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

The daguerreotype (; French: daguerréotype) process, or daguerreotypy, was the first publicly announced photographic process, and for nearly twenty years, it was the one most commonly used. It was invented by Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre and introduced worldwide 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.

Viewing a daguerreotype is unlike looking at any other type of photograph. The image does not sit on the surface of the metal, but appears to be floating in space, and the illusion of reality, especially with examples that are sharp and well exposed is unique to the process.

The image is on a mirror-like silver surface, normally kept under glass, and will appear either positive or negative, depending on the angle at which it is viewed, 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.


  • History 1
    • Development in France 1.1
  • First mention in print (1835) and public announcement (1839) 2
  • Camera obscura 3
  • Plate manufacture 4
  • The process 5
    • Polishing 5.1
    • Sensitization 5.2
    • Exposure 5.3
    • Development 5.4
    • Fixing 5.5
  • Casing and other display options 6
  • Unusual characteristics 7
  • Reduction of exposure time 8
  • Unusual daguerreotype cameras 9
  • Portraiture 10
  • Proliferation 11
  • Astronomical application in the 1870s 12
  • Late and modern use 13
  • Gallery 14
  • See also 15
  • Footnotes 16
  • Further reading 17
  • External links 18


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

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.

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)

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:

"It is said that Daguerre has found 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 cause commentators to choose the 1839 as the year photography was born, or made public, although of course Daguerre had been producing daguerreotypes since 1835 and kept the process secret.[17]

Daguerre and Niépce had together signed an agreement in which remuneration for the invention would be paid for by subscription. However, the campaign they launched to finance the invention failed. François Arago, whose views on the system of patenting inventions can be gathered from speeches he made later in the House of Deputies (he apparently thought the English patent system had advantages over the French one) did not think the idea of raising money by subscription to be a good one, and supported Daguerre by arranging for motions to be passed in both Houses of the French parliament.

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, and also obtained a Scottish patent, which he apparently did not enforce. The United Kingdom and the "Colonies and Plantations abroad" therefore became the only places where a license was legally required to make and sell daguerreotypes.[19][20]

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.[21] 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."[22]

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[23]
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.[24]

The camera obscura (Latin for "dark chamber") in its simplest form is a naturally occurring phenomenon.[25] When a hole in the wall of a dark room faces a brightly lit scene—or a small opening in the side of a cave on the edge of a sunlit valley does the same—an image of the scene outside will be projected upside-down onto any surface opposite to the hole, more or less distinct depending on the size of the hole and the distance to the surface. Early camerae obscurae were entire rooms tightly shuttered except for a small hole.[26][27] In the 16th century, Daniele Barbaro suggested replacing the small hole with a larger hole and an old man's spectacle lens (a biconvex lens for correcting long-sightedness), which produced a much brighter and sharper image.[25]

By the late 1700s, small, easily portable box-form units equipped with a simple lens, an internal mirror, and a ground glass screen had become popular among affluent amateurs for making sketches of landscapes and architecture. The camera was pointed at the scene and steadied, a sheet of thin paper was placed on top of the ground glass, then a pencil or pen could be used to trace over the image projected from within. The beautiful but fugitive little light-paintings on the screen inspired several people to seek some way of capturing them more completely and effectively—and automatically—by means of chemistry.

Daguerre, a skilled professional artist, was familiar with the camera obscura as an aid for establishing correct proportion and perspective, sometimes very useful when planning out the celebrated theatrical scene backdrops he painted and the even larger ultra-realistic panoramas he exhibited in his popular Diorama.

Plate manufacture

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.

In order that the corners of the plate would not tear the buffing material when the plate was polished, in the US the corners were clipped, while in France they were bent back.[28] 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.[29][30]

The process

Graphic representation of the steps involved in making a daguerreotype


To optimize the image quality of the end product, the silver side of the plate had to be polished to as nearly perfect a mirror finish as possible. The silver had to be completely free of tarnish or other contamination when it was sensitized, so the daguerreotypist had to perform at least the final portion of the polishing and cleaning operation not too long before use. In the 19th century, the polishing was done with a buff covered with hide or velvet, first using rotten stone, then jeweler's rouge, then lampblack. Originally, the work was entirely manual, but buffing machinery was soon devised to help out. 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.[31][32] 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.[33] 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.[34][35][36]

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.

Gilding, also called gold toning, was an addition to Daguerre's process introduced by Hippolyte Fizeau in 1840. It 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.

Casing and other display options

Even when 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.

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.[37] 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.[38] 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.[39][40]

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.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43]

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.[44] 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".[45] 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

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.[46][47]

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.

The experience of viewing a daguerreotype is unlike that of viewing any other type of photograph. The image does not sit on the surface of the plate, after flipping from positive to negative as the viewing angle is adjusted, viewers experience an apparition in space, a mirage that arises once the eyes are properly focused. Of course when reproduced via other processes, this effect associated with viewing an original daguerreotype will no longer be apparent. Other processes that have a similar viewing experience are holograms on credit cards or Lippmann plates.

Although daguerreotypes are unique images, they could be copied by re-daguerreotyping the original. Copies were also produced by lithography or engraving.[48] Today, they can be digitally scanned.

A well-exposed and sharp large-format daguerreotype is able to faithfully record fine detail at a resolution that today's digital cameras are not able to match.[49]

As Arago pointed out in his presentation of the process to the French Chamber of Deputies, the expense of the silver may be offset by being able to wipe a plate clean and produce images again and again on the same plate.

Reduction of exposure time

In the early 1840s, two innovations were introduced that dramatically shortened the required exposure times: a lens that produced a much brighter image in the camera, and a modification of the chemistry used to sensitize the plate.

The very first daguerreotype cameras used Chevalier lenses which were "slow" (about f/14).[50] They projected a sharp and undistorted but dim image onto the plate. Such a lens was necessary in order to produce the highly detailed results which had elicited so much astonishment and praise when daguerreotypes were first exhibited, results which the purchasers of daguerreotype equipment expected to achieve. Using this lens and the original sensitizing method, an exposure of several minutes was required to photograph even a very brightly sunlit scene. A much "faster" lens could have been provided—simply omitting the integral fixed diaphragm from the Chevalier lens would have increased its working aperture to about f/4.7 and reduced the exposure time by nearly 90 percent—but because of the existing state of lens design the much shorter exposure would have been at the cost of a peripherally distorted and very much less clear image. With uncommon exceptions, daguerreotypes made before 1841 were of immobile subjects such as landscapes, public or historic buildings, monuments, statuary, and still life arrangements. Attempts at portrait photography with the Chevalier lens required the sitter to face into the sun for several minutes while trying to remain motionless and look pleasant, usually producing grisly results.

In 1841, the Petzval Portrait Lens was introduced.[51] It was scientifically designed and optimized for its purpose. With a working aperture of about f/3.6, an exposure only about one-fifteenth as long as that required when using a Chevalier lens was sufficient. Although it produced an acceptably sharp image in the central area of the plate, where the sitter's face was likely to be, the image quality dropped off toward the edges, so for this and other reasons it was unsuitable for landscape photography and not a general replacement for Chevalier-type lenses. Eventually, more sophisticated and versatile "universal" lens designs were worked out.

The other major innovation was a chemical one. In Daguerre's original process, the plate was sensitized by exposure to Iodine fumes alone. A breakthrough came with the discovery that when exposure to bromine or chlorine fumes was correctly combined with this, the sensitivity of the plate could be greatly increased, which in turn greatly reduced the required exposure time.

Unusual daguerreotype cameras

A number of innovative camera designs appeared:

One early attempt to address the lack of a good "fast" lens for portraiture, and the subject of the first US patent for photographic apparatus, was Alexander Wolcott's camera, which used a concave mirror instead of a lens and operated on the principle of the reflecting telescope.[52][53] The mirror was fitted at one end of the camera and focusing was done by adjusting the position of the plate in a holder that slid along a rail. Designed solely for portraiture, this arrangement produced a far brighter image than a Chevalier lens, or even the later Petzval lens, but image quality was only marginal and the design was only practical for use with small plates.

Friedrich Voigtländer's small, all-metal Daguerrotype camera (1841) was small enough to be carried. It was fitted with a f/3.5 Petzval portrait lens at the front and a focusing lens at the back, and took round plates. Only 600 of these cameras were produced.[54]

The directions for the use of the Voigtländer camera read as follows:

Directions for the use of the new daguerreotype apparatus for the making of portraits, executed according to the calculations of Professor Petzval by Voigtländer and Son, Vienna, printed by J.P.Sollinger, August 1, 1841.
The person to be photographed must be seated in the open air. For an exposure by overcast, dark skies in winter 3 ½ minutes is sufficient; on a sunny day in the shade 1½ to 2 minutes are enough, and in direct sunlight it requires no more than 40-45 seconds. The last, however, is seldom employed on account of the deep shadows necessarily obtained.[55][56]

The stated exposure times are evidently for plates sensitized with iodine only; improved sensitization methods were just being introduced in 1841-42.

In 1845 Friedrich von Martens invented the first panoramic camera for curved daguerreotype plates with a lens that turned to cover an angle of 150 degrees. It was called "Megaskop-Kamera" of "Panorama-Kamera" [57]

Netto constructed, in 1841, a studio in which the front part of the camera with the lens was built into the wall between the studio and the adjoining darkroom, the rear part of the camera being inside the darkroom.[58][59]


In one early attempt at portraiture, a Swedish amateur daguerreotypist caused his sitter nearly to lose an eye because of practically staring into the sun during the five-minute exposure.[60]

Even with fast lenses and much more sensitive plates, under portrait studio lighting conditions an exposure of several seconds was necessary on the brightest of days, and on hazy or cloudy days the sitter had to remain still for considerably longer.

Establishments producing daguerreotype portraits generally had a daylight studio built on the roof, much like a greenhouse. Whereas later in the history of photography artificial electric lighting 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 diffuse it to soften harsh direct lighting. Blue filtration was sometimes used to make it easier for the sitter to tolerate the strong light, as a daguerreotype plate was almost exclusively sensitive to light at the blue end of the spectrum and filtering out everything else did not significantly increase the exposure time.

Usually, it was arranged so that sitters leaned their elbows on a support such as a posing table, the height of which 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.[61]

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.[62]

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.[21] 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.[63]


Advertisement for a traveling Daguerreotype photographer, with location left blank

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri[64] and Jules Itier of France,[65] 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.[66] Among others, Antoine Claudet and Thomas Richard Williams produced daguerreotypes in the UK.[67][68]

External video
Early photography: making daguerreotypes, J. Paul Getty Museum with Khan Academy[69]

Daguerreotype photography spread rapidly across the United States after the discovery first appeared in US newspapers in February 1839.[70][71] In the early 1840s, the invention was introduced in a period of months to practitioners in the United States by Samuel Morse,[72] inventor of the telegraph code. By 1853, an estimated three million daguerreotypes per year were being produced in the United States alone.[73] 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.[74]

Notable U.S. daguerreotypists of the mid-19th century included James Presley Ball,[75] Samuel Bemis,[76] Abraham Bogardus,[77] Mathew Brady,[78] Thomas Martin Easterly,[79] François Fleischbein, Jeremiah Gurney,[80] John Plumbe, Jr.,[81] Albert Southworth,[82] Augustus Washington,[83] Ezra Greenleaf Weld,[84] and John Adams Whipple.[85]

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.[86] In 1857, Ichiki Shirō created the first known Japanese photograph, a portrait of his daimyo Shimazu Nariakira.[87] The photograph was designated an Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan.

Astronomical application in the 1870s

In 1839, François Arago had in his address to the French Chamber of Deputies outlined a wealth of possible applications including astronomy, and indeed the daguerreotype was still occasionally used for 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 become slightly distorted when the emulsion dried.

Late and modern use

Although the daguerreotype process is sometimes said 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.[88] 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.[89] 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.[90][91] These eccentric late uses were extremely unusual and surviving examples reliably dated to between the 1860s and the 1960s are now exceedingly rare.[92]

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 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


  1. ^ Lowry, Bates; Barrett Lowry, Isabel (2000). The Silver Canvas: Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Getty Publishers. p. 12.  
  2. ^ Hannavy, John, ed. (2013). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. Routledge. p. 365.  
  3. ^ Curley, Robert, ed. (2010). The 100 Most Influential Inventors of All Time. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 77.  
  4. ^ a b c  
  5. ^ Szabadváry, Ferenc (1992). History of analytical chemistry. Taylor & Francis. p. 17.  
  6. ^ Watt, Susan (2003). Silver. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 21–.  
  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)". 
  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.  
  12. ^ a b (Eder 1978, p. 224)
  13. ^ Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale
  14. ^ Lowry, Bates & Lowry, Isabel Barrett The Silver Canvas
  15. ^ Paul-Louis Roubert p. 41-49Hubert, ou l’honneur de Daguerre quotes the (anonymous) review in Journal des artistes (WorldHeritage 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.  
  19. ^ a b "Early Photographic Processes: Daguerreotype, 1839-1850s". 
  20. ^ Société JersaiseJohnathan Carter 2002 Bulletin of
  21. ^ a b (Eder 1978)
  22. ^ 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–""". 
  23. ^ 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 July 1839 when it was deciding on the award of a pension to Daguerre in exchange for the still-secret details of his process.
  24. ^ Ballhause, Sylvia. "The Munich Daguerre-Triptych" (PDF). 
  25. ^ a b Rideal, Liz. "The Developing Portrait: Painting Towards Photography". 
  26. ^ Wilgus, Jack; Wilgus, Beverly (August 2004). "What is a camera obscura?". 
  27. ^ Steadman, Philip (17 February 2012). "Vermeer and the Camera Obscura". 
  28. ^ Buerger, Janet E. (1989). French Daguerreotypes. University of Chicago Press.  
  29. ^ Isenburg, Matthew R. (2001). "The Making of a Daguerreotype". 
  30. ^ Reuben, Knecht. Improved Daguerreotype-plate Holder US 10508 A. Reuben Knecht, assignee. Patent 10,508. 7 February 1854. Print.
  31. ^ "The Spectator"Photographic Miniature. To the Editor of . 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. 
  32. ^ 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 
  33. ^ Nelson, Kenneth E. "The Cutting Edge of Yesterday" (PDF). The Daguerreian Annual 1990 (The Daguerreian Society): 35. 
  34. ^ Barron, Andrew R. "The Myth, Reality, and History of Mercury Toxicity". 
  35. ^ Mercury Toxicity at eMedicine
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ "A Tour of E. Anthony's Daguerreian Manufactory". 1996. 
  38. ^ "The Mirror with a Memory". 
  39. ^ "Daguerreotype" (PDF). Antwerp Photography Museum. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-07. 
  40. ^ "The Daguerreotype". 
  41. ^ "Pictures & Sound: Gallery of Images". 
  42. ^ Bethel, Denise B. (1992). "Notes on an Early Daguerreotype of Walt Whitman". Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 9 (3). 
  43. ^ "Daguerreotypes: Europe's Earliest Photographic Records" (PDF). 2014. pp. 25, 54. 
  44. ^ Hannavy, John (1997). Victorian Photographers at Work. Osprey Publishing. p. 90.  
  45. ^ "The Birth of an Industry: The Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg". 
  46. ^ Simkin, David. "Portraits of Charles Dickens (1812-1870)". 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. 
  47. ^ "The Spectator"Photographic Miniature. To the Editor of . 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. 
  48. ^ "Paris et ses environs: reproduits par le daguerreotype / sous la direction de M. Ch. Philipon (1840)". 16 December 2009. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. 
  49. ^ Wired Magazine (2010) "1848 Daguerreotypes Bring Middle America's Past to Life"
  50. ^ Parisian optician Charles Chevalier had long been making assorted high-quality lenses for microscopes, telescopes and other optical devices. The "Chevalier lens" referred to in the context of these earliest photographic cameras was an 81 mm diameter meniscus achromatic doublet, mounted with its concave surface forward, and had a focal length of about 380 mm (each was ground and polished by hand, so the exact focal length of each was slightly different). A diaphragm with a fixed 27 mm diameter opening formed the front end of the lens barrel and was spaced away from the lens at a distance that optimally reduced the most important lens aberrations. Chevalier soon began producing other, faster camera lens designs which are also commonly called "Chevalier lenses", a potential source of confusion.
  51. ^ Department of Imaging and Printing Technology, Chulalongkorn University, Bankok, ThailandThe Petzval Portrait Lens 1841
  52. ^ The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction. J. Limbird. 1843. p. 119. 
  53. ^ Smith, Roger Wesley (5 November 2012). "Re-creation of Beard's Mirror Camera (1840)". 
  54. ^ Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera
  55. ^ 5th number of the Verh. d. n. ö. Gew. Verein, Vienna 1842, p. 72. Quoted by Eder 1978 p 225
  56. ^ Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera. National Media Museum. UK.
  57. ^ Eder 1978 p. 255
  58. ^ Nordisk tidskrift för fotografi (1920, p. 119) quoted in Eder 1978 p. 256
  59. ^ Photographic studio according to Netto 1842
  60. ^ Eder, p 187. The amateur daguerreotypist was Lieutenant Lars Jesper Benzelstierna and his sitter was the actor Georg Dahlqvist.
  61. ^ (Circa 1850)"A Game of Chess". 
  62. ^ Barger, M. Susan; White, William B. (2000). The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science. JHU Press.  
  63. ^ "A Preponderance of Evidence: The 1852 Omaha Indian Delegation Daguerreotypes Recovered". 
  64. ^ "André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri". Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  65. ^ "Jules Itier". Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  66. ^ 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.
  67. ^ "Antoine Claudet". Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  68. ^ "Thomas Richard Williams". Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  69. ^ "Early photography: Making Daguerreotypes".  
  70. ^ "Chemical and Optical Discovery". The Pittsburgh Gazette. 28 February 1839. p. 2 – via  
  71. ^ Ewer, Gary W. (2011). "Texts from 1839". Archived from the original on 15 September 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  72. ^ "Collections: National Museum of American History". 17 December 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  73. ^ Lane, Frederick S. (2001). Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age. Psychology Press. p. 42.  
  74. ^ "Occupational Portrait of Three Railroad Workers Standing on Crank Handcar".  
  75. ^ "J. P. Ball, African American Photographer". Retrieved 8 August 2008. 
  76. ^ Newhall, Beaumont (1976). The Daguerreotype in America. Courier Corporation. p. 31.  
  77. ^ (Newhall 1976, p. 77)
  78. ^ Murray, Stuart A P (2014). Mathew Brady: Photographer of Our Nation. Routledge. p. 27.  
  79. ^ "Thomas Martin Easterly". Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  80. ^ "Jeremiah Gurney". Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  81. ^ "John Plumbe, Jr.". Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  82. ^ "Biographies: Albert S. Southworth". 2005. Retrieved 9 August 2009. 
  83. ^ "A Durable Memento: Portraits by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist". Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  84. ^ "Ezra Greenleaf Weld". Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  85. ^ (Newhall 1976, pp. 92, 102)
  86. ^ Davies, Allan; State Library of New South Wales. "Photography in Australia". Celebrating 100 years of the Mitchell Library. Focus Publishing. p. 76.  
  87. ^ Bennett, Terry (2013). Early Japanese Images. Tuttle Publishing. p. 137.  
  88. ^ Nelson, Kenneth E. (1996). "A Thumbnail History of the Daguerreotype"
  89. ^ 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". 
  90. ^ "Copying Methods". The Photo Miniature (Tennant and Ward) IV (42): 202. 1903. 
  91. ^ Cannon, Poppy (June 1929). "An Old Art Revived". The Mentor (Springfield: Crowell Publishing Company) 17 (5): 36–37. 
  92. ^ Romer, Grant B. (1977). "The daguerreotype in America and England after 1860". History of Photography 1 (3): 201–12.  

Further reading

  • Coe, Brian (1976). The Birth of Photography: The Story of the Formative Years, 1800–1900. London: Ash & Grant.  
  • Daniel, Malcolm (October 2004). "The Daguerreian Age in France: 1839–1855". 
  • Davis, Keith F.; Aspinwall, Jane Lee; Wilson, Marc F. (2007). The Origins of American Photography: From Daguerreotype to Dry-plate, 1839-1885. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kansas City: Hall Family Foundation.  
  • Goddard, John F. (12 December 1840). "Valuable Improvement in Daguerréotype" (PDF).  
  • Hannavy, John (2005). Case Histories: The Packaging and Presentation of the Photographic Portrait in Victorian Britain 1840-1875. Antique Collector's Club.  
  • Hill, Levi L.; McCartey, W., Jr. (1850). A Treatise on the Daguerreotype: The Whole Art Made Easy, and All the Recent Improvements Revealed ... (PDF). Lexington, New York: Holman & Gray. 
  • Humphrey, Samuel D. (1858). The American Handbook of the Daguerreotype (5 ed.). New York: S.D Humphrey. 
  • Kenny, Adele (2001). Photographic Cases Victorian Design Sources 1840–1870. Schiffer Publishing, Limited.  
  • Pfister, Harold Francis (1978). Facing the Light: Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes: An Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, September 22, 1978-January 15, 1979. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. National Portrait Gallery. 
  • Richter, Stefan (1989). The Art of the Daguerreotype. London: Viking.  
  • Rudisill, Richard (1971). Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Society. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.  
  • Sobieszek, Robert A.; Appel-Heyne, Odette M.; Moore, Charles R. (1976). The Spirit of Fact: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, 1843–1862. Boston: D.R. Godine.  
  • Tang, Xiaoqing; Ardis, Paul A.; Messing, Ross; Brown, Christopher M.; Nelson, Randal C.; Ravines, Patrick; Wiegandt, Ralph (2010). "Digital Analysis and Restoration of Daguerreotypes" (PDF). University of Rochester, Rochester, New York: 
  • Wood, John (1991). America and the Daguerreotype. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.  
  • Wood, John (1995). The Scenic Daguerreotype: Romanticism and Early Photography. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.  

External links

  • The Daguerreian Society A predominantly US oriented database & galleries
  • The Daguerreotype: an Archive of Source Texts, Graphics, and Ephemera
  • Historique et description des procédés du daguerréotype rédigés par Daguérre, ornés du portrait de l'auteur, et augmentés de notes et d'observations par MM Lerebours et Susse Frères, Lerebours, Opticien de L'Observatoire; Susse Frères, Éditeurs. Paris 1839 (French) Daguerre's Daguerreotype Manual.
  • University of RochesterThe Nanotechnology of the Daguerreotype on YouTube
  • Cincinnati Waterfront Panorama Daguerreotype at
  • International Contemporary Daguerreotypes community (non profit org)
  • The Social Construction of the American Daguerreotype Portrait
  • Daguerreotype Plate Sizes
  • Library of Congress Collection
  • Daguerreotype collection at the Canadian Centre for Architecture
  • Original Giroux Daguerréotype Camera
  • Fleischman, John; Kunzig, Robert (1 February 2002). "Photography, Old & New Again". 
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