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

On this day (October 23) in the year 1891, the following article appeared as the sixth in a series in "The Photographic Times" (New York; pp. 525-6): - - - - - - - - - - - - - - THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DAGUERREOTYPE. AS SEEN BY A COUNTRY "OPERATOR." VII. WITH the notion that daguerreotyping might be made profitable for a short season in a country village where no cameras had ever before been seen, I chose such a locality for the scene of my first experiment in money-making with that instrument. By chance in the place to which I went lived a young man who also thought of trying his fortune in the same pursuit, and it was arranged that my board and lodging at his home should be the compensation for his tuition. A studio or workshop, for which a single room of moderate dimensions sufficed, being made ready, a few notices posted in conspicuous places-no newspaper being printed then-we waited the appearance of our first sitter. A lady came; and a sitting was made. After the customary inspection of the developed image some change was thought advisable, whether in time of exposure or position, it matters not; everything was progressing in due form until a satisfactory impression was secured. But at this point an unexpected interruption took place. Not another step would the thing budge. The hypo positively refused to dissolve the bromo-iodide from the plate. What could be the matter? This was something not in the bill. I had brought with me an original package of hyposulphite, to wit: a 1-pound bottle, sealed and labeled, for which I paid the sum of 63 cents; and now it wouldn't fix the picture at any price or at any strength (I was ignorant of the fact that the plate could be fixed with common salt). Something must be done at once. I proposed to have some genuine hypo before I slept. It was ten miles to Rome, the nearest city-time, 2.30 P.M., of a hot day in July. The daily mail-stage, the only public wheeled-communication with the outside world, had passed early in the day, and so I started on foot; but when I reached the supposed end of my outward-bound trip, not an ounce of the required salt could be found or heard of as likely to be found, inside the city limits. I was then twelve miles from Clinton, and as it was certain that the needed commodity would be found at the professor's laboratory, if nowhere else, I thitherward bent my course, arriving at the village as the shades of night were falling fast. But I did not climb the long hill whereon, "beautiful for situation," the stone edifices stood, in one of which I expected to find the object of my tramp. Why should I? The room, where the skeleton hung from the stove-pipe as a warning against the incautious use of poisons, would not be opened until next day. Besides, there was a choir meeting for rehearsal that evening in the "old stone church" in the village, as I well knew. I was acquainted with the singers, especially one of the girls, who, I was conceited enough to think, would be agreeably surprised to find me waiting in the vestibule. With permission I walked home with her after the rehearsal. That was long ago. She is still living, I am happy to say, and it was no longer ago than last Thanksgiving Day that I was at a family reunion where she, with her children and childrens' children, was present. Such reunions are too few in life and they end all too soon. But this is digressing. The next day having, as expected, found what I came for, I returned by the same route and the same mode of conveyance-this time the bearer of the dearest pound of hypo ever used in photography, (if any one ever paid a higher price for a like quantity, I never heard of it). But several weeks spent in this quiet village produced no improvement in the state of my recourses. There was no money in the business in that field as far as I could see, so I moved to another small village where there were factories, in which a large number of young people of both sexes were employed. I thought that surely here would be a good demand for likenesses which were supposed to be within the reach of all. But several weeks spent in this locality proved that expenses were about equal to profits, and it appeared useless to remain longer. At this time such cities as Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Rochester, and Buffalo were supplied with daguerreotypists, and I felt no inclination to contest their prerogatives. At Utica, for example, there were Davie, Clark, Dunning, and it did not seem that more were needed. My theory about small villages was evidently incorrect. The common people, as a class, then cared but little for pictures, and photographers of the present can have but a faint idea what it was to do missionary work in country villages in those early days. Every one, almost without exception, passed through the same kind of experience in attempting to introduce photography for the first time even in villages of considerable size. This I learned in places where I afterward visited. The ground had to be first broken before it was worth cultivating. The village of Clinton had been visited by several traveling operators. There were a college, a female seminary, academy, and a liberal institute in the place, and I determined to go back where I had learned the art and try my luck once more for the traditional third time. In this ancient seat of learning, with its numerous schools and its large proportion of cultured people, I hoped to meet with better success than I had encountered in communities chiefly composed of working people. Accordingly, I returned to Clinton about the time the schools reopened after the summer vacation and soon found plenty of work to do. Here I remained about ten months, and, at the end of this time, after paying debts and taking up my note for money borrowed to pay for my outfit, I found myself in possession of some stock, a little capital in ready money, and a much larger one in hope. I had found that I could pay my way in the world, and was content to face the future with whatever struggles it might have in store. When I left Clinton, on the 27th of June, 1848, the woman I loved went with me, and has ever since shared my lot whether for better or worse. Her former name was Cornelia Rawson, daughter of Professor Pelatiah Rawson, still well remembered by many who once enjoyed his instructions. Leaving Clinton, we went by way of Oswego, Lake Ontario, and Lewiston to Niagara Falls, where the old Table Rock still stood or hung on the Canada side, and little did we dream that it was only waiting to fall, or we should not have ventured under it. From Buffalo we went by steamboat to Sandusky, Ohio, and to where my parents lived, near Milan. At the latter place there was then living a young man who has since made and caused to be made a great many marks in the world. His name was Thomas A. Edison, and, if my memory of dates is correct, he was then about one year old. I visited Norwalk and Monroeville, but did not think best to use my camera in that part of the country. After about two months I returned to New York State. W. H Sherman. (To be continued.) (Previous installments appeared on Jan 20, March 13, April 17, May 15, September 4, and September 18 and were posted to DagNews in 1997 on the date of their original publication. The eighth and last installment will appear on December 18.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 10-23-97

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