Introduction to the Daguerreotype Exhibit of The New York Exhibition Of The Industry Of All Nations

On August 19, 1853 in the Semi-Weekly Tribune the following introduction to the daguerreotype exhibit of the New York exhibition of the industry of all nations can be found.

The Exhibition At The Crystal Palace.  XVI.  American Art—Daguerreotypes.  If there be any one department in the whole building which is peculiarly American, and in which the country shines prominent, it is in that of Daguerreotypes, which are exhibited below stairs; and the collection, which is an extensive one, is made up of contributions from almost every section of the Union where the art is practiced.  In contrasting the specimens of art which are taken herewith those taken in European countries, the excellence of American pictures is evident, which is [to] be accounted for by several reasons.  In the first place, American skies are freer from fogs and clouds—from bituminous coal not being much used, the atmosphere of our cities is free from smoke, at least upon the Atlantic coasts.  Then the chemicals and processes are, generally speaking, of a more sensitive character, and the apparatus is more convenient and suitable than that of Europe.  Our little inventions come into play and aid in saving time and developing a good picture, and last, though perhaps not least our people are readier in picking up processes and acquiring the mastery of the art than our trans-Atlantic rivals.  Not that we understand the science better, but the detail of the work is acquired in a shorter time by us, while the enormous practice which our operators enjoy combines to render the daguerreotype art a necessary adjunct to the comfort of life.  Does a child start on the journey of existence and leave his “father’s hall” forthwith the little image is produced to keep his memory green..  Does the daughter accept the new duties of matron, or does the venerated parent descend into the grave; what means so ready to revive their recollection?  Does the lover or the husband go to Australia or California, and not exchange with the beloved one the image of what afforded so much delight to gaze upon?  The readiness with which a likeness may be obtained, the truthfulness of the image and the smallness of cost, render it the current pledge of friendship, and the immense number of operators who are supported by the art in this country shows how widely the love of sun-pictures is diffused.  Several thousand industrious artists and artisans are occupied in the preparation of very pure chemicals, as bromine, iodine, gold salts, hyperphosphate of soda.  Another class prepare silvered plates, cases, buffs, gilding, cut glass, and a hundred little addenda.  Then the manufacture of cameras and the grinding of good lenses is an important branch of the business; for without a camera having good lenses the best operator would fail to produce an image which would be distinct or saleable; and even with a good Voigtlander or Harrison camera, it requires great skill to focus the image; for, strange as it may appear, the point where a good view of the sitter is obtained is not the point best adapted for bringing out a good picture.  In other words the focus of vision and the focus of chemical action are not the same, and hence when we have the one we lose the other.  This is owing to the fact that it is not the rays of color on the solar spectrum which produce the image, but a different set of rays, viz: those of chemical action; and since this is the case, we submit the opinion that it is not possible to obtain a daguerreotype in its natural colors, as Mr. Hill and others have been trying to delude our operators into believing, and leading themselves and others by the [iguis fatuus] of plates tortured into iridescent colors by chemical oxidation.  But we are getting discursive upon this beautiful art, which was intended to subserve many other useful purposes than that of portrait painting.

Everybody known how difficult it is to keep silver from tarnishing, and that the action of the light is to destroy all preparations of silver.  Some of these are more readily acted on by light than others—are more sensitive, as it is termed.  Such are the iodide, bromide, and chloride of silver.  These salts cannot be kept exposed to the light for any reason, even a very short time, without undergoing some change; and when a plate of silver has a thin layer of iodine and bromine on its surface; and is placed in a camera, as soon as the screen is raised the image of the sitter falls on the plate.  The silver plate is acted on unequally, producing the effects of light and shade when brought out, as it is termed, by exposure to the vapor of quicksilver.  It is then fixed or prevented from undergoing further change, by washing it with a solution of gold.

To produce a daguerreotype picture there are five operations necessary.  The first is cleaning the plate.  This is the stumbling block of most operators.  They are not cleanly enough.  Several views in this Exhibition show that the plates were not well enough cleaned.  Never was a maxim more true than the old one, that “cleanliness is a virtue”—when it has reference to daguerreotyping.  The second the second is the foundation of the sensitive iodide of silver over the surface of the plate.  The third is the adjusting the plate in the camera obscura, for the purpose of receiving the impression.  The fourth is the bringing out the photographic picture, which is invisible when the plate is taken from the camera.  The fifth, and last, is to remove the excess of sensitive coating, and thus prevent that susceptibility to change under luminous influence which would otherwise exist and ultimately effect the picture.  The second operation is that which gives tone and warmth to the picture, and when performed by skillful hands makes a daguerreotype a beautiful piece of art.  The clearness and distinctness of the image is produced by the third process when carefully conducted, and the whole picture should be distinct over the whole plate.  These remarks will serve to illustrate the subjoined notes upon the collections in the Exhibition.

Part 3 description of the exhibit posted tomorrow 4/24/18

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.