Old family photo albums are an excellent way to connect with family from previous generations. The problem with most aged photo albums is the lack of information available to identify distant relatives. Without dates available, knowing how to visually identify photographic techniques used in these photos can help with determining approximate time periods these photos were taken. While hundreds of photographic techniques exist, only a handful was employed for family photographs including daguerreotyping.
What is a Daguerreotype?
The daguerreotype, named after its creator Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, was the first commercial photographic technique utilized from 1839 to 1860. The daguerreotype was a one-of-a-kind image transposed on a highly polished silvered copper plate. The surface of the plate was sensitized to light via exposure to iodine or bromine gases. After exposure to a daguerreotype camera with a special lens, the plate was placed in a box to be developed with mercury vapor.
Characteristics of a Daguerreotype
There are distinct characteristics that can be used to identify a daguerreotype including time period and the materials used to display the photographs, including the cases, plates, and size of photographs. Daguerreotypes were available in Britain between the 1840s and early 1850s and were only accessible to middle and upper-class families because they were very expensive. Since daguerreotype photos were extremely delicate and easily blemished, they were always accompanied by protective cases most often formed with leather and faced with velvet or silk lining. Seeing that the daguerreotypes were transposed on highly polished silvered plates, they may appear as negative, positive, or a mirror depending on the angle at which they were viewed. In addition, these silver plates were susceptible to tarnish if exposed to the air. To prevent tarnish, the plates were sealed under glass. However, it’s very commonplace to spot tarnishing around the edges of the daguerreotype where the glass seal is impacted first. Lastly, daguerreotypes were used to keep account of natural phenomena, extraordinary events, and portraits to name a few. Be that as it may, the portrait was the most common and generally only came in very small sizes, usually in dimensions 2×3 inches.
Armed with an accurate definition and characteristics of daguerreotypes, spotting one is a little easier.