Silas A. Holmes

Why write about Silas A. Holmes? I knew he was important because he patented the stereoscopic camera in 1854, and while research the New York Daily Tribune I also could not help but see the similarities in the style of advertising between Holmes and other photographers like Tyler and Company and C. R. Rees.  Interesting that there is a connection and the common denominator is C. R Rees.  As I explore the time line below many question still are left unanswered about Rees and the possible partnership with Holmes.  How long did Rees stay involved with Holmes at 289 Broadway?  Did Rees take over the business after Harrison & Holmes partnership ended?  Another question is who was G. Holmes? Was this a typo or someone else operating at 289 Broadway? As I continue researching the Tribune and other newspapers I hope to answer some of these questions.

To date I know little about Holmes’ early years from the newspapers. There was an advertisement signed by S. A. Holmes, News Agent, Park Row on January 1, 1847, but there is no proof that this is Silas A. Holmes the Daguerreotypist.  John Craig[i] records him as being active in 1848-1849 at 289 Broadway in partnership with Charles C. Harrison.  I suspect that John was looking at one directory dated 1848-1849, not a single directory dated 1848, and another one for 1849.  Recent discovery in the Evening Post dated July 17, 1848 announces the partnership and gallery at 289 Broadway.  An advertisement appears on December 2, 1850 for Holmes with no mention of Harrison, and a second advertisement that appears on January 7, 1851 that he is late Harrison & Holmes.  The first newspaper accounts in the New York Daily Tribune for him was on March 26, 1851 and reads in part that he has a fine establishment with two splendid sky-lights, is long and well experienced in the art, and also stated that he charges moderate prices.

On September 13, 1851 in an advertisement in the New York Daily Tribune he states that Forty Thousand Daguerreotypes sold at Holmes’s Gallery, No. 289 Broadway, in five years.  The last line of the ad says that all the rooms are on the fourth floor of 289 Broadway, late Harrison & Holmes.  This brings up the fact that Holmes was in business at 289 Broadway in 1847.  It is unknown if the partnership with Harrison started that early but it is a safe bet that the partnership probably ended in late 1850 based on the advertisement of December 2, 1850.

The first mention (to date) of Charles C. Harrison was in the New York Daily Tribune on April 26, 1851. It mentions that Gurney is using a powerful instrument manufactured in this city by C. C. Harrison.  On October 28, 1851 an article appears about Harrison’s cameras and that he won a gold medal at the Fair at Castle Island, the following day the list of Premiums awarded at the Fair and Harrison’s address is listed at 85 Duane Street.

October 1, 1851 Holmes advertises that he has taken Daguerreotypes of the Monuments, Tombs, and Vaults in Greenwood Cemetery and that duplicate copies can be purchased at his gallery. Later that month October 29th he is awarded a silver medal at the American Institute Fair for his views taken at Greenwood.  The following day he announces that he can be found at the cemetery until he has taken pictures of the entire collection.

If you look at Craig’s work he states that Holmes was listed in New York City from 1848-1860, at 289 Broadway from 1848-1859, from 1859-1860 at 691 Broadway. He goes on to say that he was a partner in Rees & Co., Ca. 1853.  No advertisement for Holmes have been recorded between November 13, 1852 to June 2, 1854 in a partnership or alone.  His advertising has been to this point sporadic, there will be several ads in a month and then he won’t advertise for several month.  Always the advertisements only run for one day.[ii]  Craig reports that Rees was active in New York from 1853-1855.  From 1853-1855 at 289 Broadway and also listed in as being active at 385 Broadway in 1854-1855.

The first advertisement for Rees & Co. appears in the New York Daily Tribune on December 8, 1852—Rees and Co. advertise 25 Cent Daguerreotypes, No. 289 Broadway, that they are taking pictures by a new process late from Germany, with the application of machinery which enables them to take 150 pictures daily. On December 30 they advertise 150 to 300 daily.  On April 26, 1853 he advertises again—The Two Shilling Daguerreotype System originated by Rees & Co., with their new German process and power plate machine to take 300 pictures daily, proves the greatest feature in art of all modern improvements—it upsets the old fogies in the profession and the small potato clique who attempt to rival and imitate their work.  Some nude professors of model artist notoriety, who claim years of famous experience in the art, wake up amazed that a poor German gentleman with enterprise and invention, should have introduced a system of picture-making which no rival can imitate, and with which it is leading him on to fame and fortune, notwithstanding the fog and fogyism and inventions of the enemy.  Rooms No. 289 Broadway.

In a June 9th 1853 advertisement Rees states that they are doing 300 pictures daily and that they are using a German invention of machine power and rotary chemical apparatus to make their images. January 23, 1854 they are now making 400 daily pictures. March 22, 1854 advertisement—Great Improvement In Daguerreotyping.—The New York Daguerreotype Company have invented a double working Camera to take two portraits at once together with other improvements.  They are now taking 500 pictures daily, at 25 cents and upwards.  The last advertisement for Rees (by name) appeared on July 8th Wanted—The whole world of humanity to know that the first quality Daguerreotype Portraits are taken by Professor Reese, No. 289 Broadway. It’s interesting to note that there is no mention of Holms in any of Rees’s advertisements.

On May 30, 1854 Holmes was granted a patent No. 10,987 for taking stereoscope or other daguerreotypes, also referred to in advertisements as the Double Camera for taking two portraits at once. The question is what was Rees’s connection in this?  We might never know.  What is known is that the two shared the same address, 289 Broadway.  There must have been a connection or a partnership between the two based on the March 22 advertisement announcing the double camera.  The similarities in the advertisements between Rees; Tyler & Company and Holmes is hard to overlook and needs further research.  The terminology is very similar.  A lot of the advertisements found for Rees in both New York and Richmond, Virginia and Tyler also in Richmond, and in Memphis, Tennessee, use the same terminology “600 hundred (or more) taken daily” and they all are using the double camera and machine/steam power to make their images.

In the June 2, 1854 advertisement for Holmes the following ad appears. New Invention In Daguerreotyping.—By reference to the last list of patents granted May 30, 1854, S. A. Holmes, the Daguerreotypist, No. 289 Broadway, has been honored with a patent for his invention of the Double Camera for taking two portraits at once.  Rights of use, manufacture and sale of the Double Cameras for sale by the proprietor at his office.  No. 289 Broadway.

For the next several months Holmes advertises that he is taking 25 cent daguerreotypes, stereoscopic pictures and sun pictures. On March 28, 1855 he starts using the term Depot of Art to describe the gallery.  On May 2, 1855 the advertising takes a different twist—Photograph   Portraits for $1 to $5—Daguerreotypes 25 and 50 cents; Stereoscope Pictures, $1.  Taken by Holmes’ United States Patent Double Camera.  Depot of the New York Picture Club composed of 20 Artists taking 600 daily by German Steam Power, No. 289 Broadway.

On May 24, 1855 the following ad appears for the 289 Broadway address—Irish Artists—25 Cent Daguerreotypes.—Prof. Buffer of Dublin has arrived with his celebrated company of 25 Irish picture-makers, and has taken bunks at 289 Broadway for the season. Buffer & Co.

So far I have recorded 80 advertisements between June 2, 1854 – June 25, 1856. There are fifteen different ways the studio is identified.  20 times by the address only, 289 Broadway; 6 times by Depot of Art, 289 Broadway;  3 time by The Picture Factory, 289 Broadway; 1 time by the Depot of Economical Pictures, 289 Broadway;  9 times by Holmes, 289 Broadway;  1 time by the Irish Artists, 289 Broadway, Buffer & Co.; 2 times New York Picture Co., 289 Broadway; 1 time by Wholesale Picture Depot, 289 Broadway; 1 time as the Picture Company, 289 Broadway;  2 times as the Sky Parlors, 289 Broadway;  12 times as the Artist Club, 289 Broadway;  2 times as Holmes Art Depot , 289 Broadway;  3 times Depot of Machine Portraits, 289 Broadway;  5 times as Depot at 289 Broadway; and twice as G. Holmes.  What’s going on?

On August 1, 1855 Mathew Brady is the first to introduce Ambrotypes to New York.

On August 13th William Augur Tomlinson announces that he also is making Ambrotypes and that he holds Cuttings patent rights.  Repeatedly advertises this fact as Brady and others advertise that they are making Ambrotypes.  On October  11th, Holmes advertises New Discovery In Art—Portraits on Glass—Holmes, No. 289 Broadway, offers to the people a new style of Sun Pictures termed the “Lampratype”[iii]  While Holmes is not using the term Ambrotype technically they are Ambrotypes.

Several week later on November 1 the following advertisement appears. $200,000 have been saved to the people, and the subscriber has made a fortune out of the Original Twenty-Five Cent Daguerreotypes, No. 289 Broadway, and he will now sell the entire Picture Factory to any responsible party and retire from the interesting excitement appertaining to Life in a Daguerreotype Room.  Holmes.

It’s not known if Holmes sold his gallery, the advertisement ran only one time, according to Craig he was listed at 289 Broadway until 1859, in addition his name does appear on the advertisements after this date. The real question is does C. R. Rees have anything to do with the gallery after 1855?  In correspondence with D. A. Serrano author of an article entitled Southern Exposure! The Life and Times of C. R. Rees & Co.  One of Rees’s expressions is the word fogyism which appears several times the last appears on November 24, 1855.  One hundred years ahead of time—Daguerreotypes—one shilling—No. 289 Broadway—the revolutionary community of picture makers, and headquarters of the Artists’ Club, composed of twenty members, who repudiate, fogyism and borrowed thunder.

I had the opportunity to look at five New York City Directories 1856-1857; 1857-1858; 1858-1859; 1859-1860 and 1860-1861. Unlike most of the directories from Massachusetts there was no business directory, but there were a few advertisements.  First looking in the residence listing for Silas A. Holmes  1856 directory list him as a Daguerreotyper at 289 Broadway; 1857 as an Artist, 289 Broadway; 1858 as a Photographer at 289 Broadway; 1859 he is listed as gallery, 691 Broadway, late 289 Broadway; and the 1860 list him as photographs 395 Broadway.  No advertisements were found in the city directories for Holmes in the 1856-1859 directories.  The 1860-1861 directory for The Holmes Gallery Of Photographic Art, 691 Broadway, New York.  Photographs, Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Miniatures in Oil;, Ivorytypes, Cameotypes, &c.  Stereoscopic Portraits of Family Groups taken as they appear in their own Parlors, Gardens, or Parks.  Portraits of Private Residences, Houses, &c. taken to order. G. D. Morse, Proprietor.

The research continues…as new information is found I will update the blog…I am working on the July 1856 issues of the New York Daily Tribune.


Activity Dates:

Silas A. Holmes

Ca. 1847-1859                   289 Broadway, New York, New York.                                                         1859-1860                          691 Broadway, New York, New York.

Charles R. Rees


1850                                    Address Unknown, Cincinnati, Ohio.[ii]

1851                                    Corner Main & Eighth Street, Richmond, Virginia[V]

1852-1854                          289 Broadway, New York, New York.

1854-1855                          385 Broadway, New York, New York.[iv]

1857-1859                          139 Main Street, Richmond, Virginia.

1858                                    39 Sycamore Street, Petersburg, Virginia.

1858                                    Address unknown, Memphis, Tennessee.

1859                                    145 Main Street, Richmond, Virginia.


[i] The reason I often cite John Craig’s Daguerreian Registry is that he like all of us who worked on photographic directories in the 1980 & 90’s we checked, verified and recorded all the various sources that were available to our specific state or area of interest.

[ii] This is an ongoing project and only a few of the New York newspapers (to date) have been reviewed.  Advertisements found for daguerreians in the New York Daily Tribune on average usually only advertise a single time. There are the occasional exceptions Gurney & Fredericks advertise every other day for several week up to a month or so at a time, also Samuel Root’s gallery possible after he left for Iowa in 1855 would advertise the same advertisement for several days and weeks in a row.  Several others Gurney, Tomlinson, Welling and others have advertised two or three times in a row. 

[iii] The Lampratype.  A new and ingenious plan has been devised and successfully carried into practice by Mr. S. A. Holmes, of New York, of rendering Ambrotypes much darker in the dark portions of the picture, and whiter in the white portions. For distinction, he has named them Lampratypes. Information from Ambrotype Manual: A Practical Thesis On The Art Of Taking Positive And Negative Photographs On Paper And Glass, commonly known as photography, in all its branches.

[iv] The Daily Dispatch. (Richmond, Virginia.)  May 5, 1859, Vol. XV, No. 107, P. 2.  Old Rees has had 17 years experience in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New Orleans and Cincinnati….

[v] Article Southern Exposure!  The Life and Times of C. R. Rees & Co. by D. A. Serano.

[vi] Information from Craig’s Daguerreian Registry.

4 thoughts on “Silas A. Holmes

  1. I have four small (2″x 21/2″) in a gold frame on which is printed “Holmes 289 Broadway”. I am wondering if this is the same Silas A. Holmes that you have researched so throughly. Regards, Dianne Sprinthall


      1. Thank you so much for your reply. There is glass covering the pictures. Do you suggest that I lift open the back of the metal frame in order to examine the pictures?


      2. I am not sure how to handle this communication. The pictures have a glass covering them. Should I pull up the back of the frame, and take them out in order to examine them? Also, are they of any value?


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