Portrait of an unidentified man, ca. 1856-1858.
Quarter plate daguerreotype. Photographer, W. L. Germon, 168 Chest.
The invention of the daguerreotype was announced in France in January
1839 as the work of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851).
Soon after, news of the invention made its way to the United States,
and the American public responded with alacrity. The daguerreotype
image, developed on a silver coated copper plate, was commonly referred
to as the "Mirror of Nature," for the surface of a daguerreotype
image reflects back its spectator as well as the subject pictured.
Generally daguerreotype plates were placed into enclosures both for
protection and display. A brass mat was laid on the plate to frame
the subject, over this a glass cover was placed, and a paper seal
bound these pieces together. After the mid- to late-1840s, the pieces
were doubly enclosed by a preserver of malleable brass.
Interior view of Nassau Hall, the Library and
Portrait Gallery, ca. 1871. Carte de visite photograph. Photographer
unknown. Historical Photograph Collection - Grounds and Buildings
Photographs - Small Photographs.
This package was then placed into a wooden or papier maché
case, similar to those used to house miniature painted portraits.
To view the image one held the case in one's hand and opened it up
to look at the portrait or subject. The use of cases was mainly an
American phenomenon. In Europe it was common for daguerreotypes to
be placed in frames and hung on a wall. Princeton University's first
portrait gallery was located in Nassau Hall in what was then the Library
and is now the Faculty Room. In the gallery portraits of presidents,
faculty, and students were displayed around the perimeter of the Library,
seen in this photograph from circa 1871. The daguerreotype portrait
of the unidentified man, pictured above, may have been displayed in
Nassau Hall. The image has no case or frame, and it is clear that
at one point nails were hammered into each side of the brass preserver
to secure the image on a wall (nail holes are still visible on the
sides of the image's preserver).
continue with ambrotypes