The Daguerreian Society


In my post of 9-21, I mentioned that I would be posting the text of 
"Nile's National Register" (Vol.VII) for September 28. The text of the 
9-28-1839 Nile's issue is identical to today's post. (They are both 
taken from the "London Globe" account.)  Rather, I have an article from 
"The New-Yorker" from 9-28 (based on the "London Athenaeum" report) that 
I will post on 9-28.

On this day (September 25) in the year 1839, the following news item 
appeared in the "Daily National Intelligencer." (Washington, D.C.; Vol. 
XXVII, No. 8303.):
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                   THE DAGUERREOTYPE.

   The secret of M. Daguerre's wonderful invention, or discovery, by 
which he is enabled to transfer an exact transcript of rural scenery, 
buildings, &c. to paper, and fix the colors permanently, is disclosed in 
the following article, copied from the London Globe.  For disclosing the 
secret, M. Daguerre is said to have received from the French government 
6,000 francs, and M. Niepce, who also made discoveries in the same 
direction, 4,000 francs.

            From the London Globe of August 23

   It having been announced that the process employed by M. Daguerre for 
fixing images of objects by the camera obscura would be revealed on 
Monday, at the sitting of the academy of sciences, every part of the 
space reserved for visiters was filled as early as one o'clock, although 
it was known that the description of the process would not take place 
until three.  Upward of two hundred persons who could not obtain 
admittance remained in the court yard of the palace of the Institute.  
The following is an analysis of the description given on this occasion 
by M. Arago:
   The influence of light upon colors was known long ago.  It had been 
observed that substance exposed to its action were affected by it; but 
beyond this fact nothing was known until 1536, when a peculiar ore of 
silver was discovered, to which was given the name of argent corne, and 
which had the property of becoming black when exposed to the light.  
Photographic science remained at this point until it was discovered that 
this argent corne (chloruret of silver) did not become black under all 
the rays of light.  It was remarked that the red ray scarcely effected 
any change, whilst the violet ray was that which produced the greatest 
influence.--M.J.Baptiste Porta then invented the camera obscura, and 
numerous efforts were made to fix the pretty miniature objects which 
were seen upon the table of it, and the transitory appearance of which 
was a subject of general regret.  All those efforts were fruitless up to 
the time of the invention of M. Niepce, which preceded that of M. 
Daguerre, and led to the extraordinary result that the latter gentleman 
has obtained.
   M. Niepce, after a host of attempts, employed sheets of silver, which 
he covered with bitumen (bitume de Judee) dissolved in oil of lavender, 
the whole being covered with varnish.  On heating these sheets, the oil 
disappeared, and there remained a whiteish powder adhering to the sheet.  
Thus prepared, it was placed in the camera obscura; but when withdrawn 
the objects were hardly visible upon it.  M. Niepce then resorted to new 
means for rendering the objects more distinct.  For this purpose, he put 
his sheets, when removed from the camera obscura, into a mixture of oil 
of lavender and oil of petroleum.  How M. Niepce arrived at this 
discovery was not explained to us; it is sufficient to state that, after 
this operation, the objects became as visible as ordinary engravings, 
and it only remained to wash the sheet with distilled water to make the 
drawings permanent.  But as the bitume de Judee is rather ash-colored 
than white, M. Niepce had to discover the means of increasing the 
shadows by more deeply blackening the lines, (hachures).  For this 
purpose he employed a new mixture of sulphuret of potassium and iodine.  
But he (M. Niepce) did not succeed as expected to do, for the iodine 
spread itself over the whole surface, and rendered the object more 
confused.  The great inconvenience, however, of the process was the 
little sensitiveness of the coating, (enduit) for it sometimes required 
three days for the light to produce sufficient effect.  It will easily 
be conceived, therefore, that this means was not applicable to the 
camera obscura, upon which it is essential that the object should be 
instantaneously fixed, since the relative positions of the sun and the 
earth being changed, the objects formed by it were destroyed. M. Niepce 
was therefore without hope of doing more than multiplying engravings, in 
which the objects, being stationary, are not effective by the different 
relative positions of the sun.  M. Duguerre was devoting himself to the 
same pursuit as M. Niepce when he associated himself with that 
gentleman, and brought to the discovery an important improvement.  The 
coating employed by M. Niepce had bee laid on by means of a tampon, or 
dabber, similar to the process used in printing, and consequently the 
coating was neither of a regular thickness nor perfectly white.  M. 
Daguerre conceived the idea of using the residuum which is obtained from 
lavender by distilling it; and, to render it liquid and applicable with 
more regularity, he dissolved it in ether.  Thus a more uniform and 
whiter covering was obtained, but the object, notwithstanding, was not 
visible at once, it was necessary to place it over a vase obtaining some 
kind of essential oil, and then the object stood forth.  This was not 
all that M. Daguerre aimed at.  The tints were not deep enough, and this 
composition was not more sensitive than that of M. Niepce.  Three days 
were still necessary to obtain designs.
   We now come to the great discovery in the process for which M. 
Daguerre has received a national reward.  It is to the following effect:  
A copper sheet, plated with silver, well cleaned with diluted nitric 
acid, is exposed to the vapour of iodine, which forms the first coating, 
with is very thin, as it does not exceed the millionth part of a metre 
in thickness.  There are certain indispensable precautions necessary to 
render this coating uniform, the chief of which is the using of a rim of 
metal round the sheet.  The sheet thus prepared, is placed in the camera 
obscura, where it is allowed to remain from eight to ten minutes.  It is 
then taken out, but the most experienced eye can detect no trace of the 
drawing.  The sheet is now exposed to the vapor of mercury, and when it 
has been heated to a temperature of sixty degrees of Reaumur, or one 
hundred and sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit, the drawings come forth as 
if by enchantment.  One singular and hitherto inexplicable fact in this 
process is, that the sheet, when exposed to the action of the vapor, 
must be inclined; for if it were placed in a direct position over the 
vapor, the results would be less satisfactory.  The angle used is 48 
degrees.  The last part of the process is to place the sheet in a large 
quantity of distilled water.  The description of the process appeared to 
excite great interest in the auditory, amongst whom we observed many 
distinguished persons connected with science and the fine arts.
   Unfortunately the locality was not adjusted suitable for the 
performance of M. Daguerre's experiments, but we understand that 
arrangements will be made for a public exhibition of them.  Three highly 
curious drawings, obtained in this manner, were exhibited--one of the 
Pont Marie, another of M. Daguerre's atelier, and a third of a room 
containing some rich carpeting, all the minutest threads of which were 
represented with the most mathematical accuracy, and with wonderful 
richness of effect.

(All original errors of spelling/grammar have been retained. -G.E.)
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Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       
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09-25-95


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