Some of my more dedicated readers might remember my fondness for Ed Bearss and taking his history tours through the Smithsonian, exploring Civil War battlefields. Ed passed away on September 16 at the ripe age of 97. I remember seeing him speaking in public and taking that tour with him in 2017 when at the age of 94, he was still leading groups with more energy than many people I know half his age. He used that microphone and mini-speaker he had not because his voice was weak but because his crowds of groupies on his tours would regularly number over 50 people, and he needed the boost so the folks in the back could hear. I can still hear the echoes of his narration in my head… “And, MISTER Lincoln… “. Semper Fi, Ed, and know that you’ll never be forgotten. I have linked to his obituary
Here are three recent additions to my optical glass arsenal. First is the perhaps most interesting of them – an R. Beard Daguerrian lens made by T. Slater, London, Ca. 1855. It’s the oldest lens I have, and probably the rarest, most exotic one. The back story is that when Daguerre announced his invention to the world in 1839, he got the French government to buy the license and pay him a lifetime pension. A similar offer was made to the English government but they refused, so Daguerre entered into negotiations with a private citizen in the UK to license the Daguerreotype. The first licensee sat on his rear about it, and in short order, a more enterprising individual, Mr. Beard, bought out his interests. Due to a quirk in English patent law, Beard was entitled to represent himself (as you can see in the inscription on the lens) as the sole patentee of the Daguerreotype (when in reality he held an exclusive license, and the right to sub-license to others). Beard insisted that anyone buying a license to the Daguerreotype process from him had to mark EVERYTHING with “R. Beard, Sole Patentee”, including things like frames and cases for images, and as we can see here on the lens, lenses and cameras too! This one is made by T. Slater, Optician. Mr. Slater was an optician in London, today better known for his telescopes than for his camera optics. This lens is probably a Petzval design, and from what I can tell, it just about illuminates a 5×7 inch plate. Useable coverage is probably quite a bit less than that.
This next piece is my Voigtlander Petzval. If you pay any attention to such things, you’ll probably have heard people geeking out about Petzval lenses, especially in wet plate collodion circles. Petzval lenses are named after their inventor, and are famous for providing a relatively fast lens (very important when working with wet plate where the approximate ISO hovers around 1). They’re also coveted today for their notable defect, a pronounced curvature of the plane of focus. This gives the “swirlies” that you see in many wet plate images today.
Voigtlander was an Austrian/German lens manufacturer and an early pioneer in photographic optics. This lens is from approximately 1864, and is an 11 inch f3.4. To give you an idea of the size of this thing, the front element is 80mm in diameter, the barrel is 6.5″ long, 8″ if you include the lens hood. It weighs in around 2kg (4.5 lbs). The funny looking tab sticking out the side is a Waterhouse stop – an early mechanism for aperture control that relied on flat slips of brass with varying diameter holes cut in the center.
Last but certainly not least, is my Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Cooke Series II 10.5″ f4.5 lens. This one is not nearly so old as the other two, dating from approximately 1914-15. This one came to me in rather rough form, but it will live again to make more pictures after the thorough cleaning I gave it.
Lurking in the background behind the Cooke is my Hermagis Eidoscope #3 – it’s an 11 inch f5 lens, and most specifically a soft-focus lens. You control the soft focus effect by changing the aperture. The larger the aperture, the softer the effect, the smaller, the sharper. It’s actually a Rapid Rectilinear design, not a Petzval, which some people think that it is because they think that all brass lenses are Petzvals. The Cooke is neither a Petzval nor a Rapid Rectilinear, but rather an Anastigmat, but it too has a reputation as a soft-focus lens, the soft focus being controlled by the aperture, and also by adjusting the spacing on the front element. On the small Cooke lenses like mine, there is no official soft-focus mechanism, but on the bigger, longer portrait lenses, they had a ring that you could turn to adjust the soft-focus effect. Some enterprising individual took it upon themselves to engrave some marks around the front of the barrel to indicate where to turn the front element for soft focus effect. Once I have this lens mounted, I’ll give their markings a try and see what it does.
Hi all- sorry for the very long silence on here. Life has been tempest-tossed the last year or so, so I’ve been kinda out-of-action on the blogging front. Anyway, back at it. I was just interviewed on the Film Factor Podcast, talking about alternative processes, collecting daguerreotypes, and teaching photography in a pandemic. Film Factor Podcast is hosted by Franz Lopez, a devoted photography enthusiast in the Philippines. Getting everything synced up for the live show was a little interesting, given the vagaries of the global internet and the twelve-hour time difference. Here’s the link to the recording of the session:
If you haven’t been following this story, I think it’s worth taking a look at. The National Media Museum, located in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, was home to a massive collection of photographs, substantively consisting of the collections of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), spanning the first two centuries of photography. The trustees of the museum decided to transfer a significant portion of the collection to the Victoria & Albert museum in London, without public comment or debate. This is causing a big stink:
The move to relocate some of the museum’s holdings – the bulk of which is part of a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection that charts the development of photography over 200 years – was announced in February, prompting accusations of “cultural vandalism”.
“This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism,” said Simon Cooke, the Conservative leader on Bradford city council. “I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you … care not one jot for our heritage and history.
“We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.”
As a result, major figures such as David Hockney, Mike Leigh the film director, photographer Don McCullin and more than eighty other artists working with still and moving images have picked up their pens to add their voices to the protest. Here’s hoping they are heard.
Well folks, I think it’s time and appropriate that I spin off my blogging about image collecting from my blogging about my own photographic endeavors. I want to differentiate the two activities and use this blog, dcphotoartist.com, as a professional communication channel to talk about and share my portrait work and travel images. So I hope you all will bear with me as I make the transition, and read up on both blogs. The new blog will be http://dcphotocollector.com. I’m using the theme photo of this post as the branding for the collecting site, at least for now. I’m launching it with another post about Tom Thumb and his wife.
No, not a prequel to The Thief, the Cook, His Wife and Her Lover, it’s a CDV by an unidentified photographer of Tom Thumb, his wife, and her sister Minnie Warren.
The latest addition to the collection of Tom Thumb images, this was one I hadn’t seen before. Clipped corners aside, it’s in quite good condition overall. Certainly the image is very clear and sharp, and the print has minimal wear. In the conversation I had with Zoe Trodd, the co-author of Picturing Frederick Douglass, she triggered an interesting thought. The main thesis of Picturing Frederick Douglass is that he is the most-photographed American of the 19th century. I was skeptical of this as his images on the secondary collector market are not common, however the book does document her case rather thoroughly, with 150-some distinct images of him known. This got me to wondering how many different images of my favorite subject to collect are there. I’ll enumerate the Tom Thumb images I have below:
These are the ones I have in my collection. I know there are more out there that I don’t have (one particular one from the wedding, and at least two from the London Stereoscopic Company). This puts me at 15, eighteen if you count the ones I know but don’t have. It’s a far cry from the 150 of Frederick Douglass, but I’m going to keep hunting and collecting and tallying up. Having been a star of stage and circus for most of his life, he was dependent on publicity for his career and would have worked hard to keep his image in the public eye.
The newest addition to the collection of CDVs of little people sideshow performers – Admiral Dot, age thirteen.
I would take his age, height and weight in this photo with a grain of salt – the producers of these CDVs were prone to mis-statement, exaggeration and even outright lies about the subject’s physical traits as part of the sideshow hype. Fat men and women were often described as sometimes a hundred plus pounds bigger than they were. “Giants” were often endowed with an additional six or seven inches in height. In this case, I’ve managed to wangle a series of Admiral Dot at three different ages- 13, 14 and 18. In the span of five years he’s gained an inch (not unbelievable) and only five pounds.
Admiral Dot was born Leopold Kahn in San Francisco. He had two brothers, also little people, who also went on to become sideshow performers – Major Atom and General Pin. He began his career working for P.T. Barnum, but went on to perform with other companies of little people, married another little person, Lottie Swartood, and have two children before dying from the Spanish Flu during the 1918 epidemic at the age of 59. While I do have images of Major Atom, I have yet to come across one of General Pin – he must not have had the career his two siblings did.
Here is my CDV of Major Atom. Can you see a family resemblance?
Another recent auction acquisition. This is a minuscule 1/9th plate (roughly 2 inches x 2 1/2 inches) Daguerreotype of two brothers. I bought this one because of the relatively unusual size (1/9th plate and smaller Dags are less common) and the subject – I’m not used to seeing 1/9th plate images of more than one person. It has condition issues – while the case still has the original hinge intact, the bottom of one side is missing, as is the lining of the bottom of the image side. The interesting thing about it is that it reveals the case in this instance is made of a thin wood box covered with tooled leather. Some of these cases were made of essentially cardboard before being leather-wrapped. I did do a little bit of cleaning on this one, as the original seals, while present, were badly deteriorated and lots of dust had gotten inside the glass. There is still some kind of schmutz on the surface of the plate, and I do not yet know how to safely remove it, so I am holding off on that. I have digitally cleaned up the scan of the plate to show the potential, but left some of the blotches in the image to give an idea of what it looks like in its present state.
My latest addition to the collection – an early Daguerreotype of a little girl, by Charles C. Evans of 380 Market Street, Philadelphia. The velvet pad on the other side of the case reads “Evans 380 Market Street Girard Row” encircled by “Original Sun Beam”. I’d photograph the pad but the case, while complete, is in delicate condition and to do so would risk breaking the case completely (someone a long time in the past tried to repair the case and over-reinforced the spine, rendering it rigid and ultimately damaged it more). The image did have its original seals, but when I lifted the packet out of the case, they basically fell off, so now it’s time to re-seal it with the correct kind of archival tape.
I’ve been having the hardest time figuring out what these two gentlemen’s occupation is. They are wielding a trowel and a tin bucket, and staring into the bucket with a great degree of fascination. But they look too clean and too well-dressed for most manual labor occupations that would use a trowel and bucket – bakers, painters, plasterers, gardeners… when showing their profession, they’re usually a little less polished than these two. I’m going with plasterers as that’s a relatively high-earning trade, so maybe they could afford to get cleaned up before going in for their portraits.
I scanned this out of its octagonal Union case to make it easier to see the details. The case is in remarkably fine original condition, with no major cracks or chips.
The two men together could certainly in some people’s minds qualify this as a “gay interest” image, but I’m going to definitely disqualify this as it’s very obviously first and foremost a professional association. The dressing alike is a very 19th century thing within a trade, whereas dressing alike to show one’s sexual relationship to another is very much a late 20th early 21st century thing.