Daguerreian Society

Before today's news, I'm glad to make the following announcement:

Clifford Krainik has authored an article, "A 'Dark Horse' In Sunlight and 
Shadow: Daguerreotypes of President James K. Polk." The article appeared 
in the June 1997 issue of "White House History" (Vol. II, No. 1, June 
  Copies of the issue are available and may be obtained from:

     The White House Historical Association
     740 Jackson Place, N.W.
     Washington, D.C. 20506

  Single copies are available at $7.95 plus $3.00 for shipping. You may 
also order the magazine directly by calling W.H.H.A. at 202-737-8292.  
They accept Visa/MC orders over the phone.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

On this day (August 19) in the year 1839, the world heard, for the first 
time, the details of Daguerre's closely-guarded secret.  Before a crowded 
joint meeting of the Academies des Sciences and des Beaux-Arts at the 
Institut de France, Arago spoke on behalf of the inventor and disclosed 
the process of the Daguerreotype.  An eye-witness to the historic event 
described the scene:

  "Truly a victory--greater than any bloody one--had been won, a victory 
of science.  The crowd was like an electric battery sending out a stream 
of sparks.  Everyone was happy to see others in a happy mood.  In the 
kingdom of unending progress another frontier had fallen.  Often it seems 
to me as if posterity could never be capable of such enthusiasm.
  Gradually I managed to push through the crowd and attached myself to a 
group near the meeting-place, who seemed to be scientists.  Here I felt 
myself at last closer to events, both spiritually and physically.  After 
a long wait, a door opens in the background and the first of the audience 
to come out rush into the vestibule.  'Silver iodide' cries one. 
'Quicksilver!' shouts another, while a third maintains that hypo-sulphite 
of soda is the name of the secret substance.  Everyone pricks his ears, 
but nobody understands anything.  Dense circles form round single 
speakers, and the crowd surges forward in order to snatch bits of news 
here and there.  At length our group too manages to catch hold of the 
coat-tails of one of the lucky audience and make him speak out.  Thus the 
secret gradually unfolds itself, but for a long time still, the excited 
crowd mill to and fro under the arcades of the Institute, and on the Pont 
des Arts, before it can make up its mind to return to everyday things.
  An hour later, all the opticians' shops were besieged, but could not 
rake together enough instruments to satisfy the onrushing army of would-
be daguerreotypists; a few days later you could see in all the squares of 
Paris three-legged dark-boxes planted in front of churches and palaces.  
All the physicists, chemists, and learned men of the capital were 
polishing silvered plates, and even the better-class grocers found it 
impossible to deny themselves the pleasure of sacrificing some of their 
means on the altar of progress, evaporating it in iodine and consuming it 
in mercury vapor.
  Soon there appeared a pamphlet in which Daguerre fully described his 
process, and as, alas, my money was not sufficient to buy the apparatus, 
I bought the brochure in order to be able at least to daguerreotype in 
imagination.  I still see it before me, its violet-grey covers decorated 
with a vignette of the Pantheon with the inscription 'Aux grands hommes 
la patrie reconnaissante'.  The publisher could not help rubbing in the 
immortality of the inventor in this rather obvious way."

Ludwig Pfau, in "Kunst und Gewerbe," part i, Stuttgart, 1877, pp. 115-17.
Cited in Gernsheim, Helmut and Alison. "The History of Photography from 
the camera obscura to the beginning of the modern era" (London: Thames 
and Hudson, 1969) pp. 70-71.
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1997

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