Daguerreian Society

On this day (November 6) in the year 1887, the following article 
appeared in "The Star" (New York) Vol. 20, No. 6,926 (6 November 1887) 
page 9:
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How the Art Grew and Has Flourished--Reminiscences of the Past--The 
Spirit Photograph Swindle and How It Deluded an Old Banker.

HERE are more than 300 photograph galleries in this city at the present 
time," said "Ben" Gurney in the course of a conversation the other day.  
"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity."  On the sole basis that people are 
fond of looking at themselves and having other people look at them, can 
it be understood how so many cameras are leveled every day in the year?  
Of course all of these 300 photographers are not amassing fortunes, but 
the majority of them are coining not a little cash from collodion.  
There are large and small men in the business.  Men who take portraits 
of milliners and millionaires, of artists and actresses, of pastors and 
patriarchs, of babies and belles.  Their prices vary with their work 
and the localities of their galleries, but the principle of production 
is the same, and it is only by study and improvement of the principle 
that photography has become what it is day.[sic]
   Photography was introduced in this country about thirty-six years 
ago.  It was the successor of the daguerreotype.  As far back as 1839 
Daguerre, Professor Morse and I. Gurney experimented on the discovery 
of Daguerre on the roof of the university building, the "Chrysalis 
Hall" of Winthrop's Hall" of Winthrop's delicious novel "Cecil 
Dreesne," where, by the way, Professor Morse also made his first 
experiments in telegraphy.  In the early part of the same year the 
elder Gurney, who was then a jeweler in Saratoga, met an Englishman 
named Shaw, from whom he bought a camera in exchange for a watch.  He 
brought this crude affair to New York and started in the daguerreotype 
in connection with his jewelry business.  He opened a jewelry shop at 
No. 189 Broadway and in his show case put four daguerreotypes.  They 
were small affairs, but he charged $5 each for a portrait.  The first 
day he had one sitter, the second two, and from then on success was 
assured.  Daguerreotypes were the rage, and the public clamored for 
them as loudly as they do now for first night seats at the debut of a 
society belle.
   Associated with Gurney a year or two later was C. D. Fredericks and 
Daguerre.  About this time M. B. Brady was a journeyman in the jewelry 
case manufacturing house of E. Anthony & Co., who made the cases for 
Gurney's daguerreotypes.  He saw there was money in the new art and 
started a rival gallery on the corner of Fulton street and Broadway.  
The elder Bennett became friendly to him; he was extensively noticed in 
the columns of the Herald, and secured sittings from many of the 
leading men in the country.  since then Brady's gallery became one of 
the institutions of Washington, and has almost historic interest.  
Gurney was a close competitor, however, and while Brady was securing 
the politicians he was doing a splendid business among society people.
   The daguerreotype is now a thing of the past; the cheap tintype 
being the only things that now represents it.  A man named Talbot was 
the discoverer of photography and the first paper prints were called 
Talbotypes.  C. D. Fredericks, who was in Paris at the time of the 
discovery, brought it to this country, and Cutting and Rehn of Boston 
improved on the patent, which was purchased by Gurney, who gave the 
name of Chrystalotype.  The first photographs were small in size and 
were called cartes de visite.  Benjamin Gurney, who by this time was a 
partner with his father, suggested enlarging the size of the card.  
They had just taken a portrait of Admiral Farragut, young "Ben," as he 
is called by his friends, showed to his father the advisability of 
making something larger than the carte de visite.  The father accepted 
the proposition, and "Ben" christened the new-sized picture the 
"Imperial."  They were sold for $10 a dozen.  Now you can buy them at 
some galleries for $3.  but the "Imperial" was an odd size and did not 
fit the albums of that date.  "Ben" Gurney was not dashed a whit, 
however, and he ahead 500 special albums made, and to every person who 
bought a dozen "imperials" he presented an album.  "Ben" Gurney, by the 
way, has been one of the business men in the business.  While with his 
father he made portraits of the Prince of Wales, who sent him a gold 
medal, the Duke Alexis, King Kalakaua and other notables, and when 
Lincoln's remains were lying in state at the City Hall he caught the 
features of the dead President in his camera, but Secretary Stanton 
sent an order from Washington ordering the destruction of the 
   One of the curiosities of photography was the spirit photograph 
craze, which bloomed blossomed and died about twenty years ago.  It had 
many dupes.  One of them was a well-knon banker of this city, who was a 
widower.  He had become impressed with the idea of spiritualism, and 
the Fox sisters, then in the height of their prosperity, claimed him as 
their own.  These spirit photographs were made in a dark room with a 
magnesium light placed on top of the camera.  One of the Fox sisters 
sat by the side of the subject and after the lens had been focused on 
the subject the operator was instructed to turn his head away from the 
   On one occasion the elder Gurney, who had done much in investigating 
those spirit photographs, turned his head suddenly, and behold! there 
was one of the Fox sisters holding above the head of the old banker a 
cardboard portrait of his dead wife.
  The secret of spirit photography was discovered, and the banker, who 
thought he had been seeing the portrait of his dead wife, found that it 
was all a delusion and a snare.

. . .[ three paragraphs not transcribed ] . . .

C. D. Fredericks is one of the veterans.  He was born in 1823 and at 
the age of 20 was a clerk in a bank.  Then he took lessons in 
daguerreotyping from Gurney, and being in possession of a camera, he 
went to Augostura on the Orinoco on a business speculation, soon after 
which he was induced to devote himself exclusively to daguerreotyping, 
in which he met with good fortune.  Visiting Pernambuco, Rio Janeiro, 
Rio Grande, and other places during a trip, he was paid for his 
daguerreotypes by the poorer class in horses, of which he soon became 
proprietor of a large drove.  In 1853 he opened a photographic 
establishment in Paris, and was the first to make life-size heads, 
employing artists to finish them in pastel.  Returning to New York he 
entered into partnership with Gurney, which having been subsequently 
dissolved he has since remained at the head of the establishment.  The 
specialty that Mr. Fredericks makes at present, is the taking of club 
portraits, and in this he has built up a vast business which has no 
cessation in prosperity.
   There is no more persistent "first nighter" at the theater than T. 
M. Mora.  He was born in Cuba thirty-eight years ago, and his 
photographs of society and theatrical people have brought him into 
prominent notice.  He studied his art in France and then this country, 
here under Sarony.  He occupies the gallery 707 Broadway, once known as 
Gurney's and, far down town as it is, the business done there is 
   Much more might be written of photography I New York, its 
advancement, its improvement, its prosperity.  It is worthy of note 
that American photographs are now sold in Europe and that almost every 
mail brings orders for them to this country.

The article is illustrated with the following seven small wood-
*  a bellows camera
*  portrait of Benjamin Gurney
*  portrait of C. D. Fredericks
*  "A Corner in Sarony's Studio
*  portrait of Napoleon Sarony
*  portrait of W. Kurtz
*  portrait of J. M. Mora

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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