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

On this day, (July 28) in the year 1840, John W. Draper (of New York) wrote a letter to the Rev. Sir John C. W. Herschel of England. Accompanying the letter was the well-known daguerreotype portrait of his sister, Miss Dorothy Catherine Draper. The letter reads as follows: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - University of New York July 28, 1840 Sir: Though I have not the honor of your personal acquaintance, I do not hesitate to send to you through the Editor of L. And E., a heliographic portrait taken from the life by the Daguerreotype--the process I have described in a communication to the L. and Edin. Phil. Mag.,(1) which is probably published by this time. We have heard in America that all attempts of the kind had been unsuccessful both in London and Paris, but whether or not it be a novelty with you, allow me to offer it to your acceptance as an acknowledgment of the pleasure with which I have read so many of your philosophical researches. This portrait, which is of one of my sister, was obtained in a sitting of 65 seconds, the light not being very intense and the sky coated with a film of pale white cloud. It is not better in point of execution than those ordinarily obtained. I believe I was the first person here who succeeded in obtaining portraits from the life. This plate will show how the art is progressing--a close examination will at once give satisfaction that no aid whatever of an artificial kind--no touching with the pencil is resorted to, but that the proof remains in the same state as brought out by the mercury. If, sir, you should find time to look at the paper I have alluded to, you will see a reference to a remark of yours in relation to the propriety of using an achromatic lens for the photographic camera. This picture was procured by two double convex non-achromatic lenses set together, each lens being of 16 inches focus and 4 inches aperture--the indistinctness which may be detected in some parts arises mainly from the inevitable motions of the respiratory muscles--a slight play of the features, and the tedium of a forced attitude. Where inanimate objects are depicted the most rigid sharpness can be obtained. John W. Draper (1)(note by Gary W. Ewer: Draper's success in procuring a daguerreotype portrait appears in a brief notice in the June 1840 issue of "The London and Edinburgh Philosophical magazine and Journal of Science" [vol. 16, no. 105]) (Herschel responded to this letter on 6 October 1840. The response will be posted to DagNews on that day. The citation of Draper's letter comes from Robert Taft "Photography and the American Scene" [1938, reprint, NY: Dover, 1964] 29-30) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 07-28-95

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