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The Daguerreotype

The Daguerreotype

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The daguerreotype was the first profitable method of producing a photographic image. The daguerreotype image was produced by projecting and exposing the scene in direct contact with the photographic plate which was placed within the camera. The process is called direct positive photography. The first daguerreotype plates were produced by cladding, or cold-rolling silver foil over a thin sheet of copper and was known as Sheffield plate.

DaguerreotypeDaguerreotypeBefore the plate could be used to produce the daguerreotype, it first had to be cleaned and highly polished to a mirror finish. The plate was then placed in a box and exposed to iodine fumes until the surface was a golden yellow color. When the iodine fuming process was done, the plate could be installed in the camera and the daguerreotype taken. In order for an image to be produced on the daguerreotype plate it was necessary to expose the plate to the scene for as many as twenty minuets, thus apparatus were employed to brace a subjects head and body still while the daguerreotype was being taken.

Once the plate was exposed for the correct amount of time it could then go on to the next phase. Upon removing the plate from the camera, it was then exposed to mercury vapors until the image was developed. Finally, the plate was washed in a saline solution to remove the iodine residue and rinsed in distilled water to remove the saline solution. The result of this lengthy process was an image which had a mirror like quality which had to be viewed at a certain angle in order to see the positive.



Daguerreotypes are extremely prone to abrasions and the slightest touch will destroy the image. The silver surface of daguerreotypes are also prone to tarnishing. Therefore, once the image was developed the daguerreotype was then placed under an inner preserver mat and a piece of glass, then taped to seal it from exposure to air and dust. An outer preserver mat was placed over the taped package and the whole bundle was then usually placed in a container called a union case, or daguerreotype case which further protected both the daguerreotype and the glass.

Sixth Plate Daguerreotype Union CaseSixth Plate Daguerreotype Union CaseEarly daguerreotype cases were made from wood which was covered in a very thin layer of leather, but later union cases were elaborately designed boxes made from an early thermoplastic material sometimes incorrectly referred to as gutta percha. Although daguerreotypes can run into the thousands of dollars for a rare example, common examples can be purchased for as little as twenty fife dollars. The type, and design of the case that the daguerreotype is in also determines the final price of the daguerreotype as well, and can add hundreds to the price.

daguerreotypes are considered by many to be one of the most beautiful photography formats ever produced, and today they are highly sought after for addition to photography collections.

Tags: plate, photography, photographic, sheet, positive, produced, silver, daguerreotype, direct, cold-rolling, cladding, plates, sheffield, copper, foil
 

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"A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed."

Ansel Adams
American photographer
1902–1984


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