On April 8, 1977 I went to the Witkin Art Gallery on 57th Street in New York. Amongst the objects offered for sale were around 100 cased images kept in a glass showcase. I now know they were daguerreotypes. At the time I had never seen a daguerreotype, nor read or heard the name, and had no knowledge whatsoever of early photography.
I asked for permission to look them over. One of their staff kindly brought me a chair and unlocked the glass showcase.
The daguerreotypes were priced according to size. The smallest offered were Sixth plate priced at $25, the Quarter plate were $50, and the Half or Whole plate were $100. I purchased one Sixth plate daguerreotype. The image of the distinguished young man reminded me of Abraham Lincoln.
As I reflect on the daguerreotypes that I examined that day, there was another one that I should also have purchased. Wearing a beautifully tailored checkered suit, he was movie-star handsome. As I reflect on that image, I remember having had the idea that this distinguished young man in the checkered suit was literally, full of fun, that his good humor was instinctive, the essence of his character. I suppose that Witkin Art Gallery sold it to somebody else. If that somebody else is reading this, let me hear from you. I think this young man is Joshua Speed.
My interest in early photography thus began. It greatly interested me to view photographic portraits of 19th Century personalities.
It seemed to me that my acquisition of the Lincoln daguerreotype was the pure chance of a serendipitous moment. It never occurred to me that I might acquire other cased images of illustrious personalities. And yet, it began to occur. There was a second daguerreotype of an illustrious 19th Century personality, then a third, then a fourth, etc. After each acquisition I was, literally, astounded. Since that fateful day in 1977 I have acquired over 20 cased images of illustrious 19th Century personalities; and each time I was astounded.
In 1997, a business colleague insisted that I get a computer. I resisted the idea, but he was determined that I should have one. Finally, I agreed to go with him to a computer store where I bought a desk top computer.
My colleague set it up for me, and helped me to understand some of the basics. It was all new to me.
Around two years later, via the computer, I was able to buy the Judah P. Benjamin daguerreotype. Except for the Lincoln daguerreotype, the entire collection came about because of the Internet. Through this extraordinary technology, I am in touch with auction houses, dealers in photography, collectors, museums, and the like, the world over, and almost every day I receive, on my computer screen, photographic images of cased images offered for sale.
I have learned that American cased images are to be found all over the world. For instance, the ambrotype of Jefferson Davis surfaced in Britain, in the collection of a public figure.
The daguerreotype of Richard Wagner surfaced amongst volumes of rare books in Munich, Germany; the Winston Churchill daguerreotype surfaced in a rural Maine antiques fair. Etc.
The collection could not have been built except for the Internet.
By virtue of the significance of the personalities photographed, and the number of such portraits (over 20), this collection of 19th Century cased images, (to the best of my knowledge), eclipses all known comparable collections including those of the National Portrait Gallery, The George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film, The Getty Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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AN INVITATION TO THE FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMUNITY
Daguerreotypes are the highest quality photographs known, so much so, viewing a daguerreotype portrait can be an emotionally moving experience, the viewer feeling as though he is in the very room in which the subject is sitting.
Occasionally daguerreotypes reveal details that are not seen on photographic prints of the plates. This is hardly known. Accordingly, I want the forensic science community to know that I will be pleased to take interested forensic scientists to the bank vault where the collection is kept, and where they can examine the entire collection.
I cordially invite forensic scientists to examine the collection, and to freely report their findings.
July 27, 2016 – A Few Thoughts…
As I am now 84 years of age, and will surely die within the next few years, I think it would be a good idea to express some thoughts about the collection. Perhaps, in the future, some people will be interested to know what I am thinking, at this time, concerning the collection.
The Lincoln scholarship community, (what passes as such), has, since 1977, scoffed at the Lincoln image. Their leader, Harold Holzer, the author of around 50 books about Lincoln, seems to be the current chief scoffer, the earlier chief scoffer, the late Lloyd Ostendorf.
It is because of these scoffers that the American people are denied the privilege of viewing this image. Forensic science confirms its authenticity. No matter. If the Lincoln scholarship community scoffs at the image, the American people will not see it. These fools who fancy themselves flatteringly, deserve to be cast away, never again to be heard of or thought of, their books about Lincoln valueless.
This daguerreotype of young Abraham Lincoln is an artistic and photographic masterpiece. The daguerreian was brilliant. It is likely he was T. E. Moore.
Of course, Lincoln is the crown jewel of the collection. It is the most important photograph known.
In my opinion the Lincoln daguerreotype ought to be kept in the White House as a personal possession of the sitting president.
As to its monetary value, surely not less than a painting by Paul Gauguin, so far the highest priced object of art at $300 million, a relatively recent acquisition by an Oman collector. The Lincoln daguerreotype’s monetary value should never be less than the highest sum paid for an object of art. Surely not less; likely more. I recall the words of a Connecticut dealer in photographia, Joe Buberger, to whom I was introduced by Grant Romer. He declared, “Your daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln is worth more to the American people than a carload of Van Goghs.”
As Lincoln is to the United States, Richard Wagner is to Germany. He is their greatest son. Thus, the copy-daguerreotype of Wagner at age 31, will surely be, to Germany, the holy grail.
William Henry Herndon
The daguerreotype of Herndon is gigantically important.
General and Mrs. John Bell Hood
The face and figure of Mrs. Hood is haunting. Here we see her around 12 years after the war, and several years before her death of yellow fever. How strong and resolute she is. I think that this is a very important photograph.
Washington Irving # 1
Washington Irving # 1 is a masterpiece, and surely not by accident. Very rarely does one see a daguerreotype of such quality. The daguerrreian is unknown.
John D. Rockefeller
What a lovely young man he was. I remember saying, around the time I first saw this daguerreotype, that if this young man was courting my daughter, I would be delighted. His character is evident. It cannot be mistaken.
From what I have seen (four images), and from what I understand from an authority on the general subject, the greatest daguerreian, (meaning the maker of the highest quality images) was Alexander Beckers, who was asked in 1895, to make a daguerreotype of the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, then spending a few days in New York. It seems remarkable that the daguerreian was Alexander Beckers.
As the viewer can see, it was a masterpiece. I cannot imagine that it could now be called a masterpiece. It has been very roughed up over the years. I am thinking how great it must have been, truly a masterpiece. Few have seen a Beckers daguerreotype. They are extraordinary.
I, Albert Kaplan, am very satisfied with Website Center.