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

Two items for today, both related to the eventual "two partners in Boston." On this day (November 28) in the year 1840, Albert Sands Southworth wrote his sister Nancy regarding his entry into the business of daguerreotypy: - - - - - - - Cabotville, Nov. 28, 1840 Dear Sister -- I am about going into company with two first-rate mechanics. Mr. Pennell and myself think there is no other way for us to get along. We shall probably leave Cabotville soon and go to Boston and Lowell. Perhaps we shall need the assistance of two or three females in our business. And if we should and should go to Boston, I want you to come there for a while. The labor is very light and neat. You could do nothing easier. It is a healthy business and Boston air is what you need. But more of this hereafter. Albert (Cited from typed transcript of a manuscript that I believe (but am not, unfortunately, now entirely sure) to be in the collection of Matthew R. Isenburg.) * * * * * * * * From an illustrated article in the November 1934 issue of "Within the Compass of a Print Shop" (Boston, Holman's Print Shop, 1934). JOSIAH JOHNSON HAWES DAGUERREOTYPER NO. 5 1/2 TREMONT ROW, BOSTON IT IS unlikely that there is in existence another collection of daguerreotype portraits as fine technically and as important for their subjects as that which will be on exhibition and sale during November, within the compass of our print shop. Many a collector of Americana is familiar with the legend under engraved or lithographed portraits of figures of the middle of the last century which reads "From a daguerreotype by Southworth and Hawes." Daguerreotypes that have been perfectly preserved are rare, though not valuable, large ones are rare, but "full plate" (6 1/2" x 8 1/2") daguerreotypes in good condition, of famous people, are decidedly important items both historically and from the collection point of view. The maker of those on exhibition, Josiah Johnson Hawes, when he died in 1901 was the oldest photographer in the United States, if not in the world. He was born in East Sudbury, now Wayland, Massachusetts, in 1808, where he grew up on a farm. As a young man he came to Boston, where a natural aptitude for things mechanical and scientific drew him to such reading and study in these directions as the city afforded. In 1831 he and a friend, Paul Dodge, began a series of lectures on electricity with experiments which they delivered all over New England. His interests gradually changed and he took up the study of drawing and painting with the idea of taking up portrait painting professionally. This he achieved, his work in oils having considerable power as evidenced by the self-portrait lent by the Hawes family to supplement the exhibition of his daguerreotypes. The flat lighting of faces so common to daguerreotype portraits, made by men without Hawes' peculiar advantages, is rarely met with in this master photographer's work. The importance of the period before 1841, when he made his living painting miniatures and full size portraits, can hardly be minimized in relation to the daguerreotypes. Quoting some autobiographical notes: "About this time the excitement of the discovery of the daguerreotype took place and some specimens of it that I saw [presumably brought here by Gouraud, Daguerre's personal agent] changed my course entirely. I gave up painting and commenced daguerreotyping in 1841. My partner, the late Albert Southworth, and myself carried on the business in Boston for the next twenty years, and had the reputation of making as fine daguerreotypes as were ever made by anybody. Some were large ones, probably the largest ever made. . . .As I was the first in the business, I had the whole field before me." The Southworth and Hawes studio at 5 1/2 (later 19) Tremont Row, then a very desirable location, was the first one built in this country with a skylight. To it came the prominent Bostonians of a time when local and national prominence were nearly the same thing, to pay on the average fifteen dollars for a single daguerreotype. Important visitors to the city made a point of visiting what soon became one of the two or three leading daguerreotype firms in the country. Many developments in photography took place in the third story studio overlooking Scollay Square, both during the daguerreotype period and later. One is certainly of sufficient interest to quote: "The somewhat celebrated combination of lenses called the Dallmeyer lens, I made and used fifteen years before it was known under its present name. It was used for copying Allston's sketches on copper plates sufficiently silvered. These plates were then engraved by John Cheney, following the lines of the daguerreotype." The swing-back camera and the reflecting stereoscope were invented here and improvements in lenses were discussed with a friend, Alvan Clark, the famous telescope maker. The portrait of Mr. Hawes which we have used as a frontispiece, taken in his old age, suggests the vigor with which he carried on his business to the time of his death at the age of ninety-four. After wet-plate photography, with its possibilities of limitless duplication, drove daguerreotyping from the field, the stream of important visitors to 19 Tremont Row continued for many years, but we doubt that with his artist's eye for a portrait J. J. Hawes ever got the satisfaction from any of the modern processes which he and others got from his daguerreotypes. Late in life he reverted to his early love and again produced some beautiful examples of the art. Webster, Sumner, Choate, Prescott, Garrison, Jenny Lind, Horace Mann, Francis Parkman and Lyman Beecher are a few who sat before his daguerreotype camera. One of the best likenesses of Webster in existence was taken as he was on his way to Bowdoin Square to deliver his famous Fugitive Slave Law address. William Ellery Channing posed just before his death in 1842. Rufus Choate, whose office was in the next building, hesitated to leave his clients even for the necessary fifteen minutes, but he finally came. Jenny Lind and Otto Goldschmidt were taken just a few before days before their wedding. One at least of the very few portraits of Donald McKay, the Canadian-born shipbuilder who became the pride of Boston and the United States stems from daguerreotypes by Hawes which are included in the current exhibition. If a present day photographer could have the same proportion of the important men of the time as his patrons, what could he not charge for his work? In fact, what would he not charge? Certainly not fifteen dollars. -------------------------------------------------------------- 11-28-97

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