Daguerreian Society

On this day (March 15) in the year 1889, the following account appeared in "The 
British Journal of Photography" Vol. 36, No. 1506 (15 March 1889) pp. 183-184. 
(Part one of a two-part article. Part two appears in Vol. 36, No. 1507 (22 March 
1889) pp. 200-201 and will be posted to DagNews on the appropriate day.)
- - - - - - - -


[A Communication to the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York.]

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to talk on the Trials and 
Tribulations of the Photographer.  Well, I stood it for forty-one years, and I 
should be very sorry to undertake to tell you all of them.  It might take me 
another forty-one years to get through with it.  But, fortunately--or 
unfortunately--I generally try to make the best of everything, and what might 
have been a trial to many I endeavoured to laugh off.  I was told that the 
business was very unhealthy, but I tried to laugh and grow fat.  I commenced at 
a hundred and twenty-five pounds and finished at two hundred, so that it was not 
very unhealthy in my case.
   In speaking of the Daguerreotype (and we have just listened to a very 
interesting and a very excellent address), I want to say that I was a practical 
Daguerreotyper from fifteen to seventeen years, and in looking over some old 
books of account I believe that I made and sold to the public 200,000 pictures, 
so that I am something like the boy eating pie--I have had an enormous 
   I well remember the 17th day of October, 1846.  I placed at my door a little 
frame.  I think it had four pictures in it, and at that date the people were 
very much interested in the Daguerreotype.  It was the "wonderful silver 
picture," and you would hardly have time to hang your frame out in the morning 
before there would be large crowds around it, all anxious to get a sight at the 
wonderful picture;  and at that date a man who made a good Daguerreotype was 
looked on as a scientific man.  He was not a mere "machine worker," as 
photographers have to be called to-day.
   I believe that, not only in talking of talking of photography, but in writing 
of it, there is too much latitude nowadays and too much fancy writing.  It is 
not practical enough.  It is quite amusing to me to read six, or eight, or ten 
columns in one of our photographic journals written by some young man who has 
never stood under a skylight, and yet he gives us directions as to how it should 
be done, and how to do it.  Place that same man under the skylight and let him 
wait all day upon eighty people--all kinds of people, men, women, and children--
and let him do that for each day, and there would not be enough left of some of 
these writers to make a respectable funeral when night came.  I am glad I had a 
subject.  I will try and stick to it, but I am afraid I will not.
   I should be sorry to speak about any new developers.  I think there are 2103 
or 3102--somewhere along there--and each one susceptible of two or three 
changes.  I have some compassion on the brain of amateurs, as I understand the 
lunatic asylums, like the learned professions, are crowded.  And then, again, I 
have been asked if I would not recommend before this audience somebody's plates;  
I am too much of a coward for that.  There are too many good plates in the 
market, and I would not dare to recommend one man's plates for fear I would 
never see any peace and comfort the remainder of my days from the rest of the 
makers.  In short, I would rather not do it.  As I say, I am too much of a 
coward for that.
   I saw a pretty good Irish bull the other day.  It seems that Pat came very 
near being killed, but by some dexterous movement he saved his life and got 
away.  Some one said to him, "Pat you are a coward."  "Well," said Pat, "I had 
rather be coward for ten minutes than be a dead man all the rest of my life."  
And so it is in regard to the recommendation of any specific plates, for if I 
did I would never see a minute's peace.
  But there is one things I would say, and with all the nonsense I want to mix a 
little sense:  Get a good reliable plate and get a good developer and go to work 
and master them.  Then, after you have mastered them, if you can find some 
changes that are going to be better, all right;  but if you are going to follow 
each and every one's make and each and every one's suggestion, you will never 
make a worker.  In the old days of the Daguerreotype we had one developer, and I 
think sometimes to-day it would be a good thing if we never had but one.  There 
would not be half the changes and mistakes and half the plates spoiled that you 
see to-day.
   I remember once a very singular thing.  We used to have to go out and take 
sick people.  We had a little developing box that I could carry under my arm--
the camera and the whole thing, and the mercury for developing the picture, and 
a lamp to heat it;  and the mercury after use we poured out from the corner here 
into a little bottle.  I went one day and took some pictures of a sick lady, and 
when I came to pick up my things to go home I found I had not put my mercury in 
the bath at all, but my pictures came out just as well.  That was a very 
singular circumstance to me, but I accounted for it very soon:  there was enough 
mercury in the iron developing box to develop a picture, but I never made that 
mistake afterwards.
   In the olden time the public had a very hazy conception of the process of 
making a picture.  The people at that time knew no more about how the impression 
was made, and not so much as the most ignorant do to-day;  and they think if the 
machine is good a good picture is the result, and that is all they know about 
it.  And in those times they talked in this way:  One man would show his 
superior wisdom (he was telling the men who were around him), "You look in the 
machine and the picture comes, if you look long enough."  Another one says, "It 
is not so much the looking, but the sun burns it in when you look."  Another one 
settles the whole thing by saying, "It is not so much the looking, but the plate 
itself is a looking-glass, and if you sit in front of it long enough your shadow 
stick on the plate."  I have heard those very remarks made myself.
   We had a great many pupils in those days, and everybody who could not succeed 
in something else started to learn Daguerreotypy, and the first question the 
pupil would ask was, "How long does it take?"  I was forty-one years at it, and 
I never learned it all in that time;  and they had an idea you only had to get 
your machine, try it a few times, and you had learned it all.  I used to tell 
them I could not tell how long it would take any man to learn it, as one would 
learn more in two days than another would in two weeks.
   Mr. Weston, who was on the corner of Broadway and John-street, told me a very 
amusing story.  A man, he said, came from a neighbouring city to learn to make 
Daguerreotypes, and after he came in the room and was told what the price would 
be and the cost of the camera and all that sort of thing, he said, very well, he 
wanted to take instructions.  He was going to stay in New York two weeks.  Mr. 
Weston coated a plate, which was about the plan Professor Laudy has shown us 
here to-night, and he said, "Is that all?" and Mr. Weston said, "Yes, that is 
all;  that is what you do every time."  And the man said, "I am not going to pay 
board here in New York for two weeks for that!--why, I can do that myself!"  And 
so he straightway took his camera and other necessary appliances, and in about 
four days after that he came back, with fire in his eye, and walked in, holding 
the camera by the nozzle, and said, "There it is!--it is not worth a damn!"  And 
Mr. Weston said, "What is the matter?"  and he said, "It won't take a picture."  
And Weston coated a plate and put it in the camera, and brought out a picture at 
once.  The man says, "I could not get it."  "Of course you could not do it;  you 
only say me go through the motions two or three times, and you thought you knew 
it all."  He said, "I set it in front of the window where I worked, and about 
half a mile off there was a hill.  Do you suppose that was the matter?  Do you 
suppose that hill made the trouble?"  I mention this incident simply to show you 
what perfect ignorance there was in regard to it.
   And then the name of the "Daguerreotype"--as to spelling it, that was almost 
an impossibility.  some called them "doggertypes," some "daggertypes," some 
"degyrotypes," and the vulgar "dogtypes."
   And the "dark room" was a place about which a great many people had a very 
curious and amusing idea.  Some would ask, "What do you do in there?"  One 
thought you went in there and did some hocus-pocus and some sleight-of-hand work 
to develop the picture;  and another would say, "You need not be so particular 
to shut that door;  I don't want to steal your trade."  We were not so much 
afraid of the trade as we were of the tools, and in those days you did not see 
people bring a crowd of persons together to explain to them some new method of 
development, or a thing of that kind, as you do to-day.  Every man that got a 
hold of an idea kept it to himself, and he would never let another photographer 
or Daguerreotyper go into his dark room.  Every man was the personification of 
all wisdom.
   And the improvements came so fast!  What we learned one day, in two or three 
days was of no use, for something had been brought out in the meantime that was 
entirely new, and superseded what we learned a day or two before.  The advance 
has been very rapid in photography.
   During my earlier days, in 1846, on a dark day I have often kept people 
sitting four minutes for a picture.  Now, if some of you ladies and gentlemen 
will take out you watch and time four minutes and tell a man not to wink, you 
would see what a very difficult thing it was at that time;  but the usual 
sittings were from thirty to forty seconds, and, finally, they were reduced down 
from ten to twelve;  but I have been compelled to take four minutes many a time 
on a dark day.
   Now, as to the Daguerreotype, I want to mention one fact which is not 
commonly known.  The Daguerreotype will not fade, and I know what I am talking 
about when I make that assertion.  While it will not fade, it will become 
tarnished on the surface, but that can be easily cleaned.  I have cleaned a 
great many of them and made them just as perfect as they were the day they were 
taken, provided some person has not taken a handkerchief and rubbed it out.  I 
remember a case:  Only a few years ago a lady came to me with a half-sized 
picture, and you could not see anything at all upon it.  She wanted to know if I 
could clean it, and I took it and cleaned it, and in about five minutes I 
brought it to her and showed it to her and she fainted dead away in a moment.  
It was her husband who had been dead twenty years, and she had not seen the 
picture in fifteen years.  It was so completely covered with a film that there 
was nothing to be seen, and I brought it up as good as it was originally.  As I 
say, the lady fainted immediately.  It was just as if her husband had been 
brought back from the grave for her to see.
                                                 ABRAHAM BOGARDUS
                        (To be concluded.)

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1998

galleries society info what's new feedback
resources homepage search

Copyright 1995-2005, The Daguerreian Society -