Daguerreian Society

On this day (October 10) in the year 1851, William Pratt submitted the 
following letter to "The Photographic Art-Journal" (New York) Vol. 2, 
No. 4 (October 1851) pp. 235-236.  The article is accompanied by a wood 
engraving of the exterior of Pratt's "Virginia Sky-Light Daguerrean 
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                                 RICHMOND, October 10th, 1851
   MR. H. H. SNELLING:--Dear Sir:--
I at length have found a few moments to devote to you, and I assure you 
that it is at the earliest period, as you may be sure the cares of so 
extensive an establishment as ours, after three months absence, 
preclude the possibility of giving much time to any other purpose.
   You already have published a description of the interior of our 
establishment, and I will now give the best I can of its outside, but 
the illustration itself affords almost all that could be desired.  The 
object was to obtain as much beauty as possible, consistent with 
utility, and to make the alterations without disturbing the original 
building more than I could avoid.  The immense bay window which forms 
the principal ornament in front, is eight feet wide by about 16 feet in 
height, and in combination with the gothic screen work above, also 
filled with glass, forms our operating light, which is about thirty 
feet from the floor of the room and runs back about ten feet.  This 
window projects two feet into the street, and forms a conspicuous 
object in connection with the parapet above from nearly every part of 
the city.  The entire front has been remodelled and painted so as to 
present the hall-like appearance which the illustration portrays, and 
as it forms the centre of the finest row of buildings in Richmond, we 
think that we have obtained the objects most to be desired in a 
Daguerrean establishment, viz.:  Publicity, an immense northern window 
in combination with a sky-light, a fine operating room in the third-
story, surrounded with the necessary offices for cleaning, buffing, 
&c., and a show room, which in all my travels I have not yet seen 
surpassed except in point of size.
   I would take the opportunity here to mention that no attention has 
been paid to either convenience or beauty of arrangement in the 
European galleries.  I visited nearly all in England and in Paris, and 
found them, generally speaking, below mediocrity.  Their pictures, too, 
were so inferior to those of American, with two exceptions, (Thomson 
and Mayall, both formerly of Philadelphia,) as to occasion no surprise 
at the great want of popularity of the daguerreotype in England.  Their 
great object seems to be to disguise it by colors, varnished, &c, and 
to produce instead an inferior specimen of miniature painting;  true, 
some of the French have, by the exquisite pencil of their finest 
artists, produced pictures which both astonish and delight, but these 
alas! are, from their very nature, (viz.: being worked up with gum 
colors,) liable to turn of a rusty hue, which destroys their beauty, 
and leaves them with the aspect of a faded engraving after being 
exposed in a shop window.  Mr. Beard claims to have discovered a method 
by which these difficulties are obviated, but unless I am much 
deceived, it is the same as that practised by me, and of which I have 
specimens four years old.  For the information of your readers will 
detail it.
   After your picture is gilded and dry, pour over it quickly and 
steadily, a thin solution of bright copal varnish, and let it drain off 
either in the sun or before a gentle fire--a stove is best;  when 
perfectly hard, which it will be in the course of a day, color it as 
usual with dry colors.  An exposure to the gentle heat of a spirit lamp 
will cause them to sink in and become permanent, thus giving all the 
effect of enamel.  After this is completed you may coat it over with 
varnish, until you get sufficient to rub down, and you will obtain an 
imperishable enamelled daguerreotype.
   This has probably been tried by more than one besides Mr. Beard, and 
only proves that "there is nothing new under the sun," in coloring 
daguerreotypes, at least, for where such a host of operators are 
engaged, the probability is, that nearly everything has been attempted 
of this kind that afforded any chance of success.
              Very respectfully yours,
                         WILLIAM A. PRATT.

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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