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Daguerreian Society


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On this day (December 24) in the year 1847, the following appeared in 
"The Daily Chronotype" (Boston, Vol. 4, No. 568, page 3):

  "Do you take Dogerrytikes?  Well, take my likeness, and make me look 
as han'some as you can, without any snuff on my nose and all the teeth 
in, and my yuller bonnet on, which is at home becoz it's a rainy day.  
Please make my hair look as nateral and shiney as you can, without a 
symptom of mutton taller.  And how much will it come to?"
  "Three dollars, ma'am."
  "Monsus heavy! Why, massy on me, I thought it would be wuth about 
twenty-five cents!"
  "It would not be worth any more than that, ma'am.  Good morning."

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The following article appeared in the December 1893 issue of the "St. 
Louis and Canadian Photographer" (Vol. 11, No. 12, page 534-8):

        The Daguerreotype.
             ------
       By Abraham Bogardus.
             ------
         ITS DISCOVERY.

The daguerreotype on the silver plate is no longer in demand.  It was 
the father of all the processes now used to produce pictures by the 
action of light on chemicals.  While not entirely a "lost art" yet, its 
progeny are so much better adapted to the requirements of the age that 
it is almost forgotten.  Four hundred years ago Porta invented the 
camera obscura.  He had observed with great interest the representation 
of objects on the wall of a darkened room.  His knowledge of optics 
induced him to employ a lens.  By this he was able to reflect every 
object within its scope perfect in form, color and proportion.  This 
ingenious apparatus, while entertaining and pleasing, in the course of 
time proved also suggestive.
  It had long been known that a solution of the salts of silver would 
become black if exposed to the light.  The first recorded accounts of 
this change or color produced by light are attributed to the Swedish 
chemist Scheele, who lived in 1760.  He demonstrated the fact.  We have 
no account of his ever having used it for making pictures.
  For a century and a half learned men had by accident caught glimpses 
of its possibilities, and in the course of time a common application of 
this means was to place engravings over paper coated with the solution 
of nitrate of silver, and by exposing it to the sun an inverse 
representation of the engraving was produced, but these copies were 
evanescent; there was no known way of rendering them permanent.  After a 
few hours, or as soon as brought to the light, the light continued its 
action, and the impression was lost in uniform blackness.  During the 
latter part of the last, and the early part of the present century 
chemists and men of science made many experiments in this direction, but 
were not successful in obtaining anything of value.
  During the last century James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, 
made some experiments.  Mathew Bolton, of Soho, near Birmingham, 
England, also worked in the same direction.  In 1802 Mr. Thomas 
Wedgewood, the eminent porcelain manufacturer, in conjunction with Sir 
Humphrey Davy, made a series of experiments with silver salts on paper 
and white leather with the view of copying drawings on glass.  About 
1818 Charles, a French chemist, announced his ability to make "black 
profiles" by the action of light, but his productions were not popular, 
and are entirely lost sight of.
  As early as 1814 M. Niepce, of Chalons, produced impressions on 
various chemical substances.  In 1827 he visited England, but his 
results were not recognized by the Royal Society, and in 1828 he 
returned to Chalons and continued his experiments.  He named his 
productions "Heliographs, a method of fixing the image of objects by the 
action of light."  He died 1833.
  In 1824 Louis Jacques Daguerre, while interested in the figures of his 
camera obscura, thought it would be possible to catch and hold those 
figures.  With his knowledge of chemistry, and without connivance or 
even acquaintance with Niepce, he commenced a series of experiments in 
the same field.  In 1826 he was introduced to Niepce, and in 1829 they 
agreed to combine in prosecuting their researches.  This continued until 
the death of Niepce.  Six years after the death of Niepce Daguerre 
announced his success.  This was January, 1839.
  In the early part of the same year, 1839, H. Fox Talbot, an 
Englishman, startled the scientific world by announcing that he had 
discovered a method of representing objects by the agency of light.  
Talbot was the first to publish the discovery.  He had years of 
scientific research in pursuit of such a desirable result.  On the 31st 
of January, 1839, he sent to the Royal Society of England a statement of 
his success in photogenic drawing, or "A process by which natural 
objects can by the action of light on chemicals delineate themselves 
without the aid of the artist's pencil."  Three weeks later he made a 
further communication, stating the means used, and giving the method of 
preparing the paper to receive the image.  At the same time stating the 
means of fixing the impression.
  Daguerre announced his discovery the same month, yet it was some 
months later before he made his process public.  It can not be decided 
as to whom the priority of invention belongs.  The first announcement 
was made by the Englishman.  The discovery seems to have been nearly 
simultaneous.  In England by Talbot, in France by Daguerre.  Talbot 
commenced his experiments in 1834.  He knew nothing of those being 
prosecuted by Daguerre in France, and Daguerre was unaware that the 
Englishman was investigating the same subject.  Daguerre was now 
assisted by the son of Niepce, his former co-laborer in his experiments.  
The production of the sun picture on paper was by Talbot.  The 
employment of the silver plate was by Daguerre.
  The inventions are distinct, both accomplished the result by the use 
of different substances for the reception of the impression; yet both 
using light to produce chemical action.
  Daguerre never succeeded in taking portraits by his process, as the 
exposure required from fifteen to thirty minutes in the sunshine; he 
used it on inanimate objects.  In America a Mr. Walcott claims to have 
made the first portrait by the daguerreotype, using Daguerre's process.
  Many give the credit to Prof. John W. Draper, while Mr. Joseph Dixon, 
by letters and other evidence, proves that he made a portrait of Mrs. 
Dixon three months earlier than either of them.  Mrs. Dixon sat in full 
sunshine fifteen minutes with powdered face.
  The following is an extract from a letter by Professor S. F. B. Morse 
to the writer in 1871.  He says:
  "In 1838 I visited Europe with my telegraphic invention, and early in 
the spring of 1839, in Paris, I formed the acquaintance of Daguerre, 
whose discovery of fixing the image of the camera obscura, in connection 
with M. Niepce, was creating a great sensation in the scientific world.  
A proposition at that time was before the French Chamber of Deputies to 
grant Daguerre and Niepce a pension on condition that their process was 
given to the public.  Daguerre had freely shown to high officials the 
results of his process, but, by the advice of the distinguished Arago, 
who had charge of the pension proposals in the Chambers, he had 
abstained from any publicity of his formula until his pension should be 
secured.  At this time my telegraph was exciting in the French capital a 
similar sensation.  I had made arrangements to leave Paris for home in 
March.  One morning, in conversation with our eminent and worthy Consul, 
Robert Walsh, Esq., I lamented the necessity of leaving Paris without 
seeing these photographic results.  He at once entered into my feelings 
and said, 'I think you will find no difficulty in obtaining a sight of 
them; drop a note to Daguerre and invite him to see your telegraph, and 
I have no doubt he will return the compliment by inviting you to see his 
results.'  The plan was successful.  M. Daguerre invited me to see his 
results at his diorama where he had his laboratory, and the day after 
accepted my invitation to witness the operation of my telegraph.  And it 
is a noticeable incident that during the two hours in which he was with 
me his diorama and the beautiful results I had seen the day before were 
consumed by fire.
  "In my interview with him I requested him as soon as his pension bill 
was passed, and the publication of his process was made, to send me a 
copy of his work.  This he courteously promised to do.  And accordingly, 
in the summer of 1839.  I received from him probably the first copy that 
came to America.  From this copy, in which of course were the necessary 
drawings,  I had constructed the first daguerreotype apparatus made in 
the United States.  My first effort with it was on a small plate of 
silvered copper, about the size of a playing card, procured from a 
hardware store, but, defective as it was, I obtained a good 
representation of the Church of the Messiah in Broadway,--taken from a 
back window in the New York University.  This was before the 
construction of the New York Hotel.  This I believe to have been the 
first photograph ever taken in America.
  "I practised it many months, taking pupils, many of whom at this day 
are the most successful photographers.  I made arrangements to 
experiment with my eminent friend and colleague, Prof. John W. Draper, 
building for the purpose a photographic studio upon the top of the 
University.  Here, I believe, were made the first successful attempts by 
Dr. Draper in taking portraits with the eyes open, I having previously 
succeeded in taking portraits with the eyes shut.
  "In reply to a question which I put to M. Daguerre, Cannot you apply 
this to portraiture? he gave it as his opinion that it would be 
impracticable, as, in obtaining his results on still objects the time 
necessary rendered it impossible for any one to preserve an immovable 
position so long."

         ITS ADVENT AND PRACTICE IN NEW YORK.

  When the discovery of Daguerre was published it created a great 
excitement.  Scientific men as well as the general public were 
interested.  The newspapers of that date eagerly sought and published 
every item of news in regard to it.  The master minds of the period were 
astonished at its results and its apparent capabilities.  An English 
journal says: "Daguerre's ingenious discovery continues to excite very 
great curiosity and admiration.  It is affirmed that the Emperor of 
Russia has offered him 500,000 francs for his secret, and he has 
declined the munificent offer.  Sir John Herschel has turned his 
attention to the subject, and has already obtained pictures from the 
light of Daniell's great galvanic battery.  Sir David Brewster, too, has 
commenced an investigation into the matter."  In America a new field for 
investigation opened.  College professors, chemists, scientific men, in 
fact all kinds of men commenced experimenting with the silver plate and 
a camera.  The camera in many instances being "home made," and often 
constructed from a cigar box. When the experimenter succeeded in getting 
a visible impression it was carried in his pocket and shown to all 
friends as the result of his skill in working the new wonder.
  In March, 1840, Messrs. Wolcott & Johnson opened a gallery in New 
York. and announced  their readiness to execute daguerreotype portraits 
for the public.  This was the first daguerreotype gallery in the world.
The great interest of the public was shown by the way crowds besieged 
the door of a gallery where a small frame containing half a dozen 
pictures was exhibited.  Everybody seemed anxious to get a sight of the 
mysterious pictures.  The remarks they made were very amusing.  One 
said, "the sun burns it on the plate if you sit in front of the 
machine."  Another, "If you look at the glass steadily you grin yourself 
on the plate."  Another settles it all by saying, "The plate is a 
looking glass and your shadow sticks on the plate if you keep still long 
enough."  These and other remarks showed how little the general public 
knew about the difficult, delicate, mystic daguerreotype.  The dark room 
was also a matter beyond the comprehension of the public.  We were often 
asked "What we did in there?"  Many supposed we did some hocus-pocus or 
sleight-of hand work; used some mystic words, or performed an 
incantation to conjure up the picture. There was great anxiety to get a 
peep into that closet, where the supposed mystery was performed, little 
aware that the least gleam of light would fog the picture or destroy it 
entirely.
  With Yankee promptness galleries were soon opened in different parts 
of the city.  Professor Morse made pictures for the public in the 
building on the northeast corner of Beekman and Nasssu streets.  He did 
not continue to practice it long as his telegraph invention absorbed his 
whole time and attention.  He continued to take great interest in the 
photograph as long as he lived.  He often called and remained for hours 
examining each and every new phase of the process.  One day he was 
present when a picture of a lady was made so perfect as to show the 
eyelashes; he quietly studied it for awhile and then used the well 
remembered first despatch across the ocean through his telegraph wire, 
"What hath God wrought."
  Improvement came fast and the daguerreotype became popular, every 
family had its collection and an evening visit would bring them all to 
your notice for admiration and criticism.  Brady's famous gallery on the 
southwest corner of Broadway and Fulton street is well remembered.  
Gurney, on Broadway, facing John street.  Plumb, at Murray street, and 
many others were all crowded with customers every clear day.
  The time of sitting (by successful experiments) had been reduced from 
three and four minutes to half a minute and soon after to ten or twelve 
seconds.  All successful operators were kept busy from morning until 
sunset; sitters were often obliged to wait for hours for an opportunity 
to sit.
  For several years all pictures were made by side windows, but 
skylights were afterwards built as they furnished more light and gave 
better effects. One of the first skylights in New York was built on top 
of the granite building, corner of Broadway and Chambers street.  It was 
made to revolve on a track to enable the operator to follow the sun in 
its travels. Elevators were not in use then, and the aspirant for a 
picture must climb half a dozen flights of stairs to be immortalized by 
a daguerreotype.
  The American daguerreotypists soon beat the world in execution.  At the 
great World's Fair held in London, 1865, the New York daguerreotypists 
carried off the gold medal.  And at that date the gold medal meant a 
great deal
  The introduction of the photograph on paper about 1860 entirely 
superseded the silver picture, and they were no longer in demand. The 
writer still considers the well executed daguerreotype the best picture 
ever made with a camera.  It was made on a plate with silver surface; 
the plate must be perfectly clean and buffed to extreme sensitiveness.  
It was then coated with the vapors of iodine and bromine.  After being 
exposed in the camera, the image was developed over the fumes of hot 
mercury.  A solution of hyposulphite of soda removed the chemicals, the 
picture remaining.  It was then coated with a solution of chloride of 
gold, and it will not fade.  It does become tarnished and to all 
appearance gone, but the tarnish can be removed by a person 
understanding the proper mode of procedure, and the picture is still 
there.  They can be restored to their original perfection and will last 
for hundreds of years.  I have scores of them made in 1846 and the 
following years, just as perfect as they were the day they came from the 
camera.  An incident well remembered was when a lady bought a case said 
to contain a picture; it was completely  covered by a film and nothing 
could be seen on the plate.  She had been told that I could restore it.  
In a few minutes I showed it, to her just as perfect as it ever was.  
She fainted on seeing it, as it was her husband who had been dead over 
twenty years; she had not expected to see his picture again; now she saw 
it just as he was in life.
  It will not do to attempt to restore a picture by rubbing it; one or 
two rubs will entirely obliterate it, and then it will never be 
restored.
  It required long practice to be able to manage the delicate chemical 
vapors used in making the picture.  If the day was very warm they 
"flashed" and were unmanageable.  If cold, they would not work at all; 
during a damp atmosphere the plate would not receive a sensitive 
surface.  We were often obliged to ask sitters to come another day when 
perhaps the "chemicals would work better.  Every change of atmosphere 
would make a difference in the tone of the picture.
  In the course of time, by careful attention and continued practice, we 
were able to produce the desired effects with almost absolute certainty.  
For every sitting we must give attention to the state of the atmosphere, 
the thermometer's record, the strength of the light, the hour of the day 
and passing clouds.  While the sitter thought we should give all 
attention to his necktie, or the proper disposing of her ribbons, we 
were obliged to give almost entire attention to these more important 
matters, if we would produce a satisfactory impression on the plate.
  The apparatus used in making the daguerreotype have in most instances 
been destroyed.  Yet it is a gratification to know that Columbia College 
has secured and will preserve a complete set of everything used in 
making them. --Christian Intelligencer.

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Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       
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12-24-96


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