Revenue stamps were required by the U.S. Government on commercial photographs from August 1, 1864 until August 1, 1866, initially to raise funds to fight the Civil War, and then to pay off debts after the war ended in May 1865. Photographers were required to cancel a stamp after affixing it to the back of a photo.