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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

Today's DagNews is one of the two earliest notices of the daguerreotype in US press of which I am aware. This notice appeared in the "Boston Mercantile Journal" which was a semi-weekly publication. I've taken this article from the Vol. 14, No. 441 issue, dated February 26, 1839, but the article itself falls under the banner: "Boston: Saturday, Feb. 23." The article contains obvious errors in the details of Daguerre's discovery. (The other of the two earliest notices comes from the "Boston Daily Advertiser," of 23 February 1839, and was posted as last year's DagNews for February 23.) On this day (February 23) in the year 1839, the following article appeared in the "Boston Mercantile Journal" (Vol. IV, No. 441) under the header: "Boston: Saturday, Feb. 23": - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - EXTRAORDINARY CHEMICAL AND OPTICAL DISCOVERY. We find in one of the English papers received by the latest arrivals from Europe, an account of one of the most remarkable discoveries, which has been made during the present age. The account is contained in the Paris Constitutionnel. The discovery was communicated to the Academy of Sciences by M. Arago--and the author of it is M. Daguerre, who has already acquired great celebrity by his wonderful Diorama. It is well known that certain chemical substances, such as chlorate of silver, have the property of changing their color by the mere contact of light; and it is by a combination of this nature that M. Daguerre has succeeded in fixing upon paper prepared with it, the rays that are directed on the table of the camera obscura, and rendering the optical tableau permanent. The exact representation of whatever objects this instrument is directed to, as every body is aware, is thrown down with vivid colors, upon the white prepared to receive them, and the rays of light that are thus reflected have the power of acting in the way above alluded on chlorate of silver, or certain preparations of it. In this manner an exact representation of light and shade of whatever object may be wished to be viewed, is obtained with the precise accuracy of nature herself, and it is stated to have all the softness of a fine aquatint engraving--these pictures, however, do not produce color, but only outline, the lights and shadows of the model. They are not paintings, they are drawings; but drawings pushed to a degree of perfection which art can never reach. The editor of the Constitutionnel has been permitted to examine some of these curious specimens of art, where nature has delineated herself--which he describes with enthusiasm, in the following language: "At every picture placed before our eyes, we were in admiration. What perfection of outline--what effects of chiaro scura--what delicacy--what finish! But how can we be assured that this is not the work of a clever draughtsman? As a sufficient answer, M. Daguerre puts a magnifying glass in our hand. We then see the minutest folds of drapery, the lines of a landscape, invisible to the naked eye. In the mass of buildings, accessories of all kinds, imperceptible accidents, of which the view of Paris from the Pont des Arts, is composed, we distinguish the smallest details, we count the stones of the pavement, we see the moisture produced by rain, we read the sign of a shop. Every thread of the luminous tissue has passed from the object to the surface retaining it. The impression of the image takes place with greater or less rapidity, according to the intensity of the light; it is produced quicker at noon than in the morning or evening, in a summer than in a winter. M. Daguerre has hitherto made his exptimes employed in the reception room to receive ladies--occasionally, in the operating room. They receive from $3 to $8, according to capacity and address. Men generally command better prices, because they can sometimes perform labor out of a woman's sphere, such as unpacking goods, carrying packages, and other jobs, not suitable for women. I think the business as healthy as any indoor business. It requires from six to twelve months to learn the duties of the operating room; for the reception room, from one to three weeks. Industry, patience, perseverance, shrewdness, and suavity of manners, are the necessary qualifications. Prospect for employment poor, as prices are reduced to almost nothing. All seasons are nearly alike. November and June are dull. Our women work in summer from seven A. M. to six P. M. The work averages about eight hours per day the year through. Men are superior in patience(?) and force of character. Women are easily discouraged, and liable to be petulant. In many instances, there is much running up and down stairs, which is harder on women than men. And there is too much standing for a woman's health." A few notes by Steve Knoblock: "The Employments of Women" was published in 1863 and is one of the earliest women's employment guides to offer hints to prospective lady daguerreans. It is interesting to note the editorial question mark added by the compiler, a women, to the male daguerrean's statement that "Men are superior in patience(?) ..." By the 1860s, almost any type of photographer was referred to as a "Daguerrean." (The spelling preferred by photography historians is "Daguerreian"). Most of those so-called by this late a date probably never made a daguerreotype, but were most likely producing ambrotypes or tintypes (in the case of the itinerant photographer). Most would be operating carte galleries by this time or resigned from the business of photography. The male contributor sounds like a disgruntled daguerreotypist bemoaning the carte de visite for prices that "are reduced to almost nothing." Virginia Penny's descriptions of the itenerient daguerreian and the position in society of the women photographer are valuable historic records, although she probably would not have given much thought to them as such. Her observations ascribed to daguerreans probably applies to the daguerreotype or ambrotype trade as well, which was still being engaged in by a few photographers at the time of writing. -------------------------------------------------------------- 07-28-98

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