Daguerreian Society

Two items for today. . .
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On this day (April 27) in the year 1846, the following notice appeared in 
the "Boston Daily Evening Transcript":

  THE ECLIPSE IN DAGUERREOTYPE.  Messrs. Southworth & Hawes, 5 1/2 
Tremont Row, have the pleasure of announcing to the lovers of science, 
that they succeeded in taking several views of the eclipse, in different 
stages of its progress, in great perfection.  The spots upon the sun are 
shown distinctly to the naked eye.     [Atlas.

* * * * * * * * * *
And from the April 1889 issue of "The St. Louis and Canadian 
Photographer" (Vol. 7, No. 4, pp.147-8) This text is now also available 
on The Daguerreian Society website at:

    Fifteen Years' Experience of a Daguerreotyper.

                 BY ALEXANDER BECKERS.

[Read before the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York January 30, 

  In response to the request of your Corresponding Secretary, Mr. 
Duffield, I hereby give an outline of my experience in the history of the 
daguerreotype, for a period of fifteen years.
  The details of this antiquated, senior branch of your art can interest 
you only in such parts as are similar. A comparison of the two, however, 
will show the progress of the half century we commemorate to-day, as also 
the centennial of the birth of Daguerre.
  The first daguerreotype I saw, was made by Robert Cornelius, in 
Philadelphia. His laboratory was conspicuous. On the outside could be 
seen a large mirror, swung on a bracket, for illuminating his sitters 
with reflected sunlight. The use of bromine was not yet known in 1840, 
but Boudine introduced it soon after. In the same year Robert Chilton 
called on my brother to make hyposulphite of soda, offering four and a 
half dollars per pound, stating that the French article cost over five 
dollars to import, although still impure. Thus the first hypo was made 
here at the corner of 23d street and Fourth avenue, the present site of 
the Young Men's Christian Association. Orders for other chemicals 
followed, and in 1843 Louis Beckers was the first to manufacture 
photographic chemicals exclusively, at Old York Road, Philadelphia.
  In the same year I entered the daguerreotype business of Mr. Fred 
Langenheim, in the Merchant's Exchange of Philadelphia. Here there was 
little to be seen of the things you see nowadays in a photographic art 
gallery. A kind of a hiding-place for a dark room, and a spyglass-like 
camera were all the indications of the mystery I was to learn. The camera 
rested on a candlestick-like tripod, with three set-screws for 
adjustment, and was placed on an ordinary table. To interchange the 
ground glass and round daguerreotype plate, it was necessary to unscrew a 
flanged ring, and replace the same by a reverse motion. For the 
adjustment of the focus, there was the rack and pinion, as Vogtlander's  
instruments still have. This instruments was one of the first made 
according to the mathematical calculations of Professor Petzval, of 
Vienna, having two acromatic lenses. It had been sent by young Vogtlander 
to his college-mate William Langenheim, as a present, with supplies and 
instructions, but also the warning not to try daguerreotyping, unless he 
had courage enough to try five hundred times more after failing with the 
first hundred pictures. William Langenheim, a lawyer, did not have the 
courage, but his brother Fred did and succeeded so well that he was 
offered six hundred dollars for that old camera.
  The manipulations of preparing a daguerreotype plate will not interest 
you much. I should state, however, that the production of a chemically 
clean surface on silver, is a difficulty that increases four-fold with 
the size of the plate. Another difficulty is the use of the chemicals in 
a volatile state. The iodine can be controlled by sight with faint day-
light, but the bromine only by an even temperature and constant practice.
  At Langenheim's necessity soon introduced a square camera, with square 
plates and holders. A high tripod was also used instead of the table. In 
the summer of 1843 the first dozen of small Vogtlander objectives, such 
as are still on the market, were imported. Soon after, four larger ones, 
for 6 x 8-inch pictures, arrived. In the fall of that year Philip Haas, 
formerly of Paris, showed Fizeau's method of fixing the image on the 
plate by cold gilding. Soon after the picture was made more brilliant by 
heating the plate while the gold solution was on it. In that winter the 
first polishing wheel was made. It was constructed like an ordinary grind 
stone, worked by a treddle, the wheel being cushioned and covered with 
buck skin. With the aid of this machine, and after weeks of hard labor 
and many experiments, we succeeded in making the first good large 
daguerreotype of 6 x 8 inches, called whole size; half and two-thirds 
size were advertised and made with success. At that time we also 
succeeded in making a picture of a sick lady at her own residence, which 
was then considered impossible.
  In the spring of 1844 Mr. Edward White bought one of the large 
Vogtlander instruments, and for him I made the first large daguerreotypes 
in this city at 175 Broadway. There were then but a few daguerrians here. 
They were Gurney, Anthony, Edwards & Chilton, Augustus Morand, Van Loan, 
Burgess, Brush, Weston, Artho, Tresley, Plumb, and others I cannot 
  I remained with Edward White until December, 1844, when it became 
impossible to make a picture in his operating room on account of the 
extreme cold, for Mr. White would not allow a fire in the place over 
night. Then I commenced business for myself, at the corner of Nassau and 
John streets, and after May, 1845, at 201 Broadway, under the firm of 
Langenheim & Beckers, agents for Vogtlander & Louis Beckers.
  At that time the large Vogtlander objectives had a chemical and a 
visual focus, so that in order to make a large, near picture, the lenses 
were moved out one-eight of an inch, while for usual work the ground 
glass was set permanently one-sixteenth of an inch nearer than the plate. 
That summer I took a view of High Bridge before the scaffolding was 
removed. This picture was taken for the engineers, and was per-
haps the first one ever taken here in aid of architecture. By taking out-
door views I discovered that the plates increased in sensitiveness with 
the time between the preparation and exposure.
  In 1847 I began to use a speculum metal mirror, in order to have my 
pictures not inverted. For very unsymmetrical faces this arrangement was 
quite indispensable in order to get a likeness. The mirror was attached 
to the instrument at an angle of 45 degrees. The use of the mirror 
required double the time of exposure. It was made by Fitz, Senior, the 
optician, and was used for years after.
  In 1848 Fred Langenheim bought Fox-Talbots, patent for the United 
States, for six thousand dollars. He introduced it here and failed in the 
  In 1849 my firm was changed to Beckers & Piard. Having now more time, 
we succeeded in substituting machinery for cleaning our plates, and thus 
obtained cleaner and better plates in one-third the time required by 
  In 1852 M. M. Root of Philadelphia, made two pictures on one plate, we 
succeeded in making four on one plate, and in such a way that the exposed 
quarter was in the center of the field of the lense. It was then a great 
relief, as locket pictures were in fashion. In 1856 Mr. Ormsbee patented 
this same multiplying plate holder and collected considerable money on 
it, until my priority made his claim void in the law suit brought as a 
  The production of stereoscopic portraits was the next task. Marchner, 
of Philadelphia, made patent cases to show these pictures in a very neat 
way. In 1854 F. Langenheim had commenced to manufacture stereoscopic 
views on glass. He sent me three dozen of his make, to find sale for them 
here. At the first exhibit of these pictures, one dozen of them were 
broken. This loss set me to thinking how to find an arrangement to show 
and secure the pictures against breakage, and in 1857 I obtained a patent 
for my revolving stereoscope. The increasing demand for this machine 
induced me to sell my daguerreotype business in 1858.
  Thus I was relieved from satisfying the vanity of each individual 
beauty of this world, and ended my career as a daguerrian.

(Original errors of grammar/spelling maintained. This article also 
appeared in the 15 March 1889 "Photographic Times"; Vol. XIX, No. 391)
Posted for your enjoyment.   Gary W. Ewer   

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