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From The Mentor (Springfield: Crowell Publishing Company) Vol. 17, No. 5 (June 1929) pp. 36-37.


AN OLD ART REVIVED

By Working Over and Restoring Daguerreotypes
Mr. Hollinger, an Expert Photographer,
Has Learned How to Revive the Art of Daguerre,
and is Producing Fine Examples of that Delicate
Old Art Today in New York

By POPPY CANNON



 
O MOST of us the daguerreotype seems as far removed from modern life as the wide silk stocks that Great-grandfather wore in those decorous days when he came a-courting of a Sunday evening. Therefore it is something of a surprise to walk in upon a cozy Victorian studio and to find there in the fashionable upper reaches of Fifth Avenue a man who has today revived, and practices, the old art of making daguerreotypes.
   When in 1872 this man--William M. Hollinger, now a celebrated American photographer--hired himself out as an apprentice in Millersburg, Ohio, he was taught how to make tintypes, ambrotypes and cabinet photographs, but nothing was said to him about daguerreotypes. These delicate, mirror-like photographs etched by sunlight upon "silver plates" were already out of date.
   After the two years of his apprenticeship were over he set out over the muddy dirt roads of Ohio and Indiana to seek his fortune. But fortune steadily evaded him until one rainy midnight he found himself in the slushy main street of Goshen, Indiana, with a solitary copper penny—one of the old-fashioned variety about as big as a gingersnap—sliding about in his pocket. The very next day he got his first job and a salary of fifteen dollars a week, including board. His first act as an established photographer was to wrap the large copper in tissue paper and send it to a girl back in Ohio. They have been married now for more than fifty years, but Mrs. Hollinger still has that lucky penny. His official duties in Goshen were twofold: he taught his employer how to retouch portraits and incidentally how to drum up enough trade to pay his salary. This he accomplished by inviting the general-store keeper to have his picture taken free of charge and then exhibiting the finished product in the showcase along with the darning cotton, chewing tobacco and mousetraps.
   A few months later he went into business for himself, and soon became interested in restoring and reproducing faded family portraits and photographs. The Middle-Westerner was becoming quite as ancestor-conscious as the New Englander or the aristocratic New Yorker. His specialty proved to be a popular one, and almost from the start he received a press of orders and applications from students of photography who were eager to pay him well for teaching them secrets which he himself was learning even as he taught them. When he had a difficult piece of work to do he went off by himself, experimented at length, and learned how to do it. He taught himself first, then he taught others.
   A large number of the old portraits that he was called upon to clean and restore were time-darkened daguerreotypes. The removal of silver tarnish may sound simple enough but it is not so easy as it sounds, for the daguerreotype was not printed from a glass plate or celluloid film like modern photographs, but was made directly upon a sheet of copper, plated with silver iodide or bromide and developed by exposure to a vapor of mercury. The resultant picture is a chemical coating upon silver—an image as insubstantial as the bloom on a butterfly's wing. The slightest touch would have rubbed away the image as well as the tarnish and ruined the highly valued family heirlooms entrusted to his care. Nevertheless Mr. Hollinger succeeded in restoring what had been a mere blur of features surrounded by foggy blackness to their pristine brightness and distinctness.
   Then a customer demanded an exact copy of his mother's daguerreotype, not a photograph of it, but another daguerreotype just like the original. In order to produce such a copy Mr. Hollinger had of course to learn how to make daguerreotypes. There was no one at hand to teach him, but from dusty manuals of photography he learned just what equipment was required. Some of it he made himself, the rest he had made according to his own specifications.
   He has perfected his skill and his knowledge through long years of study and experimentation, so that now he can make daguerreotypes exactly like those that delighted our ancestors in the fifties. He can even reproduce the intensity of the image, which varied according to the time of day it was taken. In his own studio he makes a powdered coloring so fine-grained that it can scarcely be rubbed off. With a brush no thicker than a sharp pencil point he dusts a speck of powder on the plate, breathes slightly upon it to remove any superfluous color and thus achieves a faint flush of carmine on a lady's cheek; he tints the pastel nosegay at her waist, adds a glint of gold to her bracelet and pricks the silver plate delicately with a pin point in order to simulate the brilliants in her hair and in her locket—just as the old-time makers of daguerreotypes used to gain these ornamental effects.
   So it happens that, within less than a century, the art of Daguerre has flashed upon the world, prepared the way for the camera, the movies and the talkies, disappeared, and now has been resurrected on Fifth Avenue. A delicate and lovely old photographic process has been successfully revived—with none of the trying inconvenience of the old-time long exposure. The new daguerreotypes are made with quick exposure—almost as quick as that of modern photography.


(End of text. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text. Other daguerreotypes reproduced by Hollinger accompany another article available on our web site: "Copying Methods" from The Photo-Miniature of August 1902. The transcriber also notes that a daguerreotype made by Hollinger was included in the Jack Naylor collection—now in Yokohama, Japan. The daguerreotype retained the original label by Hollinger which gave his address as "Hollinger & Co., 582 Fifth Ave., N.Y.City.")

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