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. 20-Years later, 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.
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.
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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.
The Monetary Value of the Kaplan Collection
First a few words about the Lincoln daguerreian. He was very likely a gentleman named, “Moore” of the itinerant daguerreian team of “Moore and Ward”. He was also a dentist. And … he was … a great artist. A unique moment in human history occurred. A great man, unknown, sat before a great artist, unknown.
Masterpiece daguerreotypes are very rare. A masterpiece daguerreotype of 31*-year-old Abraham Lincoln has no parallel in the art or history world.
What is this daguerreotype worth? I distinctly remember, and have often repeated, what Grant Romer’s friend, and supreme dealer in photographia, Joe Buburger, declared, “Your daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln is worth more to the American people than a carload of Van Goghs”.
If a painting attributed to Leonardo can sell for $400 million, should the daguerreotype’s monetary value be less?
There are other notable monetary value daguerreotypes in the collection. Consider young Richard Wagner. It exists! We see him at age 31*, very likely Hamburg in 1844. Hard to believe. It is the purest truth. I am stunned by it.
Germans are terrified of Wagner. It will take many years before the German people are ready for Wagner, their greatest son. Wagner’s music, echoing of the very blood of this people, reminds the German people of that very dark period in their history and world history. No matter. For better for worse, Wagner is the German people.
If it is moved from the Nevada State Bank in Pahrump, Nevada, it will almost certainly be to Rochester, New York, world headquarters for such artifacts.
The three British-related daguerreotypes—Prince Albert, Benjamin Disraeli, and Winston Churchill—are also in that monetary value area. I am thinking it extraordinary that the daguerreian of the Churchill image was the legendary Alexander Beckers.
This daguerreotype of 20-year-old Winston Churchill is a world masterpiece no matter its rough condition. It is staggering to me that the daguerreian was Alexander Beckers, the Michelangelo of that world. There are very few extant Alexander Beckers daguerreotypes. Each is a masterpiece. This is the first and only Alexander Beckers daguerreotype I have personally seen and held. Previously I had seen 3 or 4 photographs of daguerreotypes attributed to him.
I believe that Washington Irving #1 is a masterpiece.
Thus, to answer the question, “What is the monetary value of the collection?” I would say, somewhere north of one billion dollars as of March, 2019. $1 billion would be the reserve price if the collection is to now go to auction. I might expect that if the reserve price is met, the hammer price would be higher.
* A coincidence which seems deserving of note.
I, Albert Kaplan, am very satisfied with Website Center.