The 
Daguerreian Society


On this day (December 18) in the year 1891, the following article 
appeared as the eighth (and last) in a series in "The Photographic Times" 
(New York; pp. 641-2): Although the article indicates that the article is 
"To be continued," no further installments were printed. This installment 
also includes, at the end of the text, a wood-engraving portrait and 
replica signature of W. H. Sherman.
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           THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DAGUERREOTYPE.

              AS SEEN BY A COUNTRY "OPERATOR."

                            VIII.

  IN the fall of 1848 there were few cameras in use in western New York 
between the longitude of Rochester and the shore of Lake Erie.  Cameras 
there were, enough of them, but they were mostly set aside where they 
were out of the way, and their retirement into privacy was acquiesced in 
by the public not unwillingly.  They were out of fashion.  Occasionally a 
picture had strayed hither from the eastern cities which had elicited 
unfavorable comparisons, and as a consequence of these and of causes 
closely related thereto the occupation of the country operator hereabouts 
was gone.  It is probably true that up to this time none of the genuine 
lenses made on the Petzval plan had reached the territory included within 
the above limits, and, unless my information was at fault, their great 
superiority over their American imitations was denied by the dealers and 
principal daguerreotypists of both Rochester and Buffalo.  But the forays 
of pupils from these "art centers" were not always highly encouraging to 
those who made them.  They had chiefly been episodes of failure--short 
histories of money misspent and time wasted--followed all the same by the 
chagrin of bitter disappointment.
  I hoped to find some place to settle in permanently, but hadn't the 
courage to make the attempt in either of these cities, as yet;  and 
therefore, in order to be better prepared for such an undertaking, both 
in experience and funds (especially the latter), thought it advisable to 
continue my wanderings until some future date.  With this plan in view I 
located temporarily at the pleasant village of Springville, Erie County, 
where we--my wife and I--remained until the following summer.  Taking a 
couple of rooms over a store, one of the, which had a window facing the 
north, was made to answer the purpose of a reception room, while the 
window was used to light the sitters;  the other room served for a 
workshop.  An old-fashioned box stove, of a kind now unknown, with a 
voracious appetite for dry wood, heated both apartments in the coldest 
weather.  With these notable facilities, a pretty thorough acquaintance 
with one of the best processes known, and my little Voigtlander lens, I 
was able to attract some attention to the products of my labor, and so 
had, on the whole, what I was willing to call "a real good time" through 
the winter.  We made many pleasant acquaintances among the genial and 
friendly people whom we have never forgotten, of whom, how may, alas, are 
not now among the living.
  But the interest which the people of the village took in the pictures 
did not spread much outside its limits, and the demands of those who did 
admire them were pretty soon satisfied, when the business lapsed into 
such a state of quietude that it began to look as if my patrons had voted 
me a peremptory vacation, and the vote had been unanimous.  Occasionally 
a new customer would straggle in, but evidently the paying business was 
over, and so the proper thing to do was to accept the situation since it 
was unavoidable.
  Without changing my residence as a citizen, I took my camera and its 
belongings over to Ellicottville, the county seat of the adjoining 
county, to see if something could not be done with them among the hills 
and vales of Cattaraugus.  But picturesque as was the scenery which 
environed them, the people had little use for such pictures as I had to 
offer.
  There were very few daguerreotypes in the village, and these as well as 
others which I would have been happy to furnish were probably looked upon 
merely as samples of a curious art, and consequently my sitters were 
anything but numerous.  I hope the few pictures which I left there did 
not make the task of further introducing the like, more difficult.  After 
six or eight weeks of poor success I concluded it best to leave before 
being stranded.
  Then we went into Chautauqua County, and in the low state of my funds I 
chose for a stopping-place the little village of Forestville, where 
expenses were moderate in keeping with the moderation of my expectations.  
From my point of view the near future was not dazzlingly radiant.  But I 
had no thought of losing courage;  had faith in the good time coming, 
although there seemed to be no immediate danger of a shock from its too 
rapid approach.
  Here is happened that the camera met with a more cordial reception than 
at the former place, and prospects began to brighten a little.  At this 
time there was an operator at Fredonia, a few miles distant, by the name 
of Kellogg, who came out with a dashing advertisement in the local paper, 
headed with "DAGUERREOTYPES BY THE LONDON PROCESS."
  As this paper was read in Forestville, and no paper being published in 
the latter village, this thing looked very like a glove, and I picked it 
up.  Decidedly it would not do for my customers or "might-be" customers 
to imagine they had been or might be defrauded by accepting the products 
of an inferior process, when by just driving a few miles on a pleasant 
road they could have the genuine article with the London style thrown in;  
and so, next week, there appeared in the same paper another advertisement 
beginning with "DAGUERREOTYPES BY THE AMERICAN PROCESS," which, I need 
not say, was intended as a counter irritant to the hit made by my shrewd 
and redoubtable rival.  Sometime afterwards I went over to see him and 
found him holding forth in the front parlor, on the ground floor of the 
principal hotel, making his sittings at the large front window looking 
right upon the street.  Half a dozen steps from the sidewalk and one was 
in his studio, where he welcomed his customers with affability and served 
them with dispatch.  The back part of his studio was curtained off, 
whether only for a dark-room or whether he had an assistant there I did 
not learn.  There he was with a quarter size (3 1/4  x 4 1/4) outfit, 
including a Voightlander lens, which he appeared to handle very 
skillfully, and with which he was probably making money.  His manner of 
bringing himself into close relations with the general public was greatly 
in advance of anything I had ever witnessed, but I felt no inclination to 
imitate the example.  It was his way and he seemed to be flourishing in 
it.  I preferred to be up one flight of stairs.
  Those first quarter lenses of the Petzval pattern were famous for their 
wonderful sharpness of definition, and any daguerreotypist who was 
fortunate enough to possess one had good reason for prizing it.  The 
superiority of its performance over that of anything that had preceded it 
was remarkable, and sitters were greatly pleased with the improvement.  
Now, that a single achromatic lens costing about as much as a pair of 
spectacles may by stopped down to a small fraction of its diameter, and 
be made to give a sharply defined image over a considerable field, with a 
snap-shot or a second's exposure, it is curious to remember the important 
figure cut by those little objectives which so successfully solved the 
problem of combining great illumination with perfection of definition 
over the surface of a quarter plate.  In fact they were the making of 
many of the old daguerreotypists.  I do not believe Kellogg could have 
paid his expenses in his elegant quarters (elegant for that time) with 
any of the ordinary lenses then in use.  The samples of his skill which 
he delivered to his customers, so superior to what they were accustomed 
to see, gave a new impetus to the art in that place which never again 
died out.
  This was the fall of '49, the beginning of the second decade of 
photography.  The ten years that had passed since the daguerreotype was 
first made known to the world had not been very fruitful to the country 
operator.  My old friend, if now living, as I hope he is, will, I think, 
agree with me that up to this time, a village of two, three or four 
thousand inhabitants, would, on an average, afford paying business for 
only about the same number of months, when it would be time to move; and 
that between moving and halting, the end of the year found our migratory 
bird in about the same condition as in the beginning.  He was fortunate 
if he found a surplus to his credit, however small, which he did not know 
what to do with.
  But his work had not been in vain.  Along the by-ways where he had 
passed he had sown seed which had not fallen where "the fowls came and 
devoured it up."  Many a little silvered copper plate bearing the image 
which his art had impressed upon it could not now be bought with thrice 
its weight in gold.  The desire for them was fast spreading among all 
classes; and the time was near when it would be almost universal.

                       (To be continued.)


(Again, although the article indicates that the article is "To be 
continued," no further installments were printed.  Previous installments 
appeared on Jan 20, March 13, April 17, May 15, September 4, September 
18, and October 23 were posted to DagNews in 1997 on the date of their 
original publication.)
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Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     
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12-18-97


Return to: DagNews 1997

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