Daguerreian Society

On this day (August 23) in the year 1839, the following article 
appeared in the "Globe and Traveller" (London) (23 August 1839).  This 
text is cited from a reprint of the text in the "American Railroad 
Journal and Mechanics' Magazine" n.s. 7, no. 3 (1 October 1839) pp. 
204-206 and was also reprinted in the "National Gazette" (Philadelphia) 
(16 October 1839).
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The Daguerreotype--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 visitors was filled as early as 1 
o'clock, although it was known that the description of the process 
would not take place until three. Upwards 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 substances exposed to its action were affected by it; but 
beyond this fact nothing was known until 1566, when a peculiar ore of 
silver was discovered, to which was given the name of argent come, 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 come (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 these efforts 
were fruitless up to the time of the invention of M. Niepce, which 
preceeded 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 a 
varnish. On heating these sheets the oil disappeared, and there 
remained a whitish powder adhering to the sheet. This sheet thus 
prepared, was placed in the camera obscura, but when withdrawn the 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 visable 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 he expected to do, for the iodine 
spread itself over the whole surface, and rendered the objects 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 
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 affected by the different 
relative positions of the sun. M. Daguerre 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 been laid on by means of a 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 either. 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 vace containing 
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 sensative 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 
award. 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, which 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 vapour of mercury, and when it has been 
heated to a temperature of 60 degrees of Reumer, or 167 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 vapour, must be inclined, for if it were placed in a 
direct position over the vapour the results would be less satisfactory 
The angle used is 48 degrees. The last part of the process is to place 
the sheet in the hyposulphate of soda, and then to wash it 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.

(Original errors of spelling/grammar maintained, as usual.  Cited from 
Appendix 2 of Stapp, William, Marion Carson, and M. Susan Barger, 
"Robert Cornelius: Portraits from the Dawn of Photography" (Washington: 
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983.) 
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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