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 27* 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 (27), 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.
*There were 31 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).
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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.
September 16, 2016
Recently, an old friend asked me how I am able to find these cased portraits of famous personalities. As his question, and my answer, may be of interest to some future readers, my reply follows:
I remember a life insurance agent. He said, “It is a matter of numbers. The more prospects I meet, the greater my sales.”
That applies to my efforts as well. Nearly every day I view many 19th Century photographic images. As I have been doing this for many years, the total of images viewed is several million.
Thus, I too can say, “It is a matter of numbers.”
I seem to recall a three year period during which I did not see a single offering of an illustrious personality; and incredibly, during one nine day period I was able to acquire three such pieces!
I have also been asked what my purchase prices were. The range of individual purchase prices is very wide, from $1.99 (Henry and Clara Ford tintype) to thousands for a daguerreotype not in the collection, which was mistakenly purchased.
Recently, my wife asked me if I had any idea how much I have spent on the collection, a total figure. I had no idea. With her assistance we tried to figure out what the cash outlays were since 1977. The costliest year was 1994 in support of the International Association of Identification press conference at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois. After trying to list all such expenses, we came to the conclusion that from 1977 to 2016, cash outlays relating to the collection were $1,050,000.
I have been asked whether or not I paid Dr. Frechette for his critical contribution. The answer is, no. Both Dr. Frechette and I believed that some people might mistakenly suppose that his study, if paid for by myself, might not be impartial. Accordingly, Dr. Frechette agreed that he would not receive any monetary compensation for his contribution. I suggest that Dr. Frechette may consider his reward greater than mere currency, no matter the sum. While nobody can accurately predict the future, I believe that his name will be forever linked with that of Abraham Lincoln. I remember saying to Claude, “You are now immortal.”
SOME POST-SCRIPT THOUGHTS ABOUT A FEW OF THE CASED IMAGES IN THE COLLECTION:
November 17, 2016
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.
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
This tintype, likely made in Bangor, Maine seemed at first to be merely another photographic image of a farmer, normally unaccustomed to being dressed up in suit and tie. He reminds me of a country boy. However, put George Armstrong Custer in his personally designed uniform, and we have before us an extraordinary figure of the dashing warrior. His battlefield exploits were of such valor, to elevate him to Major General rank a mere four years after graduating West Point. His advancement was, I believe, more swift than that of Napoleon.
Had he lived, the “boy general” would very likely have been a presidential candidate.
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.
In my opinion, Andrew Johnson deserved not censure, but praise. As I see it, he was right, and the Congress wrong.
By the way, he was not drunk at Lincoln’s inauguration. He had been sick, and was taking medicine prescribed by his doctor. I suspect that his troubles, as president, began earlier, at Lincoln’s inauguration. Some very influential people who were there mistakenly believed that he was drunk.
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.
I, Albert Kaplan, am very satisfied with Website Center.