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????).
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.
Quoted in full:
The recent article in the Scientific American magazine paints a picture of doom and destruction for daguerreian art pieces. Of course this is disconcerting for collectors and institutions that have significant investment in these beautiful objects. The author implies that degradation surrounding some Southworth and Hawes daguerreotypes in the Young America exhibition can be applied to all daguerreotypes when he writes “The vanishing images suggested that any daguerreotype could spontaneously crumble.” This sky-is-falling statement in my opinion does not represent the majority of daguerreotypes.
Lets review this issue.
Approximately 160 Southworth and Hawes daguerreotypes were exhibited over two years at three institutions. Five plates changed significantly with an obscuring white haze, and supposedly 25 plates changed slightly. The majority of the plates did not change at all.
From personal experience I can tell you that I have 19th century daguerreotypes as well as my own daguerreotypes that have been on continuous display on my studio for 10+ years with no sign of change. This is my argument against the claim that daguerreotypes are light sensitive.
What every collector or institution must know is Southworth and Hawes plates have a very unique storage history contrary to the norm. The great majority of S&H images that remain were plates retained by the studio stored completely unsealed in plate boxes. They were sold in this condition through Holman’s bookshop in the 1930’s. and early 40’s. As they migrated to private collectors and institutions they were sealed using what were thought of at the time to be proper conservation materials. A typical preservation package used by the George Eastman House from the mid-1970’s to 1999 consisted of 4-ply buffered board with a paper binding tape, and a buffered die cut paper mat separating the plate from the glass. The buffering agent is 3% calcium carbonate to provide an alkali reserve of ph 8.5.
A significant case in point. In 1999, a trove of Southworth and Hawes daguerreotypes were discovered in the garage of David Feigenbaum after his death. A team of conservation professionals from the George Eastman House were asked to prepare the plates for auction at Sotheby’s. Over 200 plates were housed in the materials described above. A collector who purchased a Southworth and Hawes daguerreotype from the David Feigenbaum sale brought it to me to replace the conservation housing with an 19th century brass mat, preserver and case. I retained the die-cut buffered mat and backing board. Soon after, I made a daguerreotype that I felt wasn’t good enough to frame in my own passe-partout housing design, but I wanted to preserve it as I had made it in collaboration with my friend Irv Pobboravsky. I placed the daguerreotype behind glass using the die-cut mat I retained from the Feigenbaum sale held together with spring clips and placed it in a zip-lock back. It was stored in the dark for approximately four years. It now has a very definite obscuring white haze adjacent to the mat. While this is not a scientific experiment, it does provide a significant observation and cause to question if the housing materials are contributing to the deterioration of the plates.
I have experienced the “white haze” phenomena on other of my contemporary images as well as on 19th century images that have been in contact with buffered board. What is good for the conservation of paper, ie alkaline buffering, is not necessarily good for daguerreotypes.
In reviewing the conservation efforts for the Young America Exhibition I learned that plates were not removed from their buffered mat board and die cut preservation packages. These were placed intact into extremely well sealed secondary housings incorporating shallow copper pans to act as pollutant scavengers. A complete overview of the conservation for this exhibition can be found here.
If the buffered materials are a co-factor in the formation of “white-haze” deterioration it would explain why even with the best intentioned conservation, some plates still changed during exhibition. A questionable environment was enclosed within a stable one.
This remains to be explored and I hope to soon analyze the plate and mat from my example. I present this scenario as a possible alternative and/or co-factor to the silver-chloride scenario presented in the Scientific American article.
In closing, I would say that daguerreotypes are among the most stable of photographic objects providing the housings are intact to prevent atmospheric pollutants from reacting with the silver surface and that the housings themselves are not contributing to the problem. The nature of the mechanism of deterioration particular to a small percentage of Southworth and Hawes daguerreotypes is not yet fully understood. The findings reported in the Scientific American article should not prevent us from exhibiting, collecting or enjoying these amazing photographs. It is prudent, as has been shown by the Young America exhibition, to accurately document any daguerreotype intended for exhibition and carefully monitor it at regular intervals to note any changes.
President of the Daguerreian Society
This certainly adds a new wrinkle to the previous Scientific American article. It also goes to show that just because an article comes from a reputable source does not necessarily mean it is accurate. My bad. This bears further following, and I will post updates as I find them. That said, I would still be careful in exhibiting Dags to prevent unnecessary degradation.
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.
Here are my two early Mathew Brady images. The one is a simple daguerreotype, and based on the mat style, I’d place it as an early dag – pre 1850, maybe as early as 1845. The velvet pad on the dag shows Brady’s New York studio address. I’ve also posted the ambrotype, which is a later image. This is an interesting and unusual presentation, where the image can be viewed from either side.