Daguerreian Society

One last May item before the month is done. . .

The following is excerpted from the article by Abraham Bogardus, "The 
Experiences of a Photographer." (Lippincott's Magazine, May 1891, pp. 
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On the morning of October 17, 1846, I first solicited as a photographer 
the patronage of the public, and from that day until December 31, 1887, 
I continued to practise photography in all its successive stages.
  During my forty-one years' experience under the skylight I have made 
the daguerreotype on the silver plate, the ambrotype on glass, and the 
photograph on paper.  I have made pictures of the grandfathers and 
grandmothers of the present generation, and, I must say, they were not 
so hard to please as are their grandchildren.  The old fogies were 
satisfied to have the picture a likeness; the art of retouching and 
removing wrinkles had not been discovered.
  When I commenced business, the number of pictures made was very 
small: five or six sitters in a week was a fair average.  In a few 
months, however, the demand for likenesses had so increased that I was 
compelled to employ two assistants, and we seldom had a moment's 
leisure while the sun was shining.
  In the year 1839, M. Daguerre published to the world his success in 
fixing the image of the camera obscura by the action of light and 
chemicals.  Thereupon, mechanical genius, chemical knowledge, and 
scientific research combined to develop the capabilities of the 
  If we follow these developments we shall find the results truly 
astonishing; yet it is the belief of photographers that their art will 
achieve still greater results in the future.  Daguerre's first success 
required an exposure of thirty minutes in the full sunshine; now, 
perfect impressions are made in a fraction of a second.  This alone is 
a wonderful advance, even leaving out of consideration the great 
improvement in the quality of the production.


  The daguerreotype was made on a plate having a pure silver surface.  
This plate was polished on a buff of soft leather covered with rouge, 
continuous rubbing rendering it very sensitive.  It was then subjected 
to the vapor of iodine, in the dark room, until coated to a light 
yellow, when it was inserted in the holder, and, after exposure in the 
camera, returned to the dark room and placed over the fumes of hot 
mercury. This developed the image.  The plate could now be exposed to 
the light for a short time, without damage.
  At this early date--1846--our experience in the photographic art was 
limited, and our knowledge of the ever-changing chemicals was very 
slight.  Sometimes we succeeded in getting a good impression; often we 
did not, and could not tell the reason why; after several trials we 
would give it up, and request the sitter to come another day, when we 
would try to make the chemicals work better.
  It seemed mysterious, but the chemicals which worked well one day and 
gave the desired results could perhaps not be made to produce an 
impression the next.
  An operator in a daguerreotype gallery on Broadway came to me one 
day, bringing a dozen or more plates, which he had been exposing.  On 
two of them a portion of the table-cover could be seen, but not even an 
outline of the sitter was discernible.  The operator had not made any 
change in his chemicals as they had worked satisfactorily the preceding 
day.  What was the matter? Was a question I could not answer.
  After many efforts to shorten the process, it was found that the 
vapor of bromine in connection with iodine acted as an accelerator, and 
the time required for the sitting was much shortened.
  After spending much time and money, the writer was successful in 
producing some fine impressions in ten and fifteen seconds.  While this 
required great care on the part of the operator, it was a much-desired 
relief to the sitter.
  These early plate impressions would fade out after a prolonged 
exposure to the light; but after a time we learned to fix the image 
with chloride of gold, so that it would not fade.  Such plates may 
become tarnished from the vapors to which they may be exposed; but they 
can be cleaned and restored to their original perfection.
  The writer can restore them, unless some "smart" person has 
endeavored to clean them by rubbing them out,--as has often been done.  
Many fine daguerreotypes now in my collection were made over forty 
years ago, and are just as good as on the day they were taken.
  An instance is well remembered, of a lady bringing an old case, said 
to contain a picture, but the plate was tarnished and covered with a 
film, so that the impression was not visible.  In a few minutes the 
impression was restored and the picture was shown to the lady.  She 
fainted on seeing it, as it was her husband's picture, and he had been 
dead for twenty years.  She had not expected to see the picture 
restored.  It was to her as if he had been brought back from the grave.
  While spending some days last summer in a village not far from New 
York, I called, by invitation, upon a widow residing in the vicinity.  
She brought out a box about two feet square, filled with what she 
called her treasures.  There were some thirty or forty daguerreotypes, 
nearly all of my making,--pictures of her husband, father, mother, 
brothers, and sisters, all of whom were dead.  She valued them above 
  Keep the old pictures.  They are interesting to show how you looked 
and how you dressed thirty or forty years ago.  Many a man sixty years 
old forgets, until he sees his long-neglected daguerreotype, what a 
promising youth he was at twenty-one years of age, when he deposited 
his first vote.  The change wrought by time is so great that it is 
almost impossible for him to believe that he is the person represented 
by the old picture.
  Occasionally people bring pictures made twenty years ago, to be 
copied for presentation to friends, as they are well aware that a 
picture from life taken now would show the marks of time, and they are 
not willing to admit that they are growing old.
  It was very difficult then for the public to pronounce the word 
"daguerreotype." With some it was "dau-ger-type;" others said "dag-ro-
type;" and by some it was debased into "dag-type."

(The remaining text not transcribed. With thanks to Jeremy Rowe for 
providing a copy of the article.)
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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