The 
Daguerreian Society


On this day (September 18) in the year 1891, the following article 
appeared as the sixth in a series in "The Photographic Times" (New York; 
pp. 466-7): 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

           THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DAGUERREOTYPE.

              AS SEEN BY A COUNTRY "OPERATOR."

                            VI.

  My first purchased outfit consisted of one half-size camera, one pair 
ditto ditto coating boxes and one chair clip head rest, all second-hand. 
The camera was furnished with a Voigtlander lens, accompanied with the 
legend that it was the identical one from which the plaster casts 
mentioned in a former chapter were made.
  Whether this was true or not I had no documentary evidence to show. The 
professor, however, assured me he had no doubt of its authenticity. He 
also said he felt certain the lens was a good one, although its former 
possessor had been able to obtain nothing with it but blurred images. It 
had no central stops, and gave with the full opening a well-defined, 
luminous image, which was promising. In short, we found that by moving 
the lens forward a certain distance after focusing it, the image on the 
plate came out with the same sharpness as shown in the previous image on 
the ground glass. This, of course, proved that the chemical focus was 
behind the visible focus, and therefore the sensitive surface must be 
placed behind the position occupied by the ground glass when the visible 
image was sharp on the latter. This object was gained once for all, by 
setting the ground glass forward in the frame to the same distance from 
its normal position. Theoretically it will be claimed that this was 
incorrect, and that a different adjustment ought to be made for every 
different focal distance. However this may be, I never discovered the 
need of any readjustment, and say now, after having examined anew many 
old specimens made with that lens years and years ago, that I have never 
seen any more delightful optical work than was performed by it. I 
discovered that I could not obtain in any plane (so to speak) of the 
picture the extreme sharpness that some of my friends and competitors 
were able to produce, and I was sometimes almost afraid that this 
intensity of detail might tell in their favor to my disadvantage. But I 
also discovered a charm in pictures that were nowhere exasperatingly 
sharp and yet nowhere wanting in sufficient detail.
  But if my lens proved to be a blessing in disguise, for such in verity 
it was, it was the only piece of apparatus of much value, except as a 
makeshift. One of my coating boxes was cracked--that is, the jar. This I 
mended with cloth. As the experiment was a success, and as the way of 
doing it may suggest an expedient in some emergency, I will impart the 
secret.
  I took a strip of strong coarse sheeting as wide as the jar was high, 
and long enough to reach around it, and, as I knew how to cover a ball, 
proceeded to surround it on its four upright sides with a tight bandage, 
drawn together with as much tension as the cloth would permit. This was 
painted with several coats of boiled linseed oil and white lead, which 
dried like a bone, making the jar then stronger than ever before, and it 
lasted for years.
  Who that has ever in his life used one of those nondescript, curse-
inciting engines, once known on earth as the chairclip head-rest, will 
ever forget it? Surely, any one who, having been led by circumstances 
into confidential relations with any machination of like power for evil, 
has escaped with nothing to repent of in consequence, is a fortunate 
individual. Think how many have fallen like one of my old friends whose 
name I withold. One fine day, being reduced to his last plate--not having 
time to prepare another, and having no assistant--another customer 
called--a very particular person who could spare only a few minutes for 
the sitting. It was an important case; reputation was concerned in its 
successful issue. On the other side the conditions were all favorable--
light good, no doubt about the time of exposure. My friend went forward 
confident of success. The sitting was made in dashing style; then a short 
suspense. After a little a voice was heard from the dark room. Listen! 
These were the very word: "D----N THE HEAD REST!" Considering the 
provocation, perhaps it may be hoped the recording angel treated it in 
some such manner as he did the oath of Uncle Toby. The most remarkable 
thing about these lively machines, and one that I never saw or heard 
satisfactorily explained, was its faculty of getting into sight. I will 
offer but one suggestion, which any one who does not think as reasonable 
as some other explanations of well known phenomena, may furnish a better 
one if he can--and that is, this machine was composed of wood and iron, 
two substances by nature antagonistic the one to the other. There were 
wooden rods which were expected to slide through iron tubes, and nothing 
was more common than for them to refuse to do so. Another time an iron 
screw was set to prevent a wooden spindle from turning or slipping down, 
especially when the prongs were immersed in the mazes of a nervous lady's 
back hair. Of a sudden, without the least warning, that particular screw 
upon which so much depends, gives way; another, intrusted with the duty 
of keeping the fabrication upright deserts its post, when a general 
catastrophe seems inevitable, and which nothing short of the wonderful 
presence of mind the operator prevents. Don't tell me there wasn't some 
old hard feeling between the wood and iron at the bottom of all this 
trouble.

                                                W. H Sherman.
                       (To be continued.)

(Previous installments appeared on Jan 20, March 13, April 17, May 15, 
and September 4 and were posted to DagNews in 1997 on the date of their 
original publication. The seventh installment will appear on October 23.)
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Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     
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09-18-97


Return to: DagNews 1997

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