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

On this day (November 6) in the year 1887, the following article appeared in "The Star" (New York) Vol. 20, No. 6,926 (6 November 1887) page 9: - - - - - - - CAUGHT IN THE CAMERA. SOME OF NEW YORK'S MOST NOTED PHOTOGRAPHERS. How the Art Grew and Has Flourished--Reminiscences of the Past--The Spirit Photograph Swindle and How It Deluded an Old Banker. HERE are more than 300 photograph galleries in this city at the present time," said "Ben" Gurney in the course of a conversation the other day. "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." On the sole basis that people are fond of looking at themselves and having other people look at them, can it be understood how so many cameras are leveled every day in the year? Of course all of these 300 photographers are not amassing fortunes, but the majority of them are coining not a little cash from collodion. There are large and small men in the business. Men who take portraits of milliners and millionaires, of artists and actresses, of pastors and patriarchs, of babies and belles. Their prices vary with their work and the localities of their galleries, but the principle of production is the same, and it is only by study and improvement of the principle that photography has become what it is day.[sic] Photography was introduced in this country about thirty-six years ago. It was the successor of the daguerreotype. As far back as 1839 Daguerre, Professor Morse and I. Gurney experimented on the discovery of Daguerre on the roof of the university building, the "Chrysalis Hall" of Winthrop's Hall" of Winthrop's delicious novel "Cecil Dreesne," where, by the way, Professor Morse also made his first experiments in telegraphy. In the early part of the same year the elder Gurney, who was then a jeweler in Saratoga, met an Englishman named Shaw, from whom he bought a camera in exchange for a watch. He brought this crude affair to New York and started in the daguerreotype in connection with his jewelry business. He opened a jewelry shop at No. 189 Broadway and in his show case put four daguerreotypes. They were small affairs, but he charged $5 each for a portrait. The first day he had one sitter, the second two, and from then on success was assured. Daguerreotypes were the rage, and the public clamored for them as loudly as they do now for first night seats at the debut of a society belle. Associated with Gurney a year or two later was C. D. Fredericks and Daguerre. About this time M. B. Brady was a journeyman in the jewelry case manufacturing house of E. Anthony & Co., who made the cases for Gurney's daguerreotypes. He saw there was money in the new art and started a rival gallery on the corner of Fulton street and Broadway. The elder Bennett became friendly to him; he was extensively noticed in the columns of the Herald, and secured sittings from many of the leading men in the country. since then Brady's gallery became one of the institutions of Washington, and has almost historic interest. Gurney was a close competitor, however, and while Brady was securing the politicians he was doing a splendid business among society people. The daguerreotype is now a thing of the past; the cheap tintype being the only things that now represents it. A man named Talbot was the discoverer of photography and the first paper prints were called Talbotypes. C. D. Fredericks, who was in Paris at the time of the discovery, brought it to this country, and Cutting and Rehn of Boston improved on the patent, which was purchased by Gurney, who gave the name of Chrystalotype. The first photographs were small in size and were called cartes de visite. Benjamin Gurney, who by this time was a partner with his father, suggested enlarging the size of the card. They had just taken a portrait of Admiral Farragut, young "Ben," as he is called by his friends, showed to his father the advisability of making something larger than the carte de visite. The father accepted the proposition, and "Ben" christened the new-sized picture the "Imperial." They were sold for $10 a dozen. Now you can buy them at some galleries for $3. but the "Imperial" was an odd size and did not fit the albums of that date. "Ben" Gurney was not dashed a whit, however, and he ahead 500 special albums made, and to every person who bought a dozen "imperials" he presented an album. "Ben" Gurney, by the way, has been one of the business men in the business. While with his father he made portraits of the Prince of Wales, who sent him a gold medal, the Duke Alexis, King Kalakaua and other notables, and when Lincoln's remains were lying in state at the City Hall he caught the features of the dead President in his camera, but Secretary Stanton sent an order from Washington ordering the destruction of the negatives. One of the curiosities of photography was the spirit photograph craze, which bloomed blossomed and died about twenty years ago. It had many dupes. One of them was a well-knon banker of this city, who was a widower. He had become impressed with the idea of spiritualism, and the Fox sisters, then in the height of their prosperity, claimed him as their own. These spirit photographs were made in a dark room with a magnesium light placed on top of the camera. One of the Fox sisters sat by the side of the subject and after the lens had been focused on the subject the operator was instructed to turn his head away from the group. On one occasion the elder Gurney, who had done much in investigating those spirit photographs, turned his head suddenly, and behold! there was one of the Fox sisters holding above the head of the old banker a cardboard portrait of his dead wife. The secret of spirit photography was discovered, and the banker, who thought he had been seeing the portrait of his dead wife, found that it was all a delusion and a snare. . . .[ three paragraphs not transcribed ] . . . C. D. Fredericks is one of the veterans. He was born in 1823 and at the age of 20 was a clerk in a bank. Then he took lessons in daguerreotyping from Gurney, and being in possession of a camera, he went to Augostura on the Orinoco on a business speculation, soon after which he was induced to devote himself exclusively to daguerreotyping, in which he met with good fortune. Visiting Pernambuco, Rio Janeiro, Rio Grande, and other places during a trip, he was paid for his daguerreotypes by the poorer class in horses, of which he soon became proprietor of a large drove. In 1853 he opened a photographic establishment in Paris, and was the first to make life-size heads, employing artists to finish them in pastel. Returning to New York he entered into partnership with Gurney, which having been subsequently dissolved he has since remained at the head of the establishment. The specialty that Mr. Fredericks makes at present, is the taking of club portraits, and in this he has built up a vast business which has no cessation in prosperity. There is no more persistent "first nighter" at the theater than T. M. Mora. He was born in Cuba thirty-eight years ago, and his photographs of society and theatrical people have brought him into prominent notice. He studied his art in France and then this country, here under Sarony. He occupies the gallery 707 Broadway, once known as Gurney's and, far down town as it is, the business done there is remarkable. Much more might be written of photography I New York, its advancement, its improvement, its prosperity. It is worthy of note that American photographs are now sold in Europe and that almost every mail brings orders for them to this country. GEORGE W. HOWS. The article is illustrated with the following seven small wood- engravings: * a bellows camera * portrait of Benjamin Gurney * portrait of C. D. Fredericks * "A Corner in Sarony's Studio * portrait of Napoleon Sarony * portrait of W. Kurtz * portrait of J. M. Mora -------------------------------------------------------------- 11-06-99

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