The first of the new images has arrived. The cased quarter-plate daguerreotype of a gentleman. The case itself is quite amazing – made to look like a little book, it’s nearly half an inch thick and gives the plate some real heft. Makes you wonder if the family had a series of them together on a shelf in their library. The image itself is in quite excellent condition, with minimal tarnishing around the edges of the mat. There is a very subtle hand-coloring applied to his cheeks. As you can see from the shot of the open case, the spine is torn but not completely broken.
Just a quick note – today marks the 172nd birthday of the Daguerreotype. It was on this day in 1839 that the French government declared the Daguerreotype process “free to the world” (after buying the patent rights from Daguerre in exchange for a life pension). Vive la France!!!
I’ve found two more Washington DC parlors and one New York Daguerrian studio:
J. Golden – 819 Pennsylvania Avenue
Henry Ulke & Bro. – 278 Pennsylvania Avenue
The New York Daguerrian parlor is:
A.J. Beals – 156 Broadway
The address for Henry Ulke’s studio would put him today squarely on the grounds of the US Capitol, not far from the Spring Grotto, if the address is correct. Either they had a different street numbering scheme, the address is in Southeast DC instead of Northwest DC (which would put him at an even more unlikely location, a tiny triangle park just beside the Library of Congress building), or the Capitol grounds were greatly enlarged sometime between the 1870s and 1900. Given how so far so many of these studios’ locations can be accurately pinpointed today, even though the streetscape has changed a lot, I’m liking the probability that the address is correct, and that the streetscape has changed, rather than the location being inaccurate.
As I’ve been collecting images, and I do a fair bit of my looking on Ebay, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting albeit off-putting trends. I go back and forth between interest in tintypes, daguerreotypes, and CDVs, with the occasional odd foray into early 20th century images if they include things like cars. In looking for daguerreotype images, I’ve been seeing a lot of what are really very ordinary, common images (no identification of subject or photographer, 1/6 plate to 1/9th plate size, ordinary condition) being listed for astronomical prices ($650 for a 1/6 plate dag? Really?). It’s one of those things that gives you a false impression of the market – seeing all those listings at those stupid prices makes you think that A: your own collection is worth a lot more, and B: if people are listing them for that kind of money, they must be selling for that kind of money. This impression lingers unless you do a search on closed auctions, where you’ll see that most of the successful sales are still in the under $200 range, with the odd exception of some truly rare or exceptional images (1/2 plate, known subject, unusual subject, etc).
Another marketing trend I find a bit odd is the whole “gay interest” tag in the image description. On one level, I get it – the seller is trying to reach out to an under-appreciated market. On the other hand, I question if the people using that tag line understand the “gay interest” thing at all. Two men or two women posing together in the Victorian world did not make them a same-sex couple. They could be siblings, co-workers or just friends. 99% of the time we have zero context to go with any image to make an assessment of the relationships captured in the images. There was no public subculture in the 1850s or even in the 1880s that we would today recognize as analogous to the late 20th/early 21st century gay culture, and as such it would not have been recorded photographically. There is certainly an interest in finding proof of ancestry – “see, we DID exist in the 1850s”. Unfortunately, buying in to the “gay interest” marketing of these images is really just being taken for a ride through ignorance and vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly fun to speculate what might have been going on behind the scenes of these pictures, and what the relationships of the sitters might be to one another. I have one image in my collection that in the right minds implies no end of off-camera highjinks. But it’s still pure speculation. If you see an image marked “gay interest”, buy it only because you actually like the image, not for any marketing baloney designed to separate more of your hard-earned money from you than is fair.