Daguerreotype collectibles: during the first 25 years of the 19th
century, many people worked on the challenge of writing in light.
They prepared papers and plates with light-sensitive chemicals with
limited success. Although both a French artist and English amateur
inventor (William Fox Talbot) devised and publicized different methods
at the same time, it was the French artist, Louis Jacques Daguerre,
whose invention became more popular.
A successful commercial artist in Paris, Daguerre studied the
experiments of a countryman optician, who was using light to create
plates that could be inked and printed, resulting in accurate
reproductions of scenes. One of the experiments was made in 1826, a
view from a window that took 8 hours to expose, and is recognized as the
world's earliest existing photograph. The two men collaborated, but the
latter died in 1833, leaving Daguerre to carry on until success in 1837.
He treated a silver-plated copper sheet with iodine to make it sensitive
to light, exposed the plate in a camera, and developed the plate with
mercury vapor. He named the invention Daguerreotype. Unable to
sell his process by subscription, he soon found a supporter in the
Academy of Sciences. He was soon compensated by the government for his
invention for its contributions to the progress of art and science. August 19, 1839, the
invention was presented as a gift to the world from France, resulting in
an immediate international mania. Daguerre had little else to do with
the invention thereafter and died in 1851, with little else of
significance to his life.
Obsession with the Daguerreotype lasted twenty years, with
improvements made to the lens, apparatus, and chemistry. The process
was speeded up, especially important when making commercial portraits,
resulting in a new industry. Although it was expensive, the creation of
a miniature portrait of a loved one became the substitute for more
expensive portrait paintings. For less than $5, anyone could be captured on
silver and framed and fitted to a case, many of the cases richly
embossed and gilded. They could be made in studios, galleries, and even
by itinerant photographers, with the business as profitable and
lucrative as gold-mining. The pictures captured scenes at international
events, which were then displayed as newspaper illustrations. Each
representation was truthful and realistic, inspiring novels and poetry.
Photography became commonplace, showing man, his pets, his property, his
ceremonies, and his death.
The problems that developed over time included the heaviness of the
polished metal, the delicate surface and the bulky case and frame.
Common sizes were 2 3/4 by 3 1/4 inches, with much larger plates being
considerably more expensive, and therefore rarer and more collectible.
As the process was not subject to patent or license, anyone could create
them without subscription costs. The exception was in England where
Daguerre secured a patent. Memories of war and scientific competition
between the two countries was still fresh in the minds of the two
The process invented by Englishman, William Fox Talbot produced paper
negatives with soft prints, rather than the sharp Daguerreotype images.
Although Talbot patented his process in 1841, licenses were hard to sell
in face of the free French invention. In spite of this, it was Fox's
prints-from-negatives concept that ultimately became the dominant force
in photography, but it took more than two decades before advances in the
process would contribute to the decline of daguerreotypes. In 1851,
multiple prints from glass negatives appeared, followed in 1854, by
inexpensive ambrotypes, and two years later, in 1856, the less
expensive and much faster to develop tintypes. Soldiers in the American Civil War
preferred to carry lighter more durable tintypes of their loved ones.
Glass negatives, which documented the war, enabled thousands of copies.
The Carte de Visite (CDV), became popular, allowing the
reproduction of inexpensive paper portraits. Although the
daguerreotype never regained its initial popularity, advocates of the
process continue its practise in appreciation of its rich detail and