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, and the Library of Congress.


*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.


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

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