go to HOME


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

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 Gallery." - - - - - - - - MR. PRATT'S GALLERY AT RICHMOND, VA.--COLORING DAGUERREOTYPES. 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. -------------------------------------------------------------- 10-10-99

Return to: DagNews