Daguerreian Society

Dear DagNews readers,

   I've been fairly quiet recently and will be for a few more weeks. 
The Daguerreian Society web site is moving to its own domain 
( and making that happen is taking a bit of 
work on my part.  Not to worry, though, as DagNews will continue.

During this month of November, in the year 1917, the following article 
appeared in the column "On the Ground-Glass" by Wilfred A French in 
"Photo-Era, The American Journal of Photography" (Boston) pg. 266:
- - - - - - - - -

Repairing a Rare Daguerreotype

   BALDWIN COOLIDGE, the veteran photo-specialist, who has restored 
hundreds of priceless daguerreotypes, told me of an incident that 
illustrates the perversity of human nature.  A gentleman of Cambridge, 
Mr. X., a descendant of a distinguished family, brought him a 
daguerreotype of his mother to be copied -- several years ago.  The 
portrait was made in 1845 by one of the masters of Daguerre's art, and, 
as it had been shown very frequently during a period of seventy years, 
it had acquired a faded look -- a common surface-condition that will 
yield quickly to expert treatment.  Nevertheless, Mr. Coolidge copied 
the picture just as it was and, a few days afterwards, delivered it to 
its owner, together with the negative and ten prints, at the same time 
suggesting that the daguerreotype be cleaned.  The owner declined to 
consider the proposition, though M. Coolidge assured him that the 
process was simple and absolutely safe. likewise inexpensive.  The 
scion of a noble family said merely that he would think the matter 
over.  Thereupon Mr. Coolidge explained that, although he was not eager 
to do the work, it should be entrusted only to a recognized expert.
   Several days afterwards, Mr. Coolidge was called to the telephone, 
some one inquiring if he could restore a daguerreotype that had been 
damaged.  Mr. Coolidge replied that this depended entirely upon the 
nature of the injury, but that in many instances the damage had proved 
to be irreparable.  "Very well, I'll bring it to you," was the final 
remark of the inquirer.  A little later, a young man entered Mr. 
Coolidge's studio.  He was very much disturbed, the apparent cause 
being a daguerreotype-case which he held clutched in his hand.  He 
stated that he conducted a second-hand camera business in Bromfield 
Street and that, several days previously, a gentleman, after purchasing 
a used equipment, had asked him if he could clean a daguerreotype.  As 
the answer was in the affirmative, he left it.
  Continuing, the camera-dealer said:  "I was very busy the next day, 
so I gave it to my assistant, a young chap who occasionally develops 
and prints films for customers, and asked him to clean it, which he 
did."  And with trembling hands he opened the daguerreotype-case, 
displaying a virtually plain silvered surface.  "Is this the 
daguerreotype your assistant said he cleaned?"  Mr. Coolidge asked with 
apprehension, recognizing the case by its distinctive appearance.  "I'm 
sorry it is.  But can't you restore the picture that my assistant seems 
to have cleaned off?"  anxiously asked the visitor.  "No; never!" 
answered Mr. Coolidge sharply.  "The surface of a daguerreotype is more 
delicate than the wing of a butterfly; the slightest touch of the 
finger will cause a blemish that can never be repaired.  If let alone, 
the daguerreotype you destroyed would have lasted several hundred years 
more.  It has gone forever now -- like the soul of a man who has died.  
As for Mr. X. -- he has paid the price of his folly."
   Mr. Coolidge deprecated the habit of certain photographic journals 
of publishing methods to restore injured daguerreotype advising that 
amateurs practise them.  Although these methods are generally 
trustworthy, they should be severely let alone by inexperienced person, 
for the least slip is likely to spell disaster.

I'll mention that an 1912 advertisement by Coolidge can be seen on The 
Daguerreian Society web site at:

I'll also mention that during the recent Daguerreian Society Symposium, 
someone (and I can't recall who!) showed me a daguerreotype with a 
printed back label from Coolidge indicating that the daguerreotype had 
been "restored" by him.
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1998

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