Montgomery Pike Simons

 The following is a brief history of the activities of Montgomery Pike Simons (ca. 1817-1877) during his sojourn in Richmond, Virginia as reported in articles and advertisements published in The Richmond Daily Dispatch.   During his stay from 1852 to1856 he was a prolific advertiser, the duration of most advertisements ran for a week or two, but sometimes only a day or two and only occasionally for a month or longer.  Throughout his stay in Richmond, Simons’ studio address stayed the same 151 Main Street, in Eagle Square.

In reviewing his advertisements family groups, and children were a specialty, and a re-occurring theme. Also whenever a convention was in town, be it a Medical Convention, Temperance Convention or Clubs. Simons would be among the first to invite the attendees to pay a visit to his Gallery and examine his specimens.  Like other daguerreotypist of the day the commonality in advertising are very formulaic and the majority sound alike.  As an example the following is an invitation to the Virginia State Legislators that appeared in the Dispatch on February 6, 1852.

Virginia Legislature.—Members of the Virginia Legislature now in session, are     particularly invited to call at M. P. Simons’ Gallery, and examine his exquisite likenesses of the President and his Cabinet, also Senators and Members of the House, together with a large sample of other distinguished and well known persons of this and other countries, too numerous to mention. All are desired to call, whether in want of pictures or not; and those wanting pictures would do well to judge for themselves of their superiority.  All pictures warranted to give full satisfaction.

Some of the prominent and distinguished individual daguerreotype portraits identified by name that Simons advertises in the Dispatch that were on exhibit in his gallery include Jenny Lind (1820-1887), opera singer; Lola Montes (1821-1861), actress and dancer; George Payne Rainsford James (1799-1860), English novelist, historical writer, and British Counsel; Henry Clay (1777-1852), lawyer, politician and Senator from Kentucky; Hon. K. Rayner, possibly Kenneth Rayner (1808-1884), congressman & legislator from North Carolina; General Lopez (full name unknown)[i]. Dr. Gibson; Rev. Mr. Read and William F. Titchis are possibly local individuals.  A view of St. John’s [Episcopal] Church in Richmond which was built in 1741 and is today the oldest standing church in Richmond. Tantalizingly a Tarantula spider that was found under his back gallery.  In addition there were for sale engraved likenesses Rev. Mr. T. V. Moore, pastor of the first Presbyterian Church in Richmond, by A. S. Walker of Philadelphia, after a daguerreotype by Simons.  In an advertisement dated March 30, 1855, Simons is appealing for a sufficient number of subscribers to off-set the expenses for engraved likenesses of the pastors of the different churches in the city.  Moore’s engraving may have been part of this project.

On at least three occasions Simons is extremely aggressive, antagonistic and sarcastic with fellow daguerreotypist. The first is with Frank E. Moulson who is charging $1 for his daguerreotypes.  The fight in the newspapers starts with the following notice which ran on August 13, 1852 in the Daily Dispatch:

A Chapter on the Daguerrean Art, and its Professors.—The Dollar Notoriety.—It has been suggested that these disciples of Daguerre attach the names of sitters to their productions, that they may be the more easily recognized by their friends. But as this is a matter we are not interested in, we leave it for those that are—their patrons. But would, ourselves, suggest the propriety and fairness of the operator’s name being attached, for two reasons—first, that the public may know where caricatures may be had; and, second, that they may avoid them when they wish a Daguerreotype.

Another thought occurs to us: it is well known that the State finds it necessary for the better protection of its citizens, to have officers, whose duty it is to inspect grain, flour, etc., and brand their qualities. Now, for the same reasons, would it not be well to have an inspector of Daguerreotypes?—We think it would, and hope that the Legislature, next fall, will take this matter up, and give it that calm and serious consideration which it deserves.  But as they probably will not understand this subject as well as they do that of unequal and arbitrary taxation, we will assist them, by furnishing for the purpose, a plan of a stamp or stencil plate, viz:—Taken for_________by­­­­­­­­­­­__________, an experimenter in the art, cost one dollar or fifty cents, as the case may be, which would be determined by the quality of the article; and then, on the event of our plan’s being accepted, we fancy we see Daguerreotypes finding their way into the price current of the day, reported thus:

Daguerreotypes, common brand, various prices, ranging from 37½ cts. to a dollar—little or no demand. Genuine article, medium size, ready sale, and firm at three dollars.  Remarks—public taste improving.

We are aware that our endeavors to hold these cadets in the art up to public gaze, that they may be seen in their true light, may, by some, be misconstrued into envy on our part, and by exciting public sympathies, increase the evil which we are trying to abate. But, however deplorable such a result would be, the task had to be performed.—For we should hold the man guilty indeed, who would sit in silence, and see the community in which he resides deluded by impostors.  But our object must not be mistaken.  Our intention is not to abuse, but rather to convince these mercenary operators that they have either mistaken their profession, or have most shamefully neglected to give it that attention and careful study which it requires,  and by improving the public taste, force this conviction upon them.

Moulson’s reply on the following day August 14, 1852;

Let the galled jade wince.”—When a slave is under the lash, his master trying to subdue a spirit of insubordination, the pain sinking deep into his soul, in a spirit of defiance he will often cry, “Oh, you don’t hurt.” Apply the lash, and he piteously cries for mercy.  So is it with some of our Daguerreotypist, for when we, to accommodate a large and respectable class of our citizens, brought down the prices of our pictures, the cry was heard, “it will ruin them,” “nobody will take such things,” &c., they have seen to their great mortification the gallery at 110 Main street crowded from early morn till twilight with the elite of the city; and viewing their own beggarly account of empty benches, cry out for protection by legislative enactment.  Could they produce superior pictures there would be no use for this.  We are delighted with the high encomiums of praise passed upon our productions of the art, and while we continue to receive the applause of the “fair, better part of creation” we shall be content to think, as we are sure thousands of others think, that some of our craft are small per-Simons.  Moulson’s, 110 Main st.

Simons continues his attack on July 29, 1853;

To The Daguerrean Fraternity

When will it be that we like others

Shall form ourselves a band of brothers?

The healing art to keep out quacks

With unity thus wisely acts;

And why not we our interest watch,

Hold up the artist and put down the botch?

Tis easy if we once begin

And show the mass they’re taken in;

Have we no ______ this evil to allay,

To drive them one by one with sticks away;

Or must they ever thus pursue us?

We swarm with skulks as base as Lewis

Trades are forsaken and the arts disgraced

By gawks whose fame is on the dollar based;

They who barns should paint and lumber haul,

Shriek “taken for one dollar” on the wall.

Then some to humbug little more

Stick “patent process” top their door.

All this is done the ignorant to beguile,

When in their sleeve the would be artists smile.

Yes, those who’d acorn the Doctor’s skill

That ignorantly prescribes a pill,

Do quite as bad, nay, even worse,

Encourage him who robs their purse;

Distorts their features, then, with a grace,

Asks you if that is not your face.

The feud continues until May 27, 1854, Moulson’s last advertisement appears in the Daily Dispatch which ran until June 6th.  On June 21, 1854, a constable sale is advertised the following items will be sold on June 23d, 1 mahogany sofa,; 1 pair of card tables; 1 mahogany show case; 1 rocking chair; 5 cane seat chairs; a lot of medallions and daguerrean cases.  Another sale was scheduled for July 11 to sell off all the fixtures at the Daguerrean Gallery.

The second dispute occurs with Jesse H. Whitehurst. Simons advertises On December 2, 1854 that he won the highest award, at the Virginia Mechanics Institute Fair.  Both Whitehurst and Simons did in fact win Silver Medals, but Whitehurst name appears first in the report.  The bantering goes back and forth Whitehurst citing the committees report and Simons going off on a tangent about Whitehurst claim to have won the highest award at the World’s Fair in London a bronze medal and Simons continues to refer to Whitehurst as the “Bronze Medal Man.”

Simons does bring up an interesting point in one of his advertisements, Whitehurst won many awards in New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Washington, D. C. wherever he had a studios. Did Whitehurst actually take the image for which the award was given, or did his studio representatives take the image and then he took the credit because he owned the studio and his operators were his employees.

The third argument occurred again in the newspaper but went much further this time. On October 13, 1855, Simons advertises that he is taking Ambrotypes.  On October 15th Peter E. Gibbs responds

To Mr. M. P. Simons—Sir: Unless you discontinue the use of the word Ambrotype to your card. [which is my property as applied to Glass Pictures.] I shall proceed at once to require you to show cause why you infringe on my rights. ….

Simons continues to advertise Ambrotypes and on November 30th the notice appears in the paper.

Infringing a Patent.—In the U. S. Circuit Court, for the eastern district of Virginia. Judge Halyburton presiding, an application has been made by Mr. P. E. Gibbs for an injunction to restrain Mr. M. P. Simons from infringing a patent for making ambrotype pictures, of which Gibbs is assignee.—In consequence of the delay in receiving papers from the Patent Office in Washington, the case was adjourned until Thursday next, when it will be taken up and argued at length, by A. Judson Crane, Esq., for the complainant, and Messrs. August and Randolph for the respondent.

Court delays and Simons continuing to advertise the term Ambrotypes in numerous advertisements, the bantering and baiting from both Gibbs and Simons finely comes to blows as reported in the Dispatch on January 31, 1856.

Spoiling Pictures.—We understand that Messrs. Simons and Gibbs, picture makers, came in collision on Eagle Square yesterday morning, and made an effort to disfigure each others profiles, but were prevented from doing so by the interposition of bystanders, who separated them. These gentlemen have been pitching into each other, through the newspapers, for several weeks.  Which of the two has had the best of that fight, the public can decide.

Possibly a contributing factor for the continued resentment of each other may have been their egos, they both went so far that neither one could back down. In addition to advertising in the local newspapers Simons wrote articles to the Photographic and Fine Arts Journals, “claiming that he had the right to make Ambrotypes and that he was not infringing on Cuttings patent because he used varnish not balsam to seal the two pieces of glass together.[ii]”  In reading through the advertisements one could surmise that he believed as an artist he had the right to make Ambrotypes and that Cuttings patent had no more right to the exclusive use of two glasses than he had to the word Ambrotype.  A side note Whitehurst on January 26, 1856 reports in an advertisement that he had purchased an equal interest with P. E. Gibbs in his Ambrotype patent for the city of Richmond.  Most of the other Galleries in Richmond also advertise that they too are taking Ambrotypes.

On April 25, 1856 Simons last advertisement appears in The Daily Dispatch it ran until May 22, 1856.  On June 26 an advertisement appeared

For Rent.—The family part of the house at present occupied by M. P. Simons, No. 151 Main street. Possession given 27th August next.  On August 15, 1856 an advertisement appears auctioning off oil Paintings and furniture by virtue of a deed of trust to sell at M. P. Simons Daguerrean Rooms, 151 Main Street on August 23 at 10 o’clock a lot of furniture, consisting in part of tables, chairs, carpets, stoves, frames, &c. Also a lot of oil paintings, amongst which are some very valuable.

In conclusion many questions need to be answered. Was Simons’ business failing or was there a reason that he needed to return to Philadelphia?  By all indications his business in Richmond was thriving, reports in the papers indicated that he was very good and had many patrons.  What may have happen was a loss of business due to his disagreement with Gibbs.  An advertisement that appeared on February 2, 1856, stated that Gibb is a born and bred Virginian, which Simons was not.  Another explanation could be a decline in revenue due to competition from the makers of inexpensive images, such as Johnson (no first name) he advertises that he has twelve years’ experience, and has two wagons on the corner of 7th & Broad Streets. Johnson’s advertisements appear in the Dispatch starting on March 28, 1856 and the last advertisement appears on January 28, 1857, he is charging 50 cents for daguerreotypes; Other daguerreotypist working in Richmond in 1856 were E. M. Powers who is charging $1; Daniel Bendann advertises that his pictures are cheaper than anywhere else, but does not specify a specific price; Powers & Duke are making 50 cent daguerreotypes; William A. Pratt was not doing a lot of advertising and on May 17, 1856 announces that he now has the assistance of Sanxay & Chalmers and proceeds to go to Europe.  In an advertisement dated November 28, 1856 Sanxay & Chalmers announce that they had purchased the business from Pratt on May 5.  A. W. Osborne and Peter E. Gibbs do not list prices in their advertisements.  Where Pratt, Simons, and Whitehurst; do not list prices in their advertisements they are thought to be the elite photographers in Richmond.  By October of 1856 Albert Litch is running the Whitehurst Gallery in Richmond and by April of 1857 Whitehurst is no longer operating there, later in year Litch has also left.

In-fighting and disagreements between photographers is not uncommon Southworth and Whipple in Boston, Mass.; Allen and Van Alstin in Worcester, Mass.; Allen & Partridge in Wheeling, Va. and Tyler & Company where ever they had a presence, to name only a few.

[i] At this time it is not possible to confirm his identity. There are two General Lopez that are found when doing an internet search, but without the image or more information it is only speculation that either man is the correct General.  They are Antonio Lopes de Santa Anna, (1794-1876) Mexican President and General; and General Narciso Lopez (1797-1851) who was most notably known for his invasion of Cuba in 1850, he was defeated and retreated to Key West, he returned again in 1851 with the same results, he and his men were once again defeated, this time they were captured and most were executed.

[ii] The Ambrotype : a misunderstood history of a nineteenth century photographic process. By Sarah Janille Templeton.  

 

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