The Daguerreian Society

A Tour of E. Anthony's Daguerreian Manufactory


We shall, by way of introduction to this department of the daguerreotype business, here introduce a description of the extensive manufactories of Mr. Anthony, occupying one-quarter of that vast building bounded by Centre, White, Elm and Franklin streets, in the city of New York, known as the Harlem Rail Road Depot.


Is an apartment fitted up with the tools, fixtures and machinery necessary for performing rapidly and economically the work embraced in the various articles, of which wood is the component material, included in the list of daguerrean instruments. Here are made the camera boxes, coating boxes, camera stands, table tops, wooden tops of mercury bath, plate holders, polishing blocks, &c. Connected with this shop is a kiln room arranged for the rapid and perfect seasoning of the various kinds of lumber required for the proper and efficient construction of those instruments. It is heated throughout the year by means of the exhaust steam from the engine, which circulates around the apartment through cast iron pipes.

The parts of the daguerrean apparatus which consist of iron, steel and brass, are fabricated in another shop on the floor above, which is fitted with the necessary lathes and tools. The workmen in this shop are not confined to the sole manufacture of apparatus, but are also employed in the execution of various kinds of work in metals for which in a city like New York there is such great demand. In these shops the proprietor has every facility for executing any kind of mechanical work needed for the purposes of the daguerrean art. We must not omit to mention, that adjoining the machine shop there is another apartment called the Japanning Room, where the bronzing and japanning of the camera stands, head-rests, &c., is performed. A portion of this apartment is occupied by a large kiln, heated by steam, where the articles are dried after being varnished.


In the manufacture of cases there are four separate departments, viz., one for making the wooden boxes which form the substratum or body of the cases; one where these boxes are covered with leather and trimmed, one where the leather covering and the cushions are embossed and stamped, and one where the cases are gilded. As probably few persons are aware of the number of manipulations necessary for the completion of so simple looking an article as a Daguerreotype case, I propose to describe somewhat in detail the different processes of their manufacture; promising that it is only by the subdivision of labor and the manufacture in large quantities and by labor saving machinery that they can be produced at a price which enables the public to procure pictures of a certain class at the present low prices.


This is a long well lighted apartment, with two lines of shafting running nearly the entire length. This shafting carries the pullies which drives the different saws but a few feet apart and each, the work being very light, is tended by a boy, who by constant practice at one particular operation, passes the rough looking objects, which finally become so smooth and well proportioned, through his hands with rapidity which, to the unpractised hand, appears to border on the marvellous. The revolution of the pullies, the rapid motion of the belting which every four feet extends from the ceiling to the floor, the brisk motions of the boys, the flying of the nascent "woods" from the saw or lathes to the box in which it is conveyed to the next operation in its course of "development," the flashes of saw dust evolved in the process of "grinding," the "chirr" of the saws and the hissing of the sand paper which present to the beholder a busy sound. The operations going on are at first sight inexplicable. He is shown at the same time a finished "wood," smooth, even, top and bottom fitting each other to the smallest fraction of a hair, and a pile of rough "frames" and "tops," and fails to perceive the remotest connection between the two; and the mystery is still further enhanced by showing him a wood which has passed through every operation but the last. He sees nothing but what appears to him a solid block of pine wood, with no more indication of a seam that there was in the apple dumpling which so bothered King George. You assure him that the box with the nicely fitting top and bottom were at one time just such another solid block, and he things you are only poking fun at him and won't believe it "any how you can fix it." You have no course left but to show him through the different stages. The conviction gradually dawns upon him that there are more things in the making of a daguerreotype case that he had "dreamed of," but yet for the life of him he don't understand what is the use of all these different sawings, and markings, and twisting, and turnings, carrying off, and bringing stocks--why you glue up a long "frame" and then cut it all to pieces--why you cut pieces of wood smaller than you need and then go to work and make them larger that you need, by sticking other small pieces on the ends and then sawing them off again; why you grind down the boxes until they are as smooth and as clear as an apple, and then make a couple of dirty red streaks on one side of them; finally, why you take the trouble to make an article that looks like a solid block of wood, and then deliberately saw it into two pieces. An inspection of these two pieces, however, shows him that that which he took to be solid was in fact hollow, and he soon learns that all the operations going on before him are as essential to the production of a proper "wood," as the introduction of various personages in a novel is to the development of the plot.
The general mode of proceeding in making a "wood" is as follows:--A rectangular "frame" is prepared of the exact size, (internally) desired; upon this are glued the pieces of wood forming the top and bottom of the case. This is then submitted to the action of various saws, gouges and grinding wheels, until it is brought into the shape (externally) desired. It is then cut into two unequal parts in a plane parallel to the top and bottom; the deeper of the two parts forming the bottom or tray of the case, the other the cover. But in thus proceeding, various consideration have to be taken into account, the wood of which the top and bottom are formed are apt to warp--this is prevented by panelling them and thus each top and bottom consists of three pieces tongued and grooved into each other, the grain of the "ties" running at right angles to that of the "centre." The next thing to be considered is the unequal thickness of the wood used--this makes it necessary to put on the top first and then to pass it over a saw running at the proper distance from a straight edge, against which the uncovered side of the frame is pressed. But this means a mark is transferred from the inside to the outside of the wood, but which the final splitting into two parts uniformly proportioned is regulated. The variation of the thickness of the wood forming the "frame" is next corrected in an analagous manner, and then the other "top" is glued on. These "tops" being larger than the "frame" now project all around it, and the next operation is to saw off these projections. The wood is next taken to a sand-paper wheel, which is the face-plate of a lathe covered smoothly with sand-paper, where by the rapid revolution of the wheel its edges are ground smooth and true with the inside. The next operation is to champer the corners top and bottom. The woods are then taken to another wheel where the angles produced by the champering are neatly rounded off and finally they are "split" by means of a saw and gauge. Between these two last operations, however, each wood is marked on one of the larger edges by two red chalk marks, the object of which is to afford the means of matching the two parts, in case, as often happens, they get tumbled into "pi." They are then packed in boxes and are ready to be taken to the covering rooms. It may be interesting to state that between the cutting of the lumber into strips of proper widths and the finishing of the woods, it passes through at least twenty different manipulations.


Occupies two apartments each 24 by 48 feet. The work here, which is very simple, is done mostly by boys and girls. It will be sufficient to state the order of the different operations. The embossed leather "tops" are first secured by glue to the top and bottom of each wood. The projecting portions of the leather, which is always a little larger than the wood, are then trimmed off and the two portions of the case are ready to receive the "strips." The "strips" are pieces of thin leather cut wide enough to cover the outside edge and lip of the case and a portion of the inside surface and one edge and each end of the "strip" is pared, previously, to a fine edge, and when the strip is put on it is so placed that this pared edge is turned down upon the leather already glued on the top of the case, making an almost imperceptible joint. The length of the strip is such that it will extend around the two ends and from of the case and be returned a short distance on the back. The pieces of leather called the "inside and outside backs," and which form the hinge of the case, are next put on and cover that portion left uncovered by the "strips." The cases are next creased, the front edges varnished and the hooks put on.
They are then "trimmed," by putting in the top the cushions, and in the bottom the border and paper. A coat of varnish applied to the outside forms the "coup d'essai." Where the cases are to be gilded, that process is performed after the inside and outside back are put on, and before the cases are trimmed. The gilding is performed in the usual way by means of heated rolls. The work in the covering shop is also subdivided--each hand having a particular portion of the work to do.


As each daguerreotype picture must have a "mat" as well as a case, and, not unfrequently, a "preserver" also, the manufacture of those two articles becomes an important adjunct to the general business. "Mats" and "preservers" are formed of sheet brass. The "mats" are known by various terms, as "common," "fire-gilt," "engraved," and "embossed" or "stamped;" the difference consisting in the value of the metal or the cost or style of finishing.

The work is done by means of powerful presses, driven by steam. The brass, manufactured in rolls of the proper width, is first cut into "blanks" of perfectly uniform size by means of a punch and die operated in one of these presses. It is next pierced, that is, perforated with an opening of the shape desired, of which there are three styles generally used, viz., the "oval," the "fancy nonpariel," and the "double elliptic." They are then straightened and passed to the "dipping room," where by the action of strong acids the surface of each is made to assume a "frosted" or "marked" appearance. As soon as possible after being dipped the mats are lacquered and dried rapidly on a table of copper, heated by steam. They are then finished by having the edge of the opening champered and burnished. The mode of making the preservers is exactly similar to that of making "mats," with the addition of their edges being turned up, and with the difference of being dipped bright instead of being matted.

(End of text.)


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