1986.10.1 daguermotype front


1986.10.1 daguermotype inside

The Daguerreotype was invented by French scene painter for the opera Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Daguerreotypes are greatly detailed images produced on a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver and without the use of a negative. Daguerre partnered up with Joseph Niépce , the man responsible for producing the first known photograph, in hopes of improving upon Niépce’s technique in order to produce a photograph that was longer lasting seeing as his photographs would rapidly fade. Several years of experimentation were necessary before he was successful in his endeavours. Finally, on August 19th, 1839, Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype, which he named after himself, to the public. It quickly became popular among American photographers and in 1850, nearly 70 daguerreotype studios (which were similar to museums) could be found in New York City alone. Shortly after, near the mid 1850’s, the daguerreotype’s popularity declined as the ambrotype became readily available. The ambrotype was able to take the place of the daguerreotype due to its shorter exposure time as well as its cost effectiveness. The exposure time was an important issue in the decline of the daguerreotype because it could take from 3 to nearly 15 minutes for a photograph to develop. Although improvements were made to shorten the exposure time, daguerreotypes were still not very efficient; particularly for portraitures.  After the appearance of the ambrotype, daguerreotypes basically disappeared; however, the process has been revived by a few contemporary photographers.


The daguerreotype process was said to have occurred by accident when Daguerre placed an exposed plate in his chemical cabinet and discovered days later that a photo had developed due to mercury vapour released from a broken thermometer. The process consisted of several steps and required great care. Firstly, it was crucial to clean as well as polish the silver-plated copper plate until it came to resemble a mirror. Afterwards, the plate was sensitized in a closed box over iodine until it started to establish a yellow-rose tint. Next, the plate was transferred into the camera and the photograph was taken. Subsequently to light exposure, the plate was placed over hot mercury until an image appeared. Finally, in order to fix the image, the plate was immersed in a solution of sodium thiosulfate or salt and then toned with gold chloride.


This particular daguerreotype is of two women and a man standing behind them, all of whom are unidentified, and was obtained by the Nor’Westers and Loyalist Museum in 1986 donated by Alice Grant. It most likely dates from the 1840’s, judging by the popularity of daguerreotypes during that time period as well as the Civil War Era dressing of the people in the photograph. The exterior is a brown embossed leather case with closure hooks on the side. On the inside, there is a gold frame surrounding the photograph itself as well as a burgundy carved velvet protection pad. Daguerreotypes were housed in albums because they are very delicate, and the tin bends easily. Daguerre wanted to achieve a long lasting image with the invention of the daguerreotype and was successful in doing so seeing as the photograph is still clearly visible. This daguerreotype is not currently on display.