Daguerreotype: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

L’Atelier de l'artiste. An 1837 daguerreotype by Daguerre.
The solar eclipse of July 28, 1851 was the first correctly exposed photograph of a solar eclipse, using the daguerreotype process.

A daguerreotype (original French: daguerréotype) is an early type of photograph, developed by Jacques Daguerre, in which the image is exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface of silver bearing a coating of silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor. In later developments bromine and chlorine vapors were also used, resulting in shorter exposure times. The daguerreotype is a negative image, but the mirrored surface of the metal plate reflects the image and makes it appear positive when the silvered surface has a dark ground reflected into it. Thus, daguerreotype is a direct photographic process without the capacity for duplication.

The daguerreotype was the first publicly announced photographic process and while there were competing processes at the time, the accepted scientific etiquette of the time was that discovery was attributed to first published. All of the initial photographic processes required long periods for successful exposure and proved difficult for portraiture. The daguerreotype did become the first commercially viable photographic process in that it was the first to permanently record and fix an image with exposure time compatible with portrait photography, but this was after extra sensitising agents (bromine and chlorine) were added to Daguerre's original process.



Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838, by Daguerre. The first picture of a person. The image shows a busy street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is the man at the bottom left, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show.

Artists and inventors, since the late Renaissance, had been looking for a mechanical method of capturing visual scenes.[1] Previously, using camera obscura, artists would manually trace what they saw.

Previous discoveries of photosensitive methods and substances—including silver nitrate by Albertus Magnus in the 1200s,[2] a silver and chalk mixture by Johann Heinrich Schulze in 1724, and Nicéphore Niépce’s bitumen-based heliography[1] in 1822[3]—contributed to development of the daguerreotype. In 1829 French artist and chemist Louis J.M. Daguerre, contributing a cutting edge camera design, partnered with Niépce, a leader in photochemistry, to further develop their technologies.[1]

After Niépce’s 1833 death, Daguerre continued to research the chemistry and mechanics of recording images by coating copper plates with iodized silver.[1] in 1835 Daguerre discovered—after accidentally breaking a mercury thermometer—a method of developing images that had been exposed for 20–30 minutes.[1] Further refinement of his process would allow him to fix the image—preventing further darkening of the silver—using a strong solution of common salts. The 1837 still life of plaster casts, a wicker-covered bottle, a framed drawing and a curtain—titled L’Atelier de l'artiste—was his first daguerreotype to successfully undergo the full process of exposure, development and fixation.[1]

The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerreotype process on January 9, 1839. Later that year William Fox Talbot’s announced his calotype. Together, these inventions mark 1839 as the year photography was invented.[4]

Instead of Daguerre obtaining a French patent, the French government provided a pension for him.[5] In Britain, Miles Berry, acting on Daguerre's behalf, obtained a patent for the daguerreotype process on August 14, 1839. Almost simultaneously, on August 19, 1839, the French government announced the invention as a gift “Free to the World.”

Daguerreotype process

One of the first images ever taken of Abraham Lincoln was a daguerreotype of him as a Congressman taken by Mathew B. Brady in 1846.
The best-known image of Edgar Allan Poe was a daguerreotype taken in 1848 by W.S. Hartshorn, shortly before Poe's death.

The daguerreotype, along with the Tintype, is a photographic image allowing no direct transfer of the image onto another light-sensitive medium, as opposed to glass plate or paper negatives. Preparation of the plate prior to image exposure resulted in the formation of a layer of photo-sensitive silver halide, and exposure to a scene or image through a focusing lens formed a latent image. The latent image was made visible, or "developed", by placing the exposed plate over a slightly heated (about 30°C / 90°F) cup of mercury. Daguerre was first to discover and publish (in the publication of the process and the English patent of 1839) the principle of latent image development.

The mercury vapour condensed on those places on the plate where the exposure light was most intense (highlights), and less so in darker areas of the image (shadows). This produced a picture in an amalgam, the mercury washing the silver out of the halides, solubilizing and amalgamating it into free silver particles which adhered to the exposed areas of the plate, leaving the unexposed silver halide ready to be removed by the fixing process. This resulted in the final unfixed image on the plate, which consisted of light and dark areas of grey amalgam on the plate. The developing box was constructed to allow inspection of the image through a yellow glass window to allow the photographer to determine when to stop development.

The next operation was to "fix" the photographic image permanently on the plate by dipping in a solution of hyposulphite of soda, often known as "fixer" or "hypo", to dissolve the unexposed halides. Initially Daguerre's solution to this step was to use a saturated salt solution but later adopted Hershel's suggestion of Sodium thiosulphate, as did WHF Talbot.

The image produced by this method is extremely fragile and susceptible to damage when handled. Practically all daguerreotypes are protected from accidental damage by a glass-fronted enclosure. It was discovered by experiment that treating the plate with heated gold chloride both tones and strengthens the image, although it remains quite delicate and requires a well-sealed enclosure to protect against touch as well as oxidation of the fine silver deposits forming the blacks in the image. The best-preserved daguerreotypes dating from the nineteenth century are sealed in robust glass cases evacuated of air and filled with a chemically inert gas, typically nitrogen.


André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri[6] and Jules Itier[7] in France, and Johann Baptist Isenring[8] in Switzerland, became prominent daguerreotypists. In the United Kingdom, however, Richard Beard bought the British daguerreotype patent from Miles Berry in 1841 and closely controlled his investment, selling licenses throughout the country and prosecuting infringers.[9] Among others, Antoine Claudet[10] and Thomas Richard Williams[11] produced daguerreotypes in the U.K.

Advertisement for a travelling Daguerreotype photographer, with location left blank

Daguerreotype photography spread rapidly across the United States. In the early 1840s, the invention was introduced in a period of months to practitioners in the United States by Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph code. One of these original Morse Daguerreotype cameras is currently on display at the National Museum of American History, a branch of the Smithsonian, in Washington, DC.[4] A flourishing market in portraiture sprang up, predominantly the work of itinerant practitioners who traveled from town to town. For the first time in history, people could obtain an exact likeness of themselves or their loved ones for a modest cost, making portrait photographs extremely popular with those of modest means. Notable U.S. daguerreotypists of the mid-1800s included James Presley Ball[12], Samuel Bemis[13], Abraham Bogardus[13], Mathew Brady[14], Thomas Martin Easterly[15], Jeremiah Gurney[16], John Plumbe, Jr.[17], Albert Southworth[18], Augustus Washington[19], Ezra Greenleaf Weld[20], and John Adams Whipple[13].

Ichiki Shirō's 1857 daguerreotype of Shimazu Nariakira, the earliest surviving Japanese photograph

This method spread to other parts of the world as well. In 1857, Ichiki Shirō created the first known Japanese photograph, a portrait of his daimyo Shimazu Nariakira. This photograph was designated an Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan.

The daguerreotype is commonly, erroneously, believed to have been the dominant photographic process into the late part of the 19th century in Europe. Evidence from the period proves it was only in widespread use for approximately a decade before being superseded by other processes:

  • The calotype, introduced in 1841; a negative-positive process using a paper negative.
  • The collodion wet plate process, introduced in 1851; a negative-positive process using silver salt impregnated collodion poured from a bottle onto a glass plate.

The collodion wet plate process was used to produce ambrotypes on glass and tintypes or ferrotypes on a coated iron plate.

  • The ambrotype, introduced in 1854; a positive-appearing negative image on glass with a black paper backing.
  • The tintype or ferrotype, introduced in 1856; a positive-appearing negative image on an opaque metal plate.


The intricate, complex, labor-intensive daguerreotype process itself helped contribute to the rapid move to the ambrotype and tintype. The proliferation of these simpler and much less expensive photographic processes made the very expensive daguerreotypes less appealing to the average person (although it remained very popular in astronomical observatories until the invention of glass plate cameras). According to Mace (1999), the rigidity of these images stems more from the seriousness of the activity than a long exposure time, which he says was actually only a few seconds (Early Photographs, p. 21). The daguerreotype's lack of a negative image from which multiple positive "prints" could be made was a limitation also shared by the tintype and was not a factor in the daguerreotype's demise until the introduction of the calotype. The fact that many of those to use the process suffered severe health problems or even death from mercury poisoning after inhaling the toxic vapors that were created during the heating process also contributed to its falling out of favor with photographers.[21] Unlike film and paper photography however, a properly sealed daguerreotype can potentially last indefinitely.

Six daguerreotypes show a view of San Francisco, California in 1853.

In May 2007, an anonymous buyer paid 576,000 euros (~775,000 USD) for an original 1839 camera made by Susse Frères (Susse brothers), Paris, at an auction in Vienna, Austria, making it the world's oldest and most expensive commercial photographic apparatus.[22]

The daguerreotype's popularity was not threatened until photography was used to make imitation daguerreotypes on glass positives called ambrotypes, meaning "imperishable picture" (Newhall, 107).[13]

Value in the marketplace

Some daguerreotypes which have maker's marks, such as those by Southworth & Hawes of Boston, or George S. Cook of Charleston, South Carolina, Gurney, Pratt and others, are considered masterpieces in the art of photography. A daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe was featured on the PBS show Antiques Roadshow and appraised at US $30,000 to $50,000.

Modern daguerreotypy

Daguerreotypy continues to be practiced by enthusiastic photographers to this day, although in much smaller numbers; there are thought to be fewer than 100 worldwide (see list of artists on cdags.org in links below). In recent years artists like Jerry Spagnoli, Adam Fuss, and Chuck Close have re-introduced the medium to the broader art world. Its appeal lies in the "magic mirror" effect of light reflected from the polished silver plate through the perfectly sharp silver image and in the sense of achievement derived from the dedication and hand-crafting required to make a daguerreotype.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Stokstad, Marilyn; David Cateforis, Stephen Addiss (2005). Art History (Second ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education. pp. 964–967. ISBN 0-13-145527-3.  
  2. ^ Szabadváry, Ferenc (1992). History of analytical chemistry. Taylor & Francis. pp. 17. ISBN 2881245692. http://books.google.com/books?id=53APqy0KDaQC.  
  3. ^ "The First Photograph - Heliography". http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/wfp/heliography.html. Retrieved 2009-09-29. "from Helmut Gernsheim's article, "The 150th Anniversary of Photography," in History of Photography, Vol. I, No. 1, January 1977: ... In 1822, Niépce coated a glass plate ... The sunlight passing through ... This first permanent example ... was destroyed ... some years later."  
  4. ^ a b "A Daguerreotype of Daguerre". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. http://historywired.si.edu/object.cfm?ID=458. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  5. ^ Articles on the history of the daguerreotype at www.midley.co.uk/
  6. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  7. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Jules Itier. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  8. ^ Henisch, Heinz K. The painted photograph. Magazine Antiques, October 1998. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  9. ^ Wood, R. Derek. "The Daguerreotype in England: Some Primary Material Relating to Beard's Lawsuits." History of Photography, October 1979, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 305–9.
  10. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Antoine Claudet. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  11. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Thomas Richard Williams. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  12. ^ Cincinnati Historical Society Library. J. P. Ball, African American Photographer. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  13. ^ a b c d Newhall, Beaumont. The daguerreotype in America. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Dover Publications, 1976. ISBN 0486233227
  14. ^ Leggat, Robert. A History of Photography from its Beginnings till the 1920s. Brady, Mathew. 1999. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  15. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Thomas Martin Easterly. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  16. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Jeremiah Gurney. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  17. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. John Plumbe, Jr. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  18. ^ Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes. Biographies. Albert S. Southworth. International Center of Photography and George Eastman House, 2005-2006. Retrieved on 2009-08-09.
  19. ^ National Portrait Gallery. A Durable Memento. Portraits by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  20. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Ezra Greenleaf Weld. Retrieved on 2009-08-08.
  21. ^ "Unlocking the Secrets in Old Photographs, Pg. 126". 1991. http://books.google.com/books?id=Tdk4eVF0nbIC&pg=PA126&dq=mercury+poisoning+from+daguerreotypes. Retrieved 2009-06-29.  
  22. ^ "LOT 2 - Le Daguerréotype Susse Frères". WestLicht Auction. May 2007. http://www.westlicht-auction.com/index.php?id=76799&acat=76799&lang=3. Retrieved 2007-08-30.  . A slightly different value is given by AFP: "Oldest/Most Expensive Camera". Media Speak, Inc.. 2007-05-28. http://www.pixnoir.com/2007/05/oldestmost_expensive_camera.php. Retrieved 2007-08-30.  

Further reading

  • Gernsheim, Helmut, and Alison Gernsheim. L.J.M. Daguerre: the history of the diorama and the daguerreotype. New York: Dover Publications, 1968. ISBN 048622290X
  • Rudisill, Richard. Mirror image: the influence of the daguerreotype on American society. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971.
  • Coe, Brian. The birth of photography: the story of the formative years, 1800-1900. London: Ash & Grant, 1976. ISBN 0904069060
  • Sobieszek, Robert A, Odette M Appel-Heyne, and Charles R Moore. The spirit of fact: the daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes, 1843-1862. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1976. ISBN 0879231793
  • Pfister, Harold Francis. Facing the light: historic American portrait daguerreotypes : an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, September 22, 1978-January 15, 1979. Washington, DC: Published for the National Portrait Gallery by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1978.
  • Richter, Stefan. The art of the daguerreotype. London: Viking, 1989. ISBN 067082688X
  • Barger, M Susan, and William B White. The daguerreotype: nineteenth-century technology and modern science. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. ISBN 0874743486
  • Wood, John. America and the daguerreotype. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. ISBN 0877453349
  • Wood, John. The scenic daguerreotype: Romanticism and early photography. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995. ISBN 0877455112
  • Lowry, Bates, and Isabel Lowry. The silver canvas: daguerreotype masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: The Museum, 1998. ISBN 0892363681
  • Davis, Keith F, Jane Lee Aspinwall, and Marc F Wilson. The origins of American photography: from daguerreotype to dry-plate, 1839-1885. Kansas City, MO: Hall Family Foundation, 2007. ISBN 9780300122862

External links


Simple English

A Daguerreotype is a method of creating photographs that is no longer in general use. A man called Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre invented the daguerreotype process in France in 1839.

The new type of photography became very popular very quickly as it was capable of capturing a "truthful likeness." By 1850, there were over seventy daguerreotype studios in New York alone.

However the popularity of the daguerreotype was short lived as other cheaper processes were invented. By the late 1850s faster and less expensive processes such as the ambrotype, became available. A drawback of the Daguerreotype was that there was no negative from which to produce lots of images. Each picture was therefore unique, the only way to get a copy was to rephotograph the image.

Error creating thumbnail: sh: convert: command not found
Wikimedia Commons has images, video, and/or sound related to:


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address