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 28* plates 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 computer.

My colleague set it up for me, and helped me to understand some of the basics.

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 (28*), 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, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, even the Library of Congress collection of hundreds of cased images.

albertkaplan@att.net
*There were 32 plates. Two were sold (Judah P. Benjamin, and Oscar Wilde), one was a gift to Grant Romer (Jane Slidell Perry), and one was accidentally destroyed (P. T. Barnum).


NON-PROFIT & COMMERCIAL USAGE: For purposes of criticism, comments, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classrooms, for instance) scholarship or research, or by libraries, churches, orphanages, old age homes, hospitals and the like, Mr. Kaplan waives all copyright restrictions. The use of the Kaplan Collection images for commercial purposes will require a fee. Prospective license holders should provide full details in an email to albertkaplan@att.net.


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.

Signed: Albert Kaplan
Pahrump, Nevada

SOME POST-SCRIPT THOUGHTS ABOUT A FEW OF THE CASED IMAGES IN THE COLLECTION:

 

October 29, 2017

 

Abraham Lincoln

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.

Ideally the Lincoln daguerreotype ought to be a gift to the American people with the provision that it will be treated 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.”

 

William Henry Herndon

Of the five known photographic images of Herndon, this is, by far, the best. And, it is a daguerreotype!

Its importance is etched in granite. If you would have walked into the Lincoln/Herndon law office, and met William Henry Herndon, this is the man you would meet. When Herndon looked at you, you were looked at! And, if his partner, Lincoln, would meet you as well, you stood utterly naked before them, these two men of extraordinarily good understanding of their fellow humans.

Lincoln loved him, was close to the Herndon family all his life. I think that this photograph was likely made on the occasion of one of his post-assassination lectures about Lincoln.

 

Richard Wagner

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.

 

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.

 

Winston Churchill

From what I have seen, (four images), and from what I understand, 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.

 

Levi Strauss

The Levi Strauss daguerreotype is, I understand, the only known original photographic image of this gentleman, all others destroyed in the great San Francisco earthquake. Regrettably, it is poorly made. Here was a truly great subject deserving of a great daguerriean. Alas, the daguerreian was lacking.

Levi Strauss was not a military commander, nor a great scientist, or political leader. He was merely a merchant. And yet, when the news of his death reached the multitude of American working men, there was a pause, and silent tribute. It was as though a friend had died.

Today, Levi’s are ubiquitous not merely in the United States, but globally.

Surely his legacy has staying power, and I am now thinking that long into the future Levis will be with us.

Here we see him, Levi Strauss.

 

George Armstrong Custer

As I recall, my first impression of this young man was that here we have a farmer normally unaccustomed to getting dressed up in suit and tie. His battlefield exploits were of such valor, he was propelled to Major General rank a mere four years after graduating from West Point. His advancement was meteoric, eclipsing even that of Napoleon. Sometimes referred to as the “boy General”, it was an accepted likelihood that he would be a candidate for the presidency. His mistaken decision to pursue and annihilate an Indian force, continuing the United States genocide of this now essentially extinct race, cost him his life at a place called Little Big Horn.

 

Andrew Johnson

Certainly, this daguerreotype plate had been fitted into a case, the outline of the mat proof thereof. I received merely the plate, and it seemed to me that the housing had long before fallen away. The plate has been very roughly handled. Now fitted up with new housing, made to appear similar to the original housing, (put together by no less than Grant Romer), the result is excellent, as good as can be done.

From what I have been able to figure out, largely through the advise of Dolly Boyd of the Museums of Tusculum of Tusculum College, (which includes the Andrew Johnson Museum), this daguerreotype is very likely the only extant original photographic image of President Andrew Johnson.

 

Emily Dickinson

It is mystifying if not miraculous that my sister, Bertha, told me, on the telephone, (she in Arizona, I in Nevada), that she saw something or read something about Emily Dickinson, and she suggested that perhaps I would be able to find a daguerreotype of this lady! After speaking with Bertha I probably went to Google and typed in “Emily Dickinson” of whom I knew practically nothing. Was it that very day that I acquired the daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson? I do not remember. Maybe the next day? Maybe three days later? I do not have a clue. I am reminded of what I have said on several occasions, that I had nothing to do with acquiring the Lincoln daguerreotype, that G-d placed it in my hand. So I say here, that I had nothing to do with the daguerreotype of Emily. My dear sister, Bertha, deserves all the credit.

It seemed to me then, as now, to be miraculous.

In this image we see an older Emily. Hand surgeons who have see the daguerreotype confirm that she suffered from a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, a worsening condition. At a certain point, she was probably unable to walk.

 

Benjamin Disraeli

Surely, this is one of the most important photographs known; in my opinion, second only to the Lincoln daguerreotype. And, remarkably, it is in near pristine condition.

 

Thomas Edison

This is beautifully made. It is technically flawless. The time is likely the Fall of 1865; Edison would be 18 years of age. The housing is in superb condition. All is original. I deplore Edison. He was a horrible man. He electrocuted an elephant. On the positive side we must admit his brilliance. No matter his brilliance, and his contributions to society, morally, he was of the gutter.

 

Henry and Clara Ford

There are reasons to suppose that this tintype was made on Clara’s 22nd birthday, April 11, 1888, also her wedding day. See her face. Look at that face. Note the loose wedding ring; and is that a book next to Henry’s leg and hat? If it is a book, maybe it is a Bible, perhaps a gift. If so, a precious one, to be sure. Moreover, see how properly Henry is dressed. When Henry Ford was 24 years old his attire was not normally that which you see in this photographic image. The more I think about it the more convinced I am that this tintype was made on that auspicious day.

In my opinion, she is a beautiful young woman. We see her clearly. Henry’s face is not in focus, regrettably. Remember, this is not a daguerreotype by one of the masters. It is a tintype, seeminly hastily made.

Henry and Clara resided in around a dozen rented houses before settling in their own home Maybe this tintype — literally — fell through the slots in one of these frequent moves.

 
 


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