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.
Here is a lovely daguerreotype, the latest addition to my collection. This is a quarter-plate size piece, in a wallet case. I did not have anything in a wallet case before, so I jumped on the opportunity especially since the plate was in such nice condition. The scan does not do it justice, frankly, as the cover glass and the frame put the plate a little out of the focusing range of the scanner lens, making it look a little less sharp, and any dust is only magnified.
Here is the wallet case itself. The clasp lock in fact works. I suspect there was a better button to operate the clasp at some point in the past and it fell off. This scan again doesn’t do the artifact justice, as the clasp has a lovely pattern etched into it that isn’t coming through.
I wanted the wallet case to add to my collection because I do exhibit and lecture from these artifacts and the wallet style makes it all the more obvious how these were meant to be carried around as treasured keepsakes to show to friends and family, not put up on a wall or a shelf (although wall frames for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes do exist). It creates an interesting dynamic between public and private – these objects were not reserved for viewing in the privacy of ones home, but rather exhibited wherever and whenever the fancy struck. We’ve come full circle on this today, where now people carry their entire photographic life on a little candy-bar sized device in their pocket, which interestingly enough, is roughly the same size as the quarter-plate daguerreotype, just a little skinnier.
Another recent acquisition for the collection is this daguerreotype of an unknown man by R. N. Keely, of 322 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia. Also an early daguerreotype (discernible by the attire of the sitter and the style of the mat), this is probably from the late 1840s. While the mat itself is still quite plain, it bears the photographer’s imprint, and the whole packet (this time complete with intact original seals!) is wrapped in a gilt brass frame.
I was also pleased to see that in this acquisition I had yet another photographer’s studio address to add to my Philadelphia Victorian Photographers’ map. Were I sufficiently motivated and had enough free time, I’d love to sync up the images in my collection with the studios’ addresses, and ideally match the dates as well. But, that would be a great project for an intern to tackle, should I ever have one (hmmm… maybe I should approach my high school alma mater and see if there would be a talented kid interested in the project????).
Obtained from the Frisbee estate, this early daguerreotype (circa 1840s) is an approximate 1/4 plate (the dimensions don’t strictly correspond to 1/4 plate, but it is noticeably larger than a standard 1/6th plate image) in a leather case. The seals are entirely missing and thus the plate is loose in the case, and it demonstrates numerous mat abrasions around the edges.
Condition issues aside, it’s still a striking family photo from the 1840s, and quarter-plate size images are getting rarer. I’m pleased to add this to my collection.
This is a (I believe) mercury-developed Daguerreotype that I made of myself at a Daguerreotype workshop in Philadelphia a few years ago. It’s far from proficient, but it’s an unique piece of work complete with all its flaws. It was another find in the camera room cleanup preparations, and I noticed it was tarnishing at the edges, so I thought I would make a good scan of it before it deteriorates.
The blue color you see on my collar and on the steel roll-up door behind me in the photo is not added – this is a natural phenomenon in Daguerreotype plates – areas of bright highlight will turn blue during development.
My latest acquisitions for the collection – a husband-and-wife pair in leather/pressed paper case. These are probably early-mid 1850s judging from the case and the mats. The brass frame for the package says later, but the simpler mats argue earlier. These were purchased at another online auction (not eBay) and found at an outstanding price in part because the seller did not know how to photograph daguerreotypes. I have not opened up the packets to get rid of the dust between the glass and the dag plate because the original seals are intact, at least on the wife’s photo.
The photographer is unknown, as are the subjects. Very subtle hand-coloring can be seen on the plates, most notably in the man’s face and the woman’s dress.
I was showing my latest daguerreotype to a friend the other day and she asked me how many do I have. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I sat down today and did an inventory. I came up with
|Image Type||gemtype||1/9th plate||1/6th plate||1/4 plate||1/2 plate|
for a grand total of 50 cased images.
I’ll recap as many of them as I have good scans for here. One of these days I’ll get around to re-scanning/photographing the others, which I originally posted to Facebook but not at a consistent file size.
This was a beautiful dag, in such nice condition and with such overall quality that it seemed a crying shame to pass it up, especially at the price it went for.
I particularly love the use of soft light to model the face. This is what a good portrait is all about – an accurate yet absolutely flattering rendering of a subject. One of the reasons I collect images like this is to have a personal library of excellent images to use as reference material when shooting my own portraits. You can study an image like this for hours and never get bored of looking at it.
I was given a link to this article in Scientific American, about preservation issues and resolutions for Daguerreotypes. To read the entire article you need to subscribe to their website, or purchase the hard copy at a newsstand. The gist of it is that there seems to be a problem with displaying Daguerreotypes where they are under significant continuous exposure to light, and it has to do with the way they were made. With exposure to light and oxygen, a reaction occurs on the surface of the image that begins to form a whitish fog on the plate. The long-term solution appears to involve sealing the images in an argon-filled frame. The short-term solution, or for those who don't have the budget of a major museum's conservation department, is to keep them in dark storage when not actively engaged in viewing the image(s) and to severely restrict exposure to light when on view.