The Daguerreian Society

On this day, (July 28) in the year 1840, John W. Draper (of New York)
wrote a letter to the Rev. Sir John C. W. Herschel of England.
Accompanying the letter was the well-known daguerreotype portrait of his
sister, Miss Dorothy Catherine Draper.  The letter reads as follows:
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                                                 University of New York
                                                 July 28, 1840


   Though I have not the honor of your personal acquaintance, I do not
hesitate to send to you through the Editor of L. And E., a heliographic
portrait taken from the life by the Daguerreotype--the process I have
described in a communication to the L. and Edin. Phil. Mag.,(1) which is
probably published by this time.  We have heard in America that all
attempts of the kind had been unsuccessful both in London and Paris, but
whether or not it be a novelty with you, allow me to offer it to your 
acceptance as an acknowledgment of the pleasure with which I have read 
so many of your philosophical researches.
   This portrait, which is of one of my sister, was obtained in a 
sitting of 65 seconds, the light not being very intense and the sky
coated with a film of pale white cloud.  It is not better in point of 
execution than those ordinarily obtained.  I believe I was the first 
person here who succeeded in obtaining portraits from the life.  This
plate will show how the art is progressing--a close examination will at 
once give satisfaction that no aid whatever of an artificial kind--no 
touching with the pencil is resorted to, but that the proof remains in 
the same state as brought out by the mercury.  If, sir, you should find 
time to look at the paper I have alluded to, you will see a reference to 
a remark of yours in relation to the propriety of using an achromatic 
lens for the photographic camera.  This picture was procured by two 
double convex non-achromatic lenses set together, each lens being of 16 
inches focus and 4 inches aperture--the indistinctness which may be 
detected in some parts arises mainly from the inevitable motions of the 
respiratory muscles--a slight play of the features, and the tedium of a 
forced attitude.  Where inanimate objects are depicted the most rigid 
sharpness can be obtained.

                                          John W. Draper

(1)(note by Gary W. Ewer:  Draper's success in procuring a daguerreotype 
portrait appears in a brief notice in the June 1840 issue of "The London 
and Edinburgh Philosophical magazine and Journal of Science" 
[vol. 16, no. 105])

(Herschel responded to this letter on 6 October 1840.  The response will 
be posted to DagNews on that day.  The citation of Draper's letter 
comes from Robert Taft "Photography and the American Scene" [1938, 
reprint, NY: Dover, 1964] 29-30)

Posted for your enjoyment.       Gary W. Ewer      

Return to: DagNews 1995

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