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From The Photo-Miniature, A Magazine of Photographic Information, (New York: Tennant and Ward) Vol. 4, No. 41 (August 1902). Daguerreotype reproductions by William M. Hollinger.

Copying Methods
by John A. Tennant
(selected text)

I remember an advertisement published a few years ago, asking for old daguerreotypes. The advertiser desired to revive the old art and, not finding the necessary silvered plates ready to his hand in the market, bought the old daguerreotypes from all who would sell them, wiped away their precious records and so obtained the supply of plates he desired. The response to his advertisement was overwhelming, and thousands of daguerreotypes were sacrificed for the few pence offered. Lately, however, there has been an awakening of public opinion, and the pictures of old time-daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, prints and the like-are today held in high esteem. It is extremely desirable, I repeat, that many of these should be copied and their preservation assures in the form of permanent photographic prints. Here, then, is our mission, purpose sufficient for this little book.


The copying of daguerreotypes offers a test of skill worthy of the enthusiastic copyist at his best. Much has been written about the subject, special stress being laid upon the necessity of "cleaning" or restoring daguerreotypes before their reproduction. As this is not invariably necessary, my first word will be a word of caution. The Daugerrean image, although in a sense absolutely permanent, is extremely delicate in structure, and may most easily be destroyed by an incautious touch. As a rule the Daguerrean artist did his work well, and if the original to be copied shows no signs of tarnish, it will be well to set about its reproduction without any attempt at restoration. If the surface under the glass cover in the little case shows dust, remove the glass and carefully clean it. Any dust on the surface of the picture image itself may be removed by very lightly passing a soft camel's-hair brush over it. On no account must the surface be touched with the fingers or the most delicate material, or the delicate film will be injured. Mr. W. M. Hollinger, some of whose clever copies of daguerreotypes illustrate this monograph) tells me that very rarely indeed does he in any way attempt the renovation of the originals sent him for reproduction, This is weighty counsel, since few men have been so wonderfully successful in this particular field.

If the entire surface has become darkened or tarnished by the influence of the air upon the film, some restoration is of course essential to the best results. To effect this, remove the silvered plate from the case and place it, image uppermost, under a box lid or other protector from dust, etc. Now put a small piece of potassium cyanide (deadly poison) into a graduate, and pour over it an ounce or two ounces of water. Holding the daguerreotype by the corner with a pair of pliers, rinse it in clear running water; then pour over it the weak cyanide solution* (a 3-per cent solution is usually employed), and return it to the graduate. Repeat this operation several times until the discoloration quite disappears. Within a few minutes the daguerreotype will appear as fresh and as brilliant as when first made. Wash well in running water, and then, before the surplus water has time to collect in tears upon the image, begin to dry the plate gradually over a spirit lamp, holding the plate in an inclined position so that it will dry from the uppermost corner. The plate must not be held too long over the flame or the thin silver film may separate from its copper support. The secret of success is in the use of pure water for the final washings, and the drying of the image without check or the formation of tears. The picture should now be restored to its case, and the edges secured with goldbeater's skin or gummed paper to thoroughly exclude the air.


In copying daguerreotypes in their cases it is usually advisable to turn them on one side. If fixed to an open board or support, reflections will undoubtedly give trouble, and these are not always visible on the ground-glass. It is therefore usual to copy daguerreotypes placed at the end of a fairly deep box lined with velvet, the lens being pointed at the picture through a hole cut in a black cloth flap which covers the front end of the box. Light is admitted through openings at the side of the box. The exposure is necessarily protracted. Care must be taken to avoid movement during the exposure. If the marks of the buffer-fine horizontal lines-are seen in the resulting negative, the plate should be placed vertically and rephotographed when these lines will usually disappear.


In explaining the poor quality of the average copy of a daguerreotype, as produced in many studios, Mr. Hollinger informs me that this is probably due to two causes: First, daguerreotypes sent in to be copied are usually allowed to accumulate with other copying orders until the photographer or his assistant can devote a dull day to the work. They are then "put through in a bunch" without much individual consideration. Mr. Hollinger avers that the daguerreotype deserves just as much consideration as the living sitter, and he therefore takes each one separately as part of the day's work, giving it place among the regular sittings of the day. By this plan the original gets the care and attention it needs, and the results amply justify this common-sense treatment. The second error made by the professional is his slavish adherence to the old rule concerning 11 copies in general, viz., "Avoid hardness, and get all possible detail." In other words, "expose for the shadows and let the high lights take care of themselves." This, in copying daguerreotypes, can only result in flatness and gray shadows-the things to avoid. Mr. Hollinger, in his practice, gives a generous exposure, and in development keeps his attention on the high lights, letting the shadows come as they will. In this way he secures the strongest high lights in development, making after-manipulation of the negative unnecessary as far as crispness and brilliancy are concerned. It necessarily follows that he secures rich shadows with all the details desirable therein. In this way he obtains negatives requiring very little hand-work before printing, and vigorous copies without harshness, usually more pleasing than the originals from which they were made. Some of these desirable qualities are to be seen in our illustrations, although they necessarily fall far short of Mr. Hollinger's prints.

There is another point to be mentioned. Clever as the Daguerrean artist undoubtedly was he did not understand the art of spacing. In copying his productions, therefore, it is often possible to improve upon his work by careful attention to the trimming (or shaping) of the copy. If shaped according to our modern methods, as seen in some of the Hollinger reproductions, the artistic value of the daguerreotype portrait may often be enhanced and effect wonderfully improved.

Note: Please be advised that this article is a reprint from 1902 and the restoration method described herein is contemporary to the date of publication. While used at the time, this method is very dangerous to both the operator and the daguerreotype plate. Details of safer procedures are included in Barger, M. Susan and William B. White The Daguerreotype-Nineteenth Century Technology and Modern Science. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Academic Press, 1991)

(End of text. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text. More information about Hollinger and his daguerreian activities is found in The Mentor of June 1929. Further information about The Photo-Miniature can be found at: )

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