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Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot

The daguerreotype (/dəˈɡɛrɵtp/; French: daguerréotype) process, or daguerreotypy, was the first publicly announced photographic process and for nearly twenty years was the one most commonly used. It was invented by Louis Daguerre and introduced in 1839.[1][2][3] By 1860, new processes which were less expensive and produced more easily viewed images had almost completely replaced it. During the past few decades there has been a small-scale revival of daguerreotypy among photographers interested in making artistic use of early photographic processes.

To make a daguerreotype, the daguerreotypist polished a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish; treated it with fumes that made its surface light-sensitive; exposed it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; made the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapor; removed its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment; rinsed and dried it; then sealed the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure.

Distinctive features of a daguerreotype are that the image is on a mirror-like silver surface, normally kept under glass, and will appear either positive or negative depending on how it is lit and whether a light or dark background is being reflected in the metal. The darkest areas of the image are simply bare silver; lighter areas have a microscopically fine light-scattering texture. The surface is very delicate and even the lightest wiping can permanently scuff it. Some tarnish around the edges is normal and any treatment to remove it should be done only by a specialized restorer.

Several types of antique photographs, most often ambrotypes and tintypes but sometimes even old prints on paper, are very commonly misidentified as daguerreotypes, especially if they are in the small ornamented cases in which daguerreotypes made in the US and UK were usually housed. The name "daguerreotype" correctly refers only to one very specific image type and medium, the product of a process that was in wide use only from the early 1840s to the late 1850s.


Since the Renaissance era, artists and inventors had searched for a mechanical method of capturing visual scenes.[4] Previously, using the camera obscura, artists would manually trace what they saw, or use the optical image in the camera as a basis for solving the problems of perspective and parallax, and deciding color values. The camera obscura's optical reduction of a real scene in three-dimensional space to a flat rendition in two dimensions influenced western art, so that at one point, it was thought that images based on optical geometry (perspective) belonged to a more advanced civilization. Later, with the advent of Modernism, the absence of perspective in oriental art from China, Japan and in Persian miniatures was revalued.

In the early seventeenth century, the Italian physician and chemist Angelo Sala wrote that powdered silver nitrate was blackened by the sun, but did not find any practical application of the phenomenon.

Previous discoveries of photosensitive methods and substances—including silver nitrate by Albertus Magnus in the 13th century,[5] a silver and chalk mixture by Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1724,[6][7] and Joseph Niépce's bitumen-based heliography in 1822 contributed to development of the daguerreotype.[4][8]

The first reliably documented attempt to capture the image formed in a camera obscura was made by Thomas Wedgwood as early as the 1790s, but according to an 1802 account of his work by Sir Humphry Davy:

"The images formed by means of a camera obscura have been found too faint to produce, in any moderate time, an effect upon the nitrate of silver. To copy these images was the first object of Mr. Wedgwood in his researches on the subject, and for this purpose he first used the nitrate of silver, which was mentioned to him by a friend, as a substance very sensible to the influence of light; but all his numerous experiments as to their primary end proved unsuccessful."[9]

Development in France[edit]

In 1829 French artist and chemist Louis Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, contributing a cutting edge camera design, partnered with Niépce, a leader in photochemistry, to further develop their technologies.[4] The two men came into contact through their optician, Chevalier, who supplied lenses for their camera obscuras.

Niépce's aim originally had been to find a method to reproduce prints and drawings for lithography. He had started out experimenting with light sensitive materials and had made a contact print from a drawing and then went on to successfully make the first photomechanical record of an image in a camera obscura—the world's first photograph. Niépce's method was to coat a pewter plate with bitumen of Judea (asphalt) and the action of the light differentially hardened the bitumen. The plate was washed with a mixture of oil of lavender and turpentine leaving a relief image. Niépce called his process heliography and the exposure for the first successful photograph was eight hours.

After Niépce's death in 1833, Daguerre continued to research the chemistry and mechanics of recording images by coating copper plates with iodized silver.[4] Early experiments required hours of exposure in the camera to produce visible results. Modern photo-historians consider the stories of Daguerre discovering mercury development by accident because of a bowl of mercury left in a cupboard, or, alternatively, a broken thermometer to be spurious.[10] However, there is another story of a fortunate accident, related by Louis Figuier of a silver spoon lying on an iodized silver plate which left its design on the plate by light perfectly.[11] Noticing this, Daguerre wrote to Niépce on 21 May 1831 suggesting the use of iodized silver plates as a means of obtaining light images in the camera. Letters from Niépce to Daguerre dated 24 June and 8 November 1831, show that Niépce was unsuccessful in obtaining satisfactory results following Daguerre's suggestion, although he had produced a negative on an iodized silver plate in the camera. Niépce's letters to Daguerre dated 29 January and 3 March 1832 show that the use of iodized silver plates was due to Daguerre and not Niépce.[12]

Jean-Baptiste Dumas, who was president of the National Society for the Encouragement of Science[13] and a chemist, put his laboratory at Daguerre's disposal. According to Austrian chemist Josef Maria Eder, Daguerre was not versed in chemistry and it was Dumas who suggested Daguerre use sodium hyposulfite, discovered by Herschel in 1819, as a fixer to dissolve the unexposed silver salts.[7][12]

First mention in print (1835) and public announcement (1839)[edit]

At the end of a review of one of Daguerre's Diorama spectacles in the Journal des artistes on 27 September 1835. [14] a Diorama painting of a landslide that occurred in "La Vallée de Goldau" a paragraph tacked on to the end of the review made passing mention of rumour that was going around the Paris studios of Daguerre's attempts to make a visual record on metal plates of the fleeting image produced by the camera obscura:

"Daguerre has found, they say, the means to collect, on a plate prepared by him, the image produced by the camera obscura, in such a way that a portrait, a landscape, or any view, projected upon this plate by the ordinary camera obscura, leaves an imprint in light and shade there, and thus presents the most perfect of all drawings ... a preparation put over this image preserves it for an indefinite time ... the physical sciences have perhaps never presented a marvel comparable to this one."[15]

A further clue to fixing the date of invention of the process is that when the Paris correspondent of the London periodical The Athenaeum reported the public announcement of the daguerreotype in 1839, he mentioned that the daguerreotypes now being produced were considerably better than the ones he had seen "four years earlier".

François Arago announced the daguerreotype process at a joint meeting of the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Beaux-Arts on 9 January 1839. Daguerre was present, but complained of a sore throat. Later that year William Fox Talbot announced his silver chloride "sensitive paper" process.[16] Together, these announcements mark 1839 as the year photography was born.[17] although Daguerre had been producing daguerreotypes and exhibiting them since 1835.

Daguerre did not patent and profit from his invention in the usual way. Instead, it was arranged that the French government would acquire the rights in exchange for a lifetime pension. The government would then present the daguerreotype process "free to the world" as a gift, which it did on 19 August 1839. However, five days previously to this, Miles Berry, a patent agent acting on Daguerre's behalf filed for patent No. 8194 of 1839: "A New or Improved Method of Obtaining the Spontaneous Reproduction of all the Images Received in the Focus of the Camera Obscura." The patent applied to "England, Wales, and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, and in all her Majesty's Colonies and Plantations abroad."[18][19] This was the usual wording of English patent specifications before 1852. It was only after the 1852 Act, which unified the patent systems of England, Ireland and Scotland, that a single patent protection was automatically extended to the whole of the British Isles, including the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. Richard Beard bought the patent rights from Miles Berry, but apparently did not consider it worthwhile to pay the necessary fees to cover protection in Scotland and the Channel Islands. Consequently, England became the only country in which the purchase of a license was legally required to make and sell daguerreotypes.[19]

Much of Daguerre's early work was destroyed when his home and studio caught fire on 8 March 1839, while the painter Samuel Morse was visiting from the US.[20][page needed] Malcolm Daniel points out that "fewer than twenty-five securely attributed photographs by Daguerre survive—a mere handful of still lifes, Parisian views, and portraits from the dawn of photography."[21]

Camera obscura[edit]

Main article: Camera obscura
1840–1841 Camerae obscurae and plates for Daguerreotype called "Grand Photographe" produced by Charles Chevalier (Musée des Arts et Métiers)
Still life with plaster casts, made by Daguerre in 1837, the earliest reliably dated daguerreotype[22]
The earliest reliably dated photograph of people, taken by Daguerre one spring morning in 1838 from the window of the Diorama, where he lived and worked. It bears the caption huit heure du matin (8 a.m.). Though it shows the busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the bootblack and his customer at lower left remained still long enough to be distinctly visible. The building signage at the upper left shows that the image is laterally (left-right) reversed, as were most daguerreotypes. Daguerre presented this daguerreotype together with two others: a still-life and a view from the same window labelled midi (noon) to King Ludwig I of Bavaria (The Munich Triptych) in order to publicise his invention. All three daguerreotypes were destroyed by cleaning in 1974 but they are preserved in reproduction.[23]

The camera obscura (Latin for "dark chamber") is a naturally occurring phenomenon.[24] When a hole in the wall of a dark room faces onto a brightly lit scene—for example a dark cave on the edge of a sunlit valley—a picture of the scene outside can be projected upside-down onto a sheet of paper or parchment held at a suitable distance from the hole inside the dark room. Early camerae obscurae were large dark rooms of this type.[25][26] Gernsheim gives the example of countries where rooms are kept cool using wooden window shutters, and a hole in a shutter will project an image of the scene outside the window onto the opposite wall, or onto a piece of paper held at a suitable distance. The scene will be upside down and laterally reversed. If, instead a thin, translucent piece of paper is used and viewed from the back, writing will appear the right way round.

Daniele Barbaro suggested replacing the simple hole with an old man's spectacle lens (a biconvex lens prescribed for correcting long-sightedness), in order to give a brighter and sharper image."rideal"/>

The invention of photography, or daguerreotypy was in two stages: First, the camera (called originally a camera obscura) that was fitted with a lens was in use by artists and for amusement and curiosity and some two-hundred-and-seventy years later Hippolyte Bayard, Hércules Florence, Niépce and Daguerre all used it as a starting point to chemically fix the image in order to make photographs.

Daguerre would have been familiar with the camera obscura as a tool in his work as a theatrical scene painter and had developed a visual public entertainment called the Diorama. By painting on both sides of a piece of white cloth and illuminating the painting first from the front, then from the back, an illusion of movement could be obtained to depict a train crash, or the erupting of a volcano. Dioramas were opened in towns in several countries.

Wolcott mirror camera[edit]

The first US patent for photographic apparatus was Alexander Wolcott's daguerreotype camera that had a concave mirror instead of a lens on the principle of a reflecting telescope.[27][28] The concave mirror was fitted at one end of the camera, and focusing was done by adjusting the position of the plate in a holder that slides along a rail. This arrangement enabled more light to reach the plate than with the lenses of the time and the Woolcott camera became popular in the US.

Daylight studios[edit]

Establishments producing daguerreotype portraits generally had a daylight studio built on the roof, much like a greenhouse. Whereas artificial electric lighting later in the development of photography was done in a dark room building up the light with hard spotlights and softer floodlights, the daylight studio was equipped with screens and blinds to control the light to reduce it and make it unidirectional or diffusers to soften harsh direct sunlight. Blue filtration was sometimes used to make it easier for the sitter to withstand strong light as the daguerreotype plate is more sensitive to light at the blue end of the spectrum.

Plate manufacture[edit]

The daguerreotype image is formed on a highly polished silver surface. Usually the silver is a thin layer on a copper substrate, but other metals such as brass can be used for the substrate and daguerreotypes can also be made on solid silver sheets. A surface of very pure silver is preferable, but sterling (92.5% pure) or US coin (90% pure) or even lower grades of silver are functional. In 19th century practice, the usual stock material, Sheffield plate, was produced by a process sometimes called plating by fusion. A sheet of sterling silver was heat-fused onto the top of a thick copper ingot. When the ingot was repeatedly rolled under pressure to produce thin sheets, the relative thicknesses of the two layers of metal remained constant. The alternative was to electroplate a layer of pure silver onto a bare copper sheet. The two technologies were sometimes combined, the Sheffield plate being given a finishing coat of pure silver by electroplating.

The process[edit]

The image shows a simplification of the daguerreotype development process.

Clipping the corners and bending the edges of the plate[edit]

In order that the corners of the plate would not tear the buffing material, in the US they were clipped, while in France, they were bent back.[29][page needed] A number of devices were patented to do this, some of them also bending the edges of the plate as well as acting as plate holders to avoid touching the surface of the plate during processing.[30][31]


Because the silver surface of the plate had to be completely free of tarnish or other contamination when it was sensitized, the daguerreotypist had to perform the final polishing and cleaning operation not too long before use. In the 19th century method of polishing, it was done with a buff covered with hide or velvet, first using rotten stone, then jeweler's rouge, then lampblack. Finally, the surface was swabbed with nitric acid to burn off any residual organic matter.


In darkness or by the light of a safelight, the silver surface was exposed to halogen fumes. Originally, only iodine fumes (from iodine crystals at room temperature) were used, producing a surface coating of silver iodide, but it was soon found that a subsequent exposure to bromine fumes greatly increased the sensitivity of the silver halide coating. Exposure to chlorine fumes, or a combination of bromine and chlorine fumes, could also be used. A final re-fuming with iodine was typical.


The plate was then carried to the camera in a light-tight plate holder. Withdrawing a protective dark slide or opening a pair of doors in the holder exposed the sensitized surface within the dark camera and removing a cap from the camera lens began the exposure, creating an invisible latent image on the plate. Depending on the sensitization chemistry used, the brightness of the lighting, and the light-concentrating power of the lens, the required exposure time ranged from a few seconds to many minutes.[32][33] After the exposure was judged to be complete, the lens was capped and the holder was again made light-tight and removed from the camera.


The latent image was developed to visibility by several minutes of exposure to the fumes given off by heated mercury in a purpose-made developing box. The toxicity of mercury was well known in the 19th century, but precautionary measures were rarely taken.[34] Today, however, the hazards of contact with mercury and other chemicals traditionally used in the daguerreotype process are taken more seriously, as is the risk of release of those chemicals into the environment.[35][36][37]

In the Becquerel variation of the process, published in 1840 but very seldom used in the 19th century, the plate, sensitized by fuming with iodine alone, was developed by overall exposure to sunlight passing through yellow or red glass. The silver iodide in its unexposed condition was insensitive to the red end of the visible spectrum of light and was unaffected, but the latent image created in the camera by the blue, violet and ultraviolet rays color-sensitized each point on the plate proportionally, so that this color-filtered "sunbath" intensified it to full visibility, as if the plate had been exposed in the camera for hours or days to produce a visible image without development.


After development, the light sensitivity of the plate was arrested by removing the remaining silver halide with a mild solution of sodium thiosulfate; Daguerre's initial method was to use a hot saturated solution of common salt.


Also called gold toning, this addition to Daguerre's original process was introduced by Hippolyte Fizeau in 1840 and soon became part of the standard procedure. To give the steely gray image a slightly warmer tone and physically reinforce the powder-like silver particles of which it was composed, a gold chloride solution was pooled onto the surface and the plate was briefly heated over a flame, then drained, rinsed and dried. Without this treatment the image was as delicate as the "dust" on a butterfly's wing.


Even if strengthened by gilding, the image surface was still very easily marred and the silver was subject to tarnishing from exposure to the air, so the finished plate was bound up with a protective cover glass and sealed with strips of paper soaked in gum arabic. In the US and UK, a gilt brass mat was normally used to separate the image surface from the glass. In continental Europe, a thin cardboard mat or passepartout usually served that purpose and the border area of the cover glass was often reverse-painted black with concentric gold stripes around the image.

Casing and other display options[edit]

There were two main methods of finishing daguerreotypes for protection and display:

In the US and Britain, the tradition of preserving miniature paintings in a wooden case covered with leather or paper stamped with a relief pattern continued through to the daguerreotype. Some daguerreotypists were portrait artists who also offered miniature portraits. Black-lacquered cases ornamented with inset mother of pearl were sometimes used. The more substantial Union case was made from a mixture of colored sawdust and shellac (the main component of wood varnish) formed in a heated mold to produce a decorative sculptural relief. The word "Union" referred to the sawdust and varnish mixture — the manufacture of Union cases began in 1856.[38] In all types of cases, the inside of the cover was lined with velvet or plush or satin to provide a dark surface to reflect into the plate for viewing and to protect the cover glass.[39] Some cases, however, held two daguerreotypes opposite each other. The cased images could be set out on a table or displayed on a mantelpiece. Most cases were small and lightweight enough to easily carry in a pocket, although that was not normally done. The other approach, common in France and the rest of continental Europe, was to hang the daguerreotype on the wall in a frame, either simple or elaborate.[40][41]

Conservators were able to determine that a daguerreotype of Walt Whitman was made in New Orleans with the main clue being the type of frame, which was made for wall hanging in the French and continental style.[42] Supporting evidence of the New Orleans origin was a scrap of paper from Le Mesager, a New Orleans bilingual newspaper of the time, which had been used to glue the plate into the frame.[43] Other clues used by historians to identify daguerreotypes are hallmarks in the silver plate and the distinctive patterns left by different photographers when polishing the plate with a leather buff, which leaves extremely fine parallel lines discernible on the surface.[44]

As the daguerreotype itself is on a relatively thin sheet of soft metal, it was easily sheared down to sizes and shapes suited for mounting into lockets, as was done with miniature paintings.[45] Other imaginative uses of daguerreotype portraits were to mount them in watch fobs and watch cases, jewel caskets and other ornate silver or gold boxes, the handles of walking sticks, and in brooches, bracelets and other jewelry now referred to by collectors as "daguerreian jewelry".[46] The cover glass or crystal was sealed either directly to the edges of the daguerreotype or to the opening of its receptacle and a protective hinged cover was usually provided.

Unusual characteristics[edit]

Daguerreotypes are normally laterally reversed — mirror images — because they are necessarily viewed from the side that originally faced the camera lens. Although a daguerreotypist could attach a mirror or reflective prism in front of the lens to obtain a right-reading result, in practice this was rarely done.[47][48]

The use of either type of attachment caused some light loss, somewhat increasing the required exposure time, and unless they were of very high optical quality they could degrade the quality of the image. Right-reading text or right-handed buttons on men's clothing in a daguerreotype may only be evidence that it is a copy of a typical wrong-reading original.

Copies and reproductions by lithography[edit]

Although daguerreotypes are unique images, they could be copied by re-daguerreotyping the original. Copies were also produced by lithography or engraving.[49] Today, they can be digitally scanned.

Beginnings of the age of photomechanical reproduction[edit]

Seen from the perspective of today, when developments in photography have been to increase image quality while reducing the skill and knowledge required by the camera operator, daguerreotypes are expensive and time consuming to produce. They are cumbersome and heavy if many images are to be stored in large quantities and they require a skilled operator. Long exposures that necessitated headrests resulted in a proliferation of stiff, rigid poses in most of the surviving daguerreotypes, with some notable exceptions.

However, when the process was introduced, it offered advantages over existing technologies. Illustrations in magazines up to then had been made by woodcuts or by etching or engraving on copper plates, by mezzotint or by lithography. Portraits were made by amateur and professional artists, but capturing a likeness was revolutionized with the advent of photography.

Astronomical application in the 1870s[edit]

Commercial portraiture was only one aspect of the opening up of the age of mechanical reproduction. Arago had in his address to the House of Deputies outlined a wealth of possible applications including astronomy and the daguerreotype was used as the cutting edge technique in astronomical photography in the 1870s.

Although the collodion wet plate process offered a cheaper and more convenient alternative for commercial portraiture and for other applications with shorter exposure times, when the transit of Venus was about to occur and observations were to be made from several sites on the earth's surface in order to calculate astronomical distances, daguerreotypy proved a more accurate method of making visual recordings through telescopes because it was a dry process with greater dimensional stability, whereas collodion glass plates were exposed wet and the image would move as the plate dried.

The invention of photography (photography and daguerreotypy were one and the same) made cataclysmic changes throughout society regarding what was illusion and what was reality. It is particularly significant that the first process to emerge and to be practiced widely was able to faithfully record fine detail at a resolution that most of today's digital cameras are not able to match (when compared with a well exposed and sharp large format daguerreotype). The process is unsurpassed for reproducing fine detail over a long tonal range and gives an illusion of reality unlike any other process.[50]

The surface of a daguerreotype is like a mirror, with the image made directly on the silver surface. It is very fragile and can be rubbed off with a finger. The finished plate also must be angled so as to reflect some dark surface for the image to be visible. Depending on the angle viewed and the color of the surface reflected into it, the image can change from a positive to a negative.[51] The viewer's own reflection will be seen at the same time.

The fragility of the image is a disadvantage because the daguerreotypist needs to buy in a stock of glass cassettes to house the daguerreotypes produced for clients but as the astronomer Arago pointed out in his presentation of the process to the French house of Deputies, the expense of the silver is offset by being able to wipe a plate clean and produce images again and again on the same plate.

Photographing people[edit]

At the time the process was introduced, daguerreotyping a brightly sunlit subject typically required about ten minutes of exposure, so the earliest daguerreotypes were of still lifes and landscapes. The daguerrotype shown of Daguerre was taken in 1844. Many of his first portraits were of the family of the artist. With the shortening of time exposure, portraiture became a more popular application.

Reduction of exposure time[edit]

The very first daguerreotypes used Chevalier lenses that were "slow", and the light sensitive material was silver iodide made by fuming the silver plate with iodine vapor. This meant that the exposure in the camera was too long to conveniently take portraits commercially. The first subjects taken were immobile subjects such as street scenes, still life and architectural studies.

Two changes were introduced that shortened the exposure times: one was fitting lenses of a larger diameter to the camera and the other was a modification to the chemistry used.

When Petzval lenses[52] were introduced in 1841, with a larger effective aperture and the plate was sensitized not only with iodine but also with bromine and chlorine and forming light sensitive crystals of silver iodide, silver bromide and/or silver chloride that are more light-sensitive than silver iodide alone, the exposures were reduced (the lens remaining uncapped for a shorter time), making commercial portraits viable. Increased speed was achieved using the same chemistry in the later silver processes that followed.[20][page needed] Usually, it was arranged so that the sitters leaned their elbows on a support such as a posing table whose height could be adjusted or else head rests were used that did not show in the picture and this led to most daguerreotype portraits having stiff, lifeless poses. Some exceptions exist with lively expressions full of character as photographers saw the potential of the new medium. These are represented in museum collections and are the most sought after by private collectors today.[53] Daguerreotypes were mounted in cases under glass with a cover, or in a frame that could be hung on a wall.[41] They were usually sealed with tape to reduce oxidization and tarnishing of the plate as well as mechanical damage from being touched.

The process was developed by Louis Daguerre together with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Niépce had produced the first photographic image in the camera obscura with an eight-hour exposure using bitumen of Judea on a pewter plate developing it in lavender oil, a process he called heliography.[54] The bitumen hardened where light had affected it, while the non-exposed portions were washed away.

The image in a daguerreotype is often described as being formed by the amalgam, or alloy, of mercury and silver because mercury vapor from a pool of heated mercury is used to develop the plate; but using the Becquerel process (using a red filter and two-and-a-half stops extra exposure) daguerreotypes can be produced without mercury, and chemical analysis shows that there is no mercury in the final image with the Becquerel process. This brings into question the theory that the image is formed of amalgam with mercury development.[55][page needed]

Exposure times were reduced by sensitizing the plate with bromine and chlorine in addition to iodine, and by replacing the original Chevalier lens, which was best for photographing landscapes, with the larger-diameter "fast" portrait lens designed by Joseph Petzval. Voigtländer's small, all-metal Daguerrotype camera made possible an exposure time of as little as two seconds in bright sunlight, if the shadows were underexposed,[20][page needed][56] but his unusual design did not catch on and was not a commercial success.

Although the daguerreotype process could only produce a single image at a time, copies could be created by re-daguerreotyping the original, although this proved difficult according to Joseph Maria Eder.[20][page needed] As with any original photograph that is copied, the contrast increases. With a daguerreotype, any writing will appear back to front. Recopying a daguerreotype will make the writing appear normal and rings worn on the fingers will appear on the correct hand etc. Another device to make a daguerreotype the right way round would be to use a mirror when taking the photograph.

The daguerreotypes of the 1852 Omaha Indian (Native American) Delegation in the Smithsonian include a daguerrotype copied in the camera, recognizable by the contrast being high and a black line down the side of the platel.[57]


Advertisement for a traveling Daguerreotype photographer, with location left blank

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri[58] and Jules Itierof France,[59] and Johann Baptist Isenring of Switzerland, became prominent daguerreotypists. In Britain, however, Richard Beard bought the British daguerreotype patent from Miles Berry in 1841 and closely controlled his investment, selling licenses throughout the country and prosecuting infringers.[60] Among others, Antoine Claudet and Thomas Richard Williams produced daguerreotypes in the UK.[61][62]

External video
LucreciaGuerreroUribe 1848.jpg
Early photography: making daguerreotypes, J. Paul Getty Museum with Khan Academy[63]

Daguerreotype photography spread rapidly across the United States after the discovery first appeared in US newspapers in February 1839.[64][65] In the early 1840s, the invention was introduced in a period of months to practitioners in the United States by Samuel Morse,[66] inventor of the telegraph code. By 1853, an estimated three million daguerreotypes per year were being produced in the United States alone.[67] One of these original Morse Daguerreotype cameras is currently on display at the National Museum of American History, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC.[17] A flourishing market in portraiture sprang up, predominantly the work of itinerant practitioners who traveled from town to town. For the first time in history, people could obtain an exact likeness of themselves or their loved ones for a modest cost, making portrait photographs extremely popular with those of modest means. Celebrities and everyday people sought portraits and workers would save an entire day's income to have a daguerreotype taken of them, including occupational portraits.[68]

Notable U.S. daguerreotypists of the mid-19th century included James Presley Ball,[69] Samuel Bemis,[70] Abraham Bogardus,[71] Mathew Brady,[72] Thomas Martin Easterly,[73] François Fleischbein, Jeremiah Gurney,[74] John Plumbe, Jr.,[75] Albert Southworth,[76] Augustus Washington,[77] Ezra Greenleaf Weld,[78] and John Adams Whipple.[79]

This method spread to other parts of the world as well. The first daguerreotype in Australia was taken in 1841, but no longer survives. The oldest surviving Australian daguerreotype is a portrait of Dr. William Bland taken in 1845.[80] In 1857, Ichiki Shirō created the first known Japanese photograph, a portrait of his daimyo Shimazu Nariakira.[81] The photograph was designated an Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan.[citation needed]

Late and modern use[edit]

Although the daguerreotype process is usually said[who?] to have died out completely in the early 1860s, documentary evidence indicates that some very slight use of it persisted more or less continuously throughout the following 150 years of its supposed extinction.[82] A few first-generation daguerreotypists refused to entirely abandon their beautiful old medium when they started making the new, cheaper, easier to view but comparatively drab ambrotypes and tintypes.[83] Historically minded photographers of subsequent generations, often fascinated by daguerreotypes, sometimes experimented with making their own or even revived the process commercially as a "retro" portraiture option for their clients.[84][85] These eccentric late uses were extremely unusual and surviving examples reliably dated to between the 1860s and the 1960s are now exceedingly rare.[86]

The daguerreotype experienced a minor renaissance in the late 20th century and the process is currently practiced by a handful of enthusiastic devotees; there are thought to be fewer than 100 worldwide (see list of artists on cdags.org in links below). In recent years, artists like Jerry Spagnoli, Adam Fuss, Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand and Chuck Close have reintroduced the medium to the broader art world. The use of electronic flash in modern daguerreotypy has solved many of the problems connected with the slow speed of the process when using daylight.

International group exhibitions of contemporary daguerreotypists' works have been held, notably the 2009 exhibition in Bry Sur Marne, France, with 182 daguerreotypes by forty-four artists, and the 2013 ImageObject exhibition in New York City, showcasing seventy-five works by thirty-three artists. The appeal of the medium lies in the "magic mirror" effect of light striking the polished silver plate and revealing a silvery image which can seem ghostly and ethereal even while being perfectly sharp, and in the dedication and handcrafting required to make a daguerreotype.


Six daguerreotypes show a view of San Francisco, California, in 1853.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lowry, Bates; Barrett Lowry, Isabel (2000). The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Getty Publishers. p. 12. ISBN 0-892-36536-6. 
  2. ^ Hannavy, John, ed. (2013). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. Routledge. p. 365. ISBN 1-135-87326-7. 
  3. ^ Curley, Robert, ed. (2010). The 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 77. ISBN 1-615-30003-1. 
  4. ^ a b c d Stokstad, Marilyn; Cateforis, David; Addiss, Stephen (2005). Art History (2 ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. pp. 964–967. ISBN 0-13-145527-3. 
  5. ^ Szabadváry, Ferenc (1992). History of analytical chemistry. Taylor & Francis. p. 17. ISBN 2-88124-569-2. 
  6. ^ Watt, Susan (2003). Silver. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 21–. ISBN 978-0-7614-1464-3. Retrieved 28 July 2013. ...But the first person to use this property to produce a photographic image was German physicist Johann Heinrich Schulze. In 1727, Schulze made a paste of silver nitrate and chalk, placed the mixture in a glass bottle and wrapped the bottle in ... 
  7. ^ a b Harmant, Pierre G. (May 1960). "Anno Lucis 1839 (1/3)". Camera: 24–31. 
  8. ^ "The First Photograph - Heliography". Retrieved 29 September 2009. In 1822, Niépce coated a glass plate ... The sunlight passing through ... This first permanent example ... was destroyed ... some years later. 
  9. ^ "An Account of a method of copying Paintings upon glass, and of making Profiles, by the agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver. Invented by T. Wedgwood, Esq. With Observations by H. Davy. (1802)". luminous-lint.com. 
  10. ^ Hopkins, Geo. M. (22 January 1887). "Reminiscences of Daguerreotype". Scientific American 56 (4): 47, 52. Transcriber's note: This anecdote of Daguerre's discovery of mercury development is generally considered spurious by modern photo-historians. --Gary W. Ewer, 1995 
  11. ^ Eder, Josef Maria; Epstean, Edward (1978). History of Photography (4 ed.). Dover Publications. p. 223. ISBN 0-486-23586-6. 
  12. ^ a b (Eder 1978, p. 224)
  13. ^ fr:Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale
  14. ^ The Silver Canvas
  15. ^ Hubert, ou l’honneur de Daguerre Paul-Louis Roubert p. 41-49 quotes the (anonymous) review in Journal des artistes (Wikipedia editors' translation)
  16. ^ Note: Talbot's early "sensitive paper" or "photogenic drawing" process, which required very long camera exposures, should not be confused with the much more practical Calotype or Talbotype process, invented in 1840 and introduced in 1841.
  17. ^ a b "A Daguerreotype of Daguerre". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  18. ^ Heathcote, Pauline F. (1991). Coope, Rosalys; Corbett, Jane, ed. Bromley House, 1752-1991: Four Essays Celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the Nottingham Subscription Library. Nottingham Subscription Library. p. 102. ISBN 0-951-74990-0. 
  19. ^ a b "Early Photographic Processes: Daguerreotype, 1839-1850s". edinphoto.org.uk. 
  20. ^ a b c d (Eder 1978)
  21. ^ Daniel, Malcolm (October 2004). ""Daguerre (1787–1851) and the Invention of Photography". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–". metmuseum.org. 
  22. ^ This well-known image, now badly effaced by an attempt to clean it, is in the collection of the Société française de photographie. That institution's inventory of works by or about Daguerre (item 1) gives it the title Intérieur d'un cabinet de curiosité (Interior of a cabinet of curiosities), describes it as a whole-plate daguerreotype in a contemporary frame, states that it was acquired in 1897, came from the collection of de Cailleux (presumably, the late Alphonse de Cailleux, deputy director and then general director of the Louvre from 1836 to 1848), is annotated "Daguerre 1837" below, and on the back, in Daguerre's handwriting, bears the dedication "Epreuve ayant servi à constater la découverte du Daguerréotype, offerte à Monsieur de Cailleux par son [très] dévoué serviteur" [signed "Daguerre"] (Proof having served to verify the discovery of Daguerreotype, offered to Monsieur de Cailleux by his very devoted servant Daguerre). There is apparently no other documentary basis which might support statements found in many sources that it is the "first" or "first successful" or "first completely processed" daguerreotype, or that it was presented to de Cailleux at the Louvre in 1837 rather than at an unknown location and date after the 1839 unveiling of the process. According to the 1884 catalogue of one French museum, a framed set of three plates presented by Daguerre to François Arago bore an identically worded dedication. They were among the plates put on display to a French government body in mid-1839 when it was deciding on the award of a pension to Daguerre in exchange for the still-secret details of his process.
  23. ^ Ballhause, Sylvia. "The Munich Daguerre-Triptych". sylviaballhause.de. 
  24. ^ Rideal, Liz. "The Developing Portrait: Painting Towards Photography". npg.org.uk. 
  25. ^ Wilgus, Jack; Wilgus, Beverly (August 2004). "What is a camera obscura?". brightbytes.com. 
  26. ^ Steadman, Philip (17 February 2012). "Vermeer and the Camera Obscura". bbc.co.uk. 
  27. ^ The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. J. Limbird. 1843. p. 119. 
  28. ^ Smith, Roger Wesley (5 November 2012). "Re-creation of Beard's Mirror Camera (1840)". britishphotohistory.ning.com. 
  29. ^ Buerger, Janet E. (1989). French Daguerreotypes. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-07985-6. 
  30. ^ Isenburg, Matthew R. (2001). "The Making of a Daguerreotype". daguerre.org. 
  31. ^ Reuben, Knecht. Improved Daguerreotype-plate Holder US 10508 A. Reuben Knecht, assignee. Patent 10,508. 7 February 1854. Print.
  32. ^ "Photographic Miniature. To the Editor of The Spectator". The Spectator (London) (689): 877–878. 11 September 1841. In a letter to the editor of The Spectator, Claudet explained that he gave his exposures as in June 10 to 20 seconds; in July, 20 to 40 seconds and in September, 60 to 90 seconds. 
  33. ^ Burgess, N.G. (June 1855). "Amusing Incidents In the Life of a Daguerrean Artist". The Photographic and Fine Art Journal 8 (6): 190. On a cloudy day, the exposure was given as three or four minutes 
  34. ^ Nelson, Kenneth E. "The Cutting Edge of Yesterday". The Daguerreian Annual 1990 (The Daguerreian Society): 35. 
  35. ^ Barron, Andrew R. "The Myth, Reality, and History of Mercury Toxicity". cnx.org. 
  36. ^ Olson, David A. (20 October 2014). "Mercury Toxicity". emedicine.medscape.com. 
  37. ^ Berg, JM; Tymoczko, JL; Stryer, L. (2002). "17.3". Biochemistry (5 ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. The proverbial phrase “mad as a hatter” refers to the strange behavior of poisoned hat makers who used mercury nitrate to soften and shape animal furs. This form of mercury is absorbed through the skin. Similar problems afflicted the early photographers, who used vaporized mercury to create daguerreotypes. 
  38. ^ "A Tour of E. Anthony's Daguerreian Manufactory". daguerre.org. 1996. 
  39. ^ "The Mirror with a Memory". phototree.com. 
  40. ^ "Daguerreotype". Antwerp Photography Museum. Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. 
  41. ^ a b "The Daguerreotype". princeton.edu. 
  42. ^ "Pictures & Sound: Gallery of Images". whitmanarchive.org. 
  43. ^ Bethel, Denise B. (1992). "Notes on an Early Daguerreotype of Walt Whitman". Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (3). 
  44. ^ "Daguerreotypes: Europe's Earliest Photographic Records". daguerrebase.org. 2014. pp. 25, 54. 
  45. ^ Hannavy, John (1997). Victorian Photographers at Work. Osprey Publishing. p. 90. ISBN 0-747-80358-7. 
  46. ^ "The Birth of an Industry: The Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg". daguerre.org. 
  47. ^ Simkin, David. "Portraits of Charles Dickens (1812-1870)". photohistory-sussex.co.uk. An advertisement for Mr Claudet's Daguerreotype Portrait Rooms, which was published in the Journal of the Society of Arts in December 1852, states that "Mr. Claudet's portraits are taken non-inverted (viz. the right and left side, as in nature), for which, and his other improvements in Photography, the Great Exhibition Council Medal has been awarded to him. 
  48. ^ "Photographic Miniature. To the Editor of The Spectator". The Spectator (London) (689): 877–878. 11 September 1841. In a letter to the editor of The Spectator, Claudet explains that he has a mirror available, but does not use it normally as it requires an increase in exposure time, but he employs it when a face is asymmetrical, to reproduce the irregularity on the correct side. 
  49. ^ "Paris et ses environs: reproduits par le daguerreotype / sous la direction de M. Ch. Philipon (1840)". wulibraries.typepad.com. 16 December 2009. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. 
  50. ^ Rehmeyer, Julie (9 July 2010). "1848 Daguerreotypes Bring Middle America's Past to Life". wired.com. 
  51. ^ "The Daguerreotype". jimlyons.com. 
  52. ^ The Petzval Portrait Lens 1841 Department of Imaging and Printing Technology, Chulalongkorn University, Bankok, Thailand
  53. ^ "A Game of Chess (Circa 1850)". musee-orsay.fr. 
  54. ^ "The First Photograph". hrc.utexas.edu. 
  55. ^ Barger, M. Susan; White, William B. (2000). The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science. JHU Press. ISBN 0-801-86458-5. 
  56. ^ Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera. National Media Museum. UK.
  57. ^ "A Preponderance of Evidence: The 1852 Omaha Indian Delegation Daguerreotypes Recovered". indiana.edu. 
  58. ^ "André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri". getty.edu. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  59. ^ "Jules Itier". getty.edu. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  60. ^ Wood, R. Derek. "The Daguerreotype in England: Some Primary Material Relating to Beard's Lawsuits." History of Photography, October 1979, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 305–09.
  61. ^ "Antoine Claudet". getty.edu. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  62. ^ "Thomas Richard Williams". getty.edu. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  63. ^ "Early photography: Making Daguerreotypes". khanacademy.org. J. Paul Getty Museum with Khan Academy. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  64. ^ "Chemical and Optical Discovery". The Pittsburgh Gazette. 28 February 1839. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication - free to read
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  66. ^ "Collections: National Museum of American History". Americanhistory.si.edu. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  67. ^ Lane, Frederick S. (2001). Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age. Psychology Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-415-93103-7. 
  68. ^ "Occupational Portrait of Three Railroad Workers Standing on Crank Handcar". World Digital Library. 1850–1860. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  69. ^ "J. P. Ball, African American Photographer". cincymuseum.org. Retrieved 8 August 2008. 
  70. ^ Newhall, Beaumont (1976). The Daguerreotype in America. Courier Corporation. p. 31. ISBN 0-486-23322-7. 
  71. ^ (Newhall 1976, p. 77)
  72. ^ Murray, Stuart A P (2014). Mathew Brady: Photographer of Our Nation. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 1-317-46502-4. 
  73. ^ "Thomas Martin Easterly". getty.edu. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  74. ^ "Jeremiah Gurney". getty.edu. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  75. ^ "John Plumbe, Jr.". getty.edu. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  76. ^ "Biographies: Albert S. Southworth". eastmanhouse.org. 2005. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  77. ^ "A Durable Memento: Portraits by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist". npg.si.edu. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  78. ^ "Ezra Greenleaf Weld". getty.edu. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  79. ^ (Newhall 1976, pp. 92, 102)
  80. ^ Davies, Allan; State Library of New South Wales. "Photography in Australia". Celebrating 100 years of the Mitchell Library. Focus Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 978-1-875359-66-0. 
  81. ^ Bennett, Terry (2013). Early Japanese Images. Tuttle Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 1-462-91137-4. 
  82. ^ Nelson, Kenneth E. (1996). "A Thumbnail History of the Daguerreotype"
  83. ^ Davis, D.T., Mrs. (November 1896). "The Daguerreotype in America". McClure's 8 (1): 4–16. The author notes Hawes, of Southworth and Hawes, has "a number of daguerreotypes made recently, for he is one of the few operators who remain loyal to the old process". 
  84. ^ "Copying Methods". The Photo Miniature (Tennant and Ward) IV (42): 202. 1903. 
  85. ^ Cannon, Poppy (June 1929). "An Old Art Revived". The Mentor (Springfield: Crowell Publishing Company) 17 (5): 36–37. 
  86. ^ Romer, Grant B. (1977). "The Daguerreotype in America and England After 1860". History of Photography 1 (3): 201. 

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