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

On this day (December 18) in the year 1891, the following article appeared as the eighth (and last) in a series in "The Photographic Times" (New York; pp. 641-2): Although the article indicates that the article is "To be continued," no further installments were printed. This installment also includes, at the end of the text, a wood-engraving portrait and replica signature of W. H. Sherman. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - THE RISE AND FALL OF THE DAGUERREOTYPE. AS SEEN BY A COUNTRY "OPERATOR." VIII. IN the fall of 1848 there were few cameras in use in western New York between the longitude of Rochester and the shore of Lake Erie. Cameras there were, enough of them, but they were mostly set aside where they were out of the way, and their retirement into privacy was acquiesced in by the public not unwillingly. They were out of fashion. Occasionally a picture had strayed hither from the eastern cities which had elicited unfavorable comparisons, and as a consequence of these and of causes closely related thereto the occupation of the country operator hereabouts was gone. It is probably true that up to this time none of the genuine lenses made on the Petzval plan had reached the territory included within the above limits, and, unless my information was at fault, their great superiority over their American imitations was denied by the dealers and principal daguerreotypists of both Rochester and Buffalo. But the forays of pupils from these "art centers" were not always highly encouraging to those who made them. They had chiefly been episodes of failure--short histories of money misspent and time wasted--followed all the same by the chagrin of bitter disappointment. I hoped to find some place to settle in permanently, but hadn't the courage to make the attempt in either of these cities, as yet; and therefore, in order to be better prepared for such an undertaking, both in experience and funds (especially the latter), thought it advisable to continue my wanderings until some future date. With this plan in view I located temporarily at the pleasant village of Springville, Erie County, where we--my wife and I--remained until the following summer. Taking a couple of rooms over a store, one of the, which had a window facing the north, was made to answer the purpose of a reception room, while the window was used to light the sitters; the other room served for a workshop. An old-fashioned box stove, of a kind now unknown, with a voracious appetite for dry wood, heated both apartments in the coldest weather. With these notable facilities, a pretty thorough acquaintance with one of the best processes known, and my little Voigtlander lens, I was able to attract some attention to the products of my labor, and so had, on the whole, what I was willing to call "a real good time" through the winter. We made many pleasant acquaintances among the genial and friendly people whom we have never forgotten, of whom, how may, alas, are not now among the living. But the interest which the people of the village took in the pictures did not spread much outside its limits, and the demands of those who did admire them were pretty soon satisfied, when the business lapsed into such a state of quietude that it began to look as if my patrons had voted me a peremptory vacation, and the vote had been unanimous. Occasionally a new customer would straggle in, but evidently the paying business was over, and so the proper thing to do was to accept the situation since it was unavoidable. Without changing my residence as a citizen, I took my camera and its belongings over to Ellicottville, the county seat of the adjoining county, to see if something could not be done with them among the hills and vales of Cattaraugus. But picturesque as was the scenery which environed them, the people had little use for such pictures as I had to offer. There were very few daguerreotypes in the village, and these as well as others which I would have been happy to furnish were probably looked upon merely as samples of a curious art, and consequently my sitters were anything but numerous. I hope the few pictures which I left there did not make the task of further introducing the like, more difficult. After six or eight weeks of poor success I concluded it best to leave before being stranded. Then we went into Chautauqua County, and in the low state of my funds I chose for a stopping-place the little village of Forestville, where expenses were moderate in keeping with the moderation of my expectations. From my point of view the near future was not dazzlingly radiant. But I had no thought of losing courage; had faith in the good time coming, although there seemed to be no immediate danger of a shock from its too rapid approach. Here is happened that the camera met with a more cordial reception than at the former place, and prospects began to brighten a little. At this time there was an operator at Fredonia, a few miles distant, by the name of Kellogg, who came out with a dashing advertisement in the local paper, headed with "DAGUERREOTYPES BY THE LONDON PROCESS." As this paper was read in Forestville, and no paper being published in the latter village, this thing looked very like a glove, and I picked it up. Decidedly it would not do for my customers or "might-be" customers to imagine they had been or might be defrauded by accepting the products of an inferior process, when by just driving a few miles on a pleasant road they could have the genuine article with the London style thrown in; and so, next week, there appeared in the same paper another advertisement beginning with "DAGUERREOTYPES BY THE AMERICAN PROCESS," which, I need not say, was intended as a counter irritant to the hit made by my shrewd and redoubtable rival. Sometime afterwards I went over to see him and found him holding forth in the front parlor, on the ground floor of the principal hotel, making his sittings at the large front window looking right upon the street. Half a dozen steps from the sidewalk and one was in his studio, where he welcomed his customers with affability and served them with dispatch. The back part of his studio was curtained off, whether only for a dark-room or whether he had an assistant there I did not learn. There he was with a quarter size (3 1/4 x 4 1/4) outfit, including a Voightlander lens, which he appeared to handle very skillfully, and with which he was probably making money. His manner of bringing himself into close relations with the general public was greatly in advance of anything I had ever witnessed, but I felt no inclination to imitate the example. It was his way and he seemed to be flourishing in it. I preferred to be up one flight of stairs. Those first quarter lenses of the Petzval pattern were famous for their wonderful sharpness of definition, and any daguerreotypist who was fortunate enough to possess one had good reason for prizing it. The superiority of its performance over that of anything that had preceded it was remarkable, and sitters were greatly pleased with the improvement. Now, that a single achromatic lens costing about as much as a pair of spectacles may by stopped down to a small fraction of its diameter, and be made to give a sharply defined image over a considerable field, with a snap-shot or a second's exposure, it is curious to remember the important figure cut by those little objectives which so successfully solved the problem of combining great illumination with perfection of definition over the surface of a quarter plate. In fact they were the making of many of the old daguerreotypists. I do not believe Kellogg could have paid his expenses in his elegant quarters (elegant for that time) with any of the ordinary lenses then in use. The samples of his skill which he delivered to his customers, so superior to what they were accustomed to see, gave a new impetus to the art in that place which never again died out. This was the fall of '49, the beginning of the second decade of photography. The ten years that had passed since the daguerreotype was first made known to the world had not been very fruitful to the country operator. My old friend, if now living, as I hope he is, will, I think, agree with me that up to this time, a village of two, three or four thousand inhabitants, would, on an average, afford paying business for only about the same number of months, when it would be time to move; and that between moving and halting, the end of the year found our migratory bird in about the same condition as in the beginning. He was fortunate if he found a surplus to his credit, however small, which he did not know what to do with. But his work had not been in vain. Along the by-ways where he had passed he had sown seed which had not fallen where "the fowls came and devoured it up." Many a little silvered copper plate bearing the image which his art had impressed upon it could not now be bought with thrice its weight in gold. The desire for them was fast spreading among all classes; and the time was near when it would be almost universal. (To be continued.) (Again, although the article indicates that the article is "To be continued," no further installments were printed. Previous installments appeared on Jan 20, March 13, April 17, May 15, September 4, September 18, and October 23 were posted to DagNews in 1997 on the date of their original publication.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 12-18-97

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