Daguerreian Society

The following article appeared in the February 1869 issue of "The 
Manufacturer and Builder." (New York) Vol. 1, No. 2 (February 1869) pp. 
51-52. The author of the article is named in an editorial note which 
I've included at the end of the text.
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                  The Daguerrean Process.

THIS most beautiful branch of the photographic art is at present 
somewhat obsolete, only, however, for the reason that card photographs 
are in vogue.  The now, old-fashioned daguerreotype possesses a finish 
which defies microscopic criticism, in vain looked for in paper 
photographs, which are comparatively very coarse.  In fact, as the 
microscope exposes the fibres of the paper, the printed photograph 
never bears microscopic inspection.  Besides, the exquisite finish of 
all details, and the softness, roundness, and stereoscopic effect of 
the daguerreotype, constitute together a beauty which is appreciated by 
the connoisseur and true lover of art.
   In this article, therefore, a short exposition of the manufacture of 
the daguerreotype will be given, for the additional reason that it must 
be considered the best school for the future photographer to have gone 
through the practice of daguerreotyping, as it not only contains the 
essence of the practice of photography, but also the theory of this 
fascinating occupation.  Some professional photographers, who have to 
pursue this business day after day, month after month, and year after 
year, may not perhaps agree as to the justice of the last remark; but 
the writer speaks as an amateur, to whom this occupation has a peculiar 
fascination.  The writer of this article will give an account of his 
early and successful attempts at daguerreotyping, made in 1839 and 
1840, immediately after the government of France bought Daguerre's 
process, by according to him a pension for life, and gave it to the 
   The tools were first to be procured.  They consisted of a camera-
box, with meniscus lens, ground glass, and plate-holder; a few silver 
plates, a box lined with glass for iodine, and another iron box 
containing a few drops of mercury, with spirit-lamp fitting under it to 
heat the mercury.  The whole arrangement is now complete.
   The camera-box is so arranged that the distance of the lens from the 
ground glass is equal to the focal length of the lens, and also is 
alterable, so as to be adjusted according to circumstances.  The silver 
plates fit in the plate-holder, also in the iodine-box, and in the 
mercury-box.  The first step in the operation is the cleaning of the 
plates, which is begun with a piece of carded cotton, very fine pumice-
stone, and alcohol, and afterward completed with dry cotton and Paris 
rouge.  This cotton must be frequently substituted with fresh bits, and 
care must be taken that no greasiness or other impurity of the fingers 
touches the cotton at a spot which afterward comes in contact with the 
silver. When thus scrupulously cleaned, the plate is placed, with the 
polished side downward, on the top of the opened iodine-box, which is 
kept in a dark room, and in the bottom of which has been placed some 
dry iodine.  In a few seconds or minutes, according to the heat of the 
room and other circumstances, the vapor arising from the iodine will 
have come in contact with the clean silver surface of the plate, and 
combined with it to a thin film of iodide of silver.  The thickness of 
this film increases with the time of exposure to the iodine vapor, and 
can be recognized by the color.  The first thinnest film is straw 
yellow; the next thicker, yellow and dark yellow; then pink, then 
violet, then blue, then greenish, and finally yellow again, after which 
the colors mentioned come back in about the same order, and with nearly 
the same shades.  But the most singular fact is, that the two yellow 
shades, either the first corresponding to the thinnest film, or the 
last indicating the much thicker film, are the only ones available in 
this process.  This last operation has to be performed in a room where 
no chemical rays can penetrate, which means that it must be either 
illuminated by a lamp or candle, or that the daylight must be only 
admitted through red, orange, or dark yellow glass.  Otherwise, the 
iodized silver plate, now sensitive to light, will be affected by it.  
This plate then is placed in the plate-holder and transferred to the 
camera-box, which has been placed in the right position during the time 
that the silver plate was exposed to the iodine vapors.  This iodized 
silver plate being put in exactly the same place occupied by the ground 
glass, now receives the impression of the luminous image formed at that 
spot by the lens, the impression received separating the combination of 
iodine and silver, setting the silver free, or, in a word, resolving 
the so-called iodide of silver, which was formed in the dark, into its 
two constituent elements.
   This action of light, in separating compounds into their elements, 
takes place also in the vegetable kingdom in regard to the carbonic 
acid gas contained in the atmosphere.  It has been proved, in fact, 
that the leaves of plants absorb this carbonic acid in the same manner 
as the lungs of animals absorb the oxygen, for which reason leaves have 
been called the, lungs of the plants.  It has also been proved that, 
under the influence of sunlight or daylight, this so-absorbed carbonic 
acid is decomposed in the leaves, the oxygen escaping in its gaseous 
form; while the carbon, taking on its natural solid form, is retained, 
and, in combination with water, is deposited in the plant as woody 
fibre.  In a perfectly similar manner, in the process of 
daguerreotyping, the silver is set free in the metallic state by the 
influence of light in a degree proportionate to the intensity of the 
light acting on different parts of the film of iodide of silver.
   When such a plate is left exposed in the camera-obscura for a few 
hours the image will finally appear on it by means of the silver 
reduced, which, after its separation from the iodine, will appear upon 
the surface of the iodized silver plate as a fine pulverulent 
substance, of a different aggregate condition from the silver not so 
reduced.  The coating of iodide of silver must then be removed by some 
kind of solution, as otherwise the decomposition of the iodide of 
silver would continue every time that the plate was exposed to 
daylight, and the picture, consequently, would, in the end, entirely 
disappear.  When, however, this sensitive coating is dissolved away, 
the plate has nothing on its surface but silver in different aggregate 
conditions, polished in the shadows, and pulverulent in the light; and 
the picture is permanently fixed.
   This was the first process of Daguerre; but as it took too long an 
exposure in the camera, he attempted to shorten the time from hours to 
minutes; and had the good fortune to conceive that, in the short time 
of a few minutes, already a change must have taken place in the iodide 
of silver film, which, notwithstanding it was invisible to the eye, 
might manifest itself when the plate was exposed to the influence of 
other substances.  It was soon found that this silver, separated from 
the iodine by the influence of light, had obtained a great affinity for 
mercury, and, consequently, a strong tendency to combine with mercurial 
vapors not possessed by the iodide of silver when the vapors were not 
heated above 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  This iodide of silver, 
then, not combining with those vapors, the consequence was that, when 
such a plate had been exposed to the luminous rays in the camera for a 
few minutes only, and on which nothing was yet visible, exposure to 
mercurial vapors of some 180 degrees Fahrenheit would not affect the 
silver plate wherever it was protected by the film of iodide of silver, 
but only where some silver of this film had been set free by the action 
of light.  The amount of deposit of mercurial vapor was also found to 
be proportional to the amount of silver set free, which, again, was 
proportional to the previous intensity, of the light acting on 
different parts of the plate.
   The deposit of mercury, or rather amalgam of mercury and silver, 
thus formed on the surface of the protecting film of iodide of silver, 
constituted the picture.  A microscope, when of sufficient magnifying 
power, detected the amalgam to consist of minute globules, very close 
together in the high lights of the picture, less close in the less 
illuminated portion, very sparsely distributed in the shadows, and 
altogether absent in the blanks, which consisted of pure iodide of 
   The next operation was to remove the iodide of silver, which formed 
the coating sensitive to light.  Upon the removal of this, in a word, 
depended the permanency of the picture, as the plate could not be 
exposed to daylight without final destruction--at least great 
deterioration of the impression.  Fortunately, as in all problems of 
the kind, substances which would readily dissolve the iodide of silver 
without acting on the amalgam of silver and mercury, were at hand.  One 
of the best substances of this kind was found to be the hyposulphite of 
soda, a strong solution of which rapidly removed the yellow coat of 
iodide, leaving a clear silver surface in the shadow; the lights being 
formed by the amalgam of silver and mercury in a very finely divided 
form, as mentioned.  The plate was then washed with distilled water and 
dried by heat.  This is the process as it came from the hands of 
Daguerre.  Successive improvements will form the subject of future 

From page 344 of same issue:

   ATTENTION may be directed, among other valuable articles in the 
present number, to Dr. P. H. VAN DER WEYDE'S paper on the Daguerrean 
Process.  The paper is one of the pleasantest scientific reminiscences 
ever collated in the form of a practical essay.  Dr. VAN DER WEYDE is 
too well known as a scientific man, both in European and American 
circles, to need compliment from any source, however authoritative; and 
it is somewhat in the way of self-felicitation that the proprietors of 
THE MANUFACTURER AND BUILDER announce his name us that of a 
contributor.  Our March number will contain a capital article from his 
pen, upon the Uses of Gun-Cotton.

(Van der Weyde is mentioned in "Appleton's Journal" (New York) in vol. 
6, no. 130 (23 September 1871) p. 360 under the heading "Scientific 
Notes" regarding a discovery in the field of spectrum analysis and the 
Fraunhofer lines; and in vol. 14, no. 341 (2 October 1875) p. 446 under 
the heading "Science, Invention, Discovery" regarding his effort to 
challenge certain "spiritual" phenomena including "table-tumblers."  --
G. W. E.)
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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