American Handbook of the Daguerrotype
by Samuel D. Humphrey
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6. Is the mercury free from scum and dirt? If not, filter. Is it also far enough from the coating boxes? Should be at least three feet, and kept covered.

7. Is the mercury sufficiently heated? This is important. Long exposure, however, will answer the same purpose.

8. Are your lenses clean, and in proper place?

9. Are the tablets in focus with the ground-glass? If you can attribute the failure to none of these, mix a new box of some other kind of quick, say the dry, for instance. If you fail in the same manner here, take time, wash your buffs, overhaul all the chemicals, and start anew. Do not be discouraged.

There is no day so dark but that the sun will shine again. We will close with this brief summary of advice:

Clean your plates. Keep everything dry. Keep the mercury hot. Follow these instructions carefully, and you must succeed.


First of all, cleanliness should be observed. When there is dust or dirt about your room, particularly about the work-bench, failures will be frequent; for the smallest particles of rotten-stone, when allowed to come in contact with the buffs, will produce scratches on the surface of the plate, which very much injures the operation, and often causes failures.

Dust flying about the room is injurious, if allowed to fall on the plate, either before or after it has been coated, as it causes black spots which cannot be removed.

The polished plate should not be allowed to come in contact with a strong current of air, for it tends to oxidize the surface. Breathing on the surface should also be avoided, for the same reason.

The plate should, in all cases, be buffed immediately before using, and not allowed to stand any length of time. It should be held with the polished face downward.

It is always best that the plate should be of the same temperature of the atmosphere in the room.

Keep the camera and mercury-bath perfectly free from the vapors of iodine and bromine; for the presence of the slightest degree of either of the above will injure the impression in no small degree. As a preventive, let the camera be exposed to the sun or fire for a few minutes in the morning.

Filter your mercury often, to keep the surface free from film and dust.

The hyposulphite solution should be filtered through sponge every time it is used.

The direct rays of light must not enter the camera in conjunction with those reflected from the object; or the picture will be veiled, and the color of the plate changed to a thick green.

If the plate be iodized only to a light-yellow, the result might be of a bluish or grey tinge: and this is generally the case, when the quick is new and strong, and there is an excess of it on the plate, and yet not enough to form the bromide iodide of silver; in which case it would wholly spoil the impression.

Your iodine will be found to operate more successfully, when the time required for coating the plate does not fall short of fifteen seconds, or exceed one minute.

Too quick coating can be avoided by using less iodine in your box. In the summer months, when the weather is 80 deg. and over, one quarter of an ounce, or even less, will work to advantage.


I am indebted to Mr. J. H. Fitzgibbons for the following process, which he employed in producing the excellent specimens he exhibited at the Crystal Palace:

"I shall endeavor to lay down in as comprehensive a manner as possible the method by which I have been enabled to produce the most satisfactory results. I use a Smee's battery (another kind will do). After filling the cell, of common size, nearly full with water; add about quarter of an ounce of sulphuric acid. Mix this well, and let it stand for about three hours, or until the action of the battery becomes weak, when it is in order to work with a very uniform action. Put one pound of sulphate of copper in one quart of water; stir it until the sulphate of copper is all dissolved, and then add one half ounce of sulphuric acid and a quarter of an ounce of nitric acid. This solution, well mixed, should be filtered, and it is ready for use. It is very important that the solution should be kept clean, clear, and free from all foreign substance. The above quantity of this solution will be found sufficient for electrotyping a dozen of the sixth-size plates. When it is required to be strengthened, it is only necessary to add a little of the sulphate of copper.

"With the battery prepared as above, and the solution of sulphate of copper in a vessel of proper dimensions to receive your plate, connect the galvanic current, and immerse the impressioned plate, letting it remain until a thin film of copper has been formed, then the battery can be strengthened, and the impression will be of sufficient thickness to be removed in from eight to twelve hours. An old Daguerreotype plate attached to the opposite pole of the battery (copper side towards the face of the plate to be electrotyped), will answer the same purpose as the silver-plate.

"The great difficulty in taking an electrotype impression, and preserving the original, has been attributed to the battery being too powerful. I am led to believe from practice that the principal difficulty has been in the Daguerreotype plate itself, for if we use an impression that has been taken but a few days, and taken in the usual way, we will find it difficult to succeed without spoiling both the copy and original, and so also with an old impression.

"I have found the most certain method to be as follows:—Coat the Daguerreotype plate as usual, except use less of the accelerators, the proportion of iodine coating being greater, of course the time of exposure in the camera will be lengthened. Mercurialize it at about a temperature requiring to develop the image, from six to eight minutes, at least. Gilding the Daguerreotype has much to do towards producing a good electrotype copy. This should be done by applying a little heat, and gilding very slowly, giving a coating of gold with the greatest possible uniformity. By this method, I have been enabled to produce any number of proofs. I have produced a dozen from one impression, and it remains as perfect as when first taken.

"By a little judgment and care the operator will be enabled to produce the electrotype copy of the Daguerreotype plate without any difficulty. The electrotype copy should be immediately put under a glass and sealed in the same manner as the ordinary Daguerreotype."


This process is patented in the United States, by J. A. Whipple, of Boston, and of course no honorable person will use it for his own benefit without purchasing a right.

A white back-ground is generally employed, the object being to blur the lower portion of the plate, leaving the head of the subject in relief. Every Daguerreotypist is familiar with the fact that a motion of any body between the camera and the sitter will cause a "blur." Cut a piece of thin paper and scallop it, making a semicircle. This is kept straight by means of a wire frame, and it is to be moved in front of the lower part of the body of the sitter during the time of exposure of the plate in the camera. Develop over mercury as usual, and the result will be a crayon Daguerreotype.

Another method is to have a wheel with a hole cut through it of a diameter of about 12 inches. This hole is so cut as to leave teeth resembling those of a large saw. This wheel is so arranged that it can be turned around, which should be done during the time of exposure in the camera. It must be placed between the camera and the sitter, and at such a distance from the camera as to allow such proportion of the body of the sitter be seen upon the ground-glass as is desired. It will be readily seen that by turning this wheel during the operation will produce the same result as the paper being moved in the other method. The teeth make the "blur." The side of the wheel towards the camera may be black, by which means the result will be a dark instead of a light border.


This process is also patented, and the remarks on the preceding subject will apply in this case. The plate is prepared and exposed as in the usual method of the Daguerreotype. A white back-ground is employed. Let the head of the sitter come in the middle of the plate, and before exposing it to the vapors of mercury, put a small mat or diaphragm, having a small hole through it, over or directly on the surface of the plate. This diaphragm should be bevelled, and the bevel should be towards the surface of the plate; this, in order to prevent too sharp a line on the impression. It will be readily seen that if an impressioned plate so covered is placed over the mercury, it will be developed on such portions only as are exposed. The principle is so familiar that further explanations are unnecessary.


This subject is worthy the attention of every operator. The following process is so plain and easy of trial that any Daguerreotypist can try it. This is as given by Mr. James Campbell, and was published in Humphrey's Journal of the Daguerreotype and Photographic Arts, vol. 5, page 11. Mr. Campbell has done much to further the process announced by M. Neipce, and his experiments have proved highly successful.

The following is submitted as worthy of trial:

"The proper preparation of the chloridated plate, to enable it to receive colored impressions is an object of the first importance to those wishing to experiment on it, and consequently requires particular notice. The plate may be prepared by making it the positive pole of a battery, and letting it at the same time be immersed in chlorine water. The negative pole should be a slip of platinum. All the colors may be produced from a plate so prepared if the chlorine and water are in the right proportions; but generally one color or the other predominates, according to the amount of chlorine in the liquid. By adding the chlorides of strontian, uranium, potassium, sodium, iron, or copper to the liquid, various effects may be produced, and these bodies will be found to produce the same color on the plate that their flame gives to alcohol.

"The honor of this discovery is due to M. Neipce. Copper gives a variegated flame; hence many colors may be impressed on a plate prepared with a solution of its chloride.

"M. Neipce recommends a solution of the mixed chlorides of copper and iron, and it is with these, that I have been most successful. As the chlorides of copper and iron are not much used in the arts, they are not generally found for sale in the shops; and it may be well to furnish those not much versed in chemistry with an easy method of preparing them.

"They may be made directly from either metal by dissolving it in hydrochloric acid; but they may be formed by a cheaper method, and by which also the acid fumes are avoided.

"Sulphate of iron or copper, or both together, may be dissolved in water and then neutralized with common crude potash, or its carbonate or bicarbonate—known commonly as pearl ash and saleratus. If either of the latter be used, there will be formed sulphate of potash and a carbonate of the metal used, and there will also be a considerable effervescence of carbonic acid, which will, if care is not taken, cause the mixture to run over the vessel. After the copper or iron salt is neutralized, which is known by its ceasing to effervesce, the carbonate of the metal will settle slowly, and will at first nearly fill the vessel. The supernatant fluid, which is sulphate of potash in solution, may now be carefully poured off, and its place filled with water; this operation should be repeated several times until the water which passes off is tasteless. The carbonate of the metal rapidly changes to an oxide by contact with the air, and it will generally be found, when it is sufficiently washed, that it is at least half oxide. On adding hydrochloric acid cautiously to the mixture, a chloric of the metal will be formed, and carbonic acid will be evolved from the remaining carbonate. The chloride formed is soluble; but as there are two chlorides of these metals, and we wish to produce the one which contains the most chlorine, it is best to add the acid cautiously until the solution is decidedly acid. After filtering the solution, it is fit for use; and it should be preserved in well-stoppered bottles. The water used should be rain or distilled water.

"About one part of the mixed chlorides should be used to three or four of water.

"The battery may be either Smee's, Daniell's, or Grove's; if of either of the former, it should be of two series; if of the latter, one cup is sufficient.

"The plate on being immersed in the liquid, almost instantly takes a violet color. It should be allowed to remain from two to five minutes, according to the strength of the battery, and until it becomes nearly black. It should now be carefully washed, and afterwards heated over a spirit lamp until it takes a cherry-red color, and it is then ready for exposure in the camera. Before speaking of exposing the plate, it may be well to speak of some difficulties which the inexperienced operator may find in preparing it. If the battery is not in good order, and a sufficient current is not passed through the solution, the plate will become coated—and apparently almost as well as when the battery is working well—but on exposure it will give a negative picture, and but little colored; while if the battery is in good order, the impression is invariably positive.

"Sometimes on heating the plate after washing, the surface is covered with spots or assumes a variegated appearance. This indicates that the solution is impure, or that the plate have not been thoroughly washed and are still contaminated with the soluble chlorides which are contained in the solution.

"From the fact that the plate if prepared with positive electricity gives a positive picture, while it prepared otherwise it gives a negative, it is evident that electricity plays an important part in this process. The same is true to some extent with the compounds formed with iodine, bromine, and fluorine.

"On heating the plate, the brown coating of chloride melts into a translucent enamel, and the heat should be withdrawn when a cherry-red color is produced. It the heat is continued longer, the plate assumes a lighter color, and becomes less sensitive; and the enamel will finally scale off. To produce a picture by the ordinary process of M. Neipce, unaccelerated, it should be exposed for from three to five hours to sunlight in the camera, though pictures may be procured by contact, in from fifteen to thirty minutes."


I have produced some interesting specimens of the Daguerreotypic art, by exposing in the camera only a portion of the sensitive plate to the action of light. When on the exposed portion an image is formed, then taking the tablet into the dark room, change ends and expose the sensitive portion, and produce another image, developing as usual. This plan is adapted for taking likenesses for lockets. Two images can be presented as sitting side by side, by covering half the plate with black paper, and exposing as before. In this manner we have been enabled to surprise persons by exhibiting their portrait on the same plate with a stranger's. Daguerreotypists must be cautious in practicing this, as it might not be agreeable to the parties whose likenesses are together, by the above process. It is impossible to produce an impression without a line being seen where the edge of the paper prevented the operation of the light.

I have recently seen a fine specimen produced by another plan, which far exceeds the above, there being no line, or any peculiarity denoting two exposures. The specimen referred to, was a gentleman represented on one plate by two full length portraits. This was produced by using a black velvet for the background. The plate was exposed sufficient time to produce one impression, and then the gentleman assumed another position, and is repeated as looking at himself. From the fact that the time required to develop black velvet being so much longer than that for producing a portrait, we are enabled to produce the above interesting results.


Regarding specks from bad water, I would remark that gilding should be made only with distilled water. Thus made, it produces very little deposit, even by long keeping. It therefore preserves its original strength, and works with great uniformity.

Every grain of deposit contains at least 7-10 its weight of gold, easily discoverable by the blowpipe. Such gilding is continually deteriorating, which with good chloride and distilled water may be prevented. Distilled water should also be used for the hyposulphite. and for cleaning plates. Any good, clear water may be afterwards used for washing off, with equally good results. I am very rarely troubled with specs, and deem this as the main reason.

With a portable still attached to a cooking stove, I obtain half a gallon of water per hour, and with very little trouble. A small tin retort or still connected with a Leibig's condenser, would not add much to the "traps" of the travelling operator, and save him many a disreputable specimen.—T. J. BAILEY.—Humphrey's Journal.


The following is from Humphrey's Journal, vol. 5, and from the pen of Dr. WM. HARRINGTON, one of the most able writers upon the subject of the Daguerreotype in this country:


Beyond all doubt this is traceable to dampness. Truly this is not a new thought; but where does this dampness come from? How does it originate, and where is it located? Generally it has been referred to a point entirely remote from its real location.

This dampness exists particularly upon the surface of the plate; is obviously derived immediately from the atmosphere; and is owing to a certain relative temperature of the plate with the hygrometric condition of the atmosphere.

Whenever this relation exists between the plate and atmosphere, a precipitation of moisture takes place upon the surface of the plate, which render all efforts at polishing impracticable. This interference is not confined to the buffing operation alone, but sometimes is discoverable even in the ordinary process of scouring. Every one at all experienced in this art will remember that it is not always an easy matter for him, by scouring, to bring his plate to the desired lustre. All his efforts become unavailing; the more he rubs, the duller the surface of his plate appears; and although he renews his cotton repeatedly, still he is obliged to content himself with an unsatisfactory finish.

This relative condition is not confined to any particular season of the year, nor to any certain thermometric temperature; but may occur in summer as well as in winter; the weather being warm or cold, wet or dry, clear or cloudy, raining or shining. Under any of these circumstances, if the relation of the plate and atmosphere be such as to invite upon the plate a precipitation of humidity from the atmosphere, the prospect of producing a clear impression is quite problematical.

It is reasonable to expect this occurrence from the fact that metal is a good radiator, and radiation reduces the temperature of a metallic body below that of the atmosphere. Consequently, if this relative condition happens, the result will be as I have stated.

Bodies may be colder than the atmosphere and yet derive no moisture from it; while at the same time the driest atmosphere is not devoid of moisture, but will part with it under certain conditions.

Assuming for granted that this relative condition between the plate and atmosphere, disposing the former to receive the humidity of the latter, constitutes the great obstacle the operator has to contend with in producing, a clear proof upon the plate, the remedy naturally suggests itself, and is very simple. It consists in merely heating the plate above the temperature of the atmosphere, previous to polishing, and retaining that temperature during the operation. Various measures might be devised to effect the desired object; one of which consists of a sheet-iron box, heated from the inside by a spirit-lamp, upon the top of which are to be kept the plates ready to undergo the process of being polished; the blocks of the swing or any other vice; or the iron bed belonging to Lewis's vice.

In cold weather, when it is necessary to keep a fire in the preparation room, all of the above may be so arranged in the vicinity of the fire as to receive the requisite degree of heat for the purpose specified.

This part of the subject, however, is left entirely for the ingenuity of the operator. No matter by hat means he accomplishes the object; all that is required is to heat the plate above the temperature of the atmosphere and retain that heat during the process of polishing.

Since the adoption of this method, in connection with my partner, T. J. Dobyns, even in this humid climate of ours, when everything in the room is dripping with moisture, it has been attended with invariable success.


In the great catalogue of complaints made by operators, none is more common than that alleged against the quality of plates in general use. Although the greatest diversity of opinion exists upon this subject, nevertheless the plates of every manufactory share in this universal condemnation.

To be sure it cannot be denied but that this necessary article of utility in the photographic art has undergone a sad deterioration in quality owing to the increasing demand and great reduction in price—the plates of the present day being by no means so heavily coated with silver as formerly—but the complaint alluded to is not predicated so much upon the thinness of silver as upon a mysterious something which has conferred upon the plates the epithet of not good.

That this complaint is in a great measure groundless appears evident from the fact that while, with the same brand of plates one operator can work successfully, another encounters the greatest difficulty; while one is able to produce beautifully clear and altogether satisfactory results, the other labors under the troublesome annoyance of innumerable specks, large dark insensitive patches and brown map-like portions, together with divers other blemishes, sufficient to prevent him from obtaining anything like a tolerable impression.

From this wide difference in the results of the two operators using identically the same article, it is but reasonable to conclude that the complaint is founded in error; while the inference is no more than just, that the fault may be traced to a want of practical skill on the part of the complaining operator himself; rather than to the inferior quality of the plates.

The question, then, whether the plates are unfit for use, or whether those who pronounce them so understand how to use them, appears to be satisfactorily answered. It therefore becomes a matter worthy of investigation, to ascertain what superior judgment and skill one operator possesses over another which enable him to work successfully a quality of plate, pronounced by the other entirely useless.

Suppose we make a critical examination of one of the repudiated plates. From its external appearance we have little hesitation in pronouncing it to be French; indeed, this presumption is strongly corroborated by the fact that it is ornamented upon one of its corners with a brand to designate the manufactory from which it emanated.

Upon close inspection we cannot fail to notice a striking peculiarity upon the surface; the roughness is very remarkable; the planishing hammer has left amazingly visible indications of its busy work. One would suppose the manufacturer intended the surface of the plate to represent the undulations of the sea, instead of that smooth and level character so strongly recommended by M. Daguerre.

Such a plate necessarily requires at the hand of the operator considerable labor before the surface is in a proper condition to receive a suitable polish from the buffer. The least reflection in the world should teach any one that so long as the undulatory character continues upon the surface of the plate, it is in a very imperfect condition for buffing, because the buffer cannot touch every point equally; the elevated portions alone receiving a high degree of polish while the depressed portion, from their roughness acting as nuclei, gather dust, rouge, and other foreign bodies, so detrimental to sensitiveness. The secret of the superior judgment and skill of one operator over another, is intimately connected with this point: his success depends very much upon the first process of cleaning the plate.

Let us examine the manipulation of the complaining operator. He takes one of these plates and gives it a careful scouring with rotten-stone and alcohol or any other liquid preferred for this part of the operation—that is, he gives it what he terms a careful scouring—very gently indeed because, from the frequent trials he is in the habit of making in the camera, he fears he will rub the silver entirely away before he succeeds in obtaining a good impression. The dark patches, specks, and granular appearance resulting entirely from the unevenness of the surface of the plate, look like copper to him, and he is surprised that he should have rubbed away the silver so soon, particularly by such delicate handling.

The judgment and experience of the successful operator, however, teach him that scouring injures a plate less than buffing. He knows that unless the hammer marks be obliterated, he cannot by the buffer produce a surface of uniform polish and sensitiveness, without which a fair proof is extremely doubtful; he knows that the time employed in the preliminary operation of cleaning the plate properly is economy.

There is a style of French plates in the market, denominated heavy, which are truly excellent, if properly managed. Much patience, however, is required to remove the marks of the hammer; but with tripoli and alcohol the surface is readily cut down, and the plate is then susceptible of a beautiful black lustre by polishing with the buffer. The complaining operator could not succeed by his own method with one of the plates; he would encounter all manner of clouds and other unaccountable phenomena; he would imagine this plate entirely worn out before it was half cleaned, and soon fix in his own estimation the reputation of the heavy plate.

In making a choice of plates, therefore, it would appear to be a matter of perfect indifference with an experienced operator what kind he would use, except so far only as the labor required in cleaning them was to be taken into consideration.

The distinction between a scale plate, a Scovill No. 1, S. F., heavy A, star, crescent, eagle, or any other brand, consists in the superior finish of some, and the thinness of the silver in the cheaper qualities.

Consequently, let the complaining operator but employ the diligence inculcated in this article, to clean his plate thoroughly, so as to bring it to a perfectly even and level surface, and he will seldom be troubled with specks, clouds, dark patches, and the host of other obstacles which heretofore have tormented him.



[From Humphrey's Journal, vol. ii 1851]

As a general thing, however perfect any invention may be deemed by the inventor or discoverer, it falls to the lot of most, to be the subject of improvement and advancement, and especially is this the case with those new projects in science which open an untrodden field to the view of the artisan. Such has been, in an eminent degree, the case with the discovery first announced to the world by Mons. Jean Jaques Claude Daguerre, of Paris, in the year 1839, and which excited unbounded astonishment, curiosity and surprise. It may be questioned had any other than Daguerre himself discovered a like beautiful combination, whether the world would have been favored with details exhibiting so much care, patience and perseverance as the Daguerreotype on its introduction. Shortly after, these details reached the United States, by Professor S. F. B. Morse, of New York, who was, at the time of the discovery, residing in Paris. By this announcement, the whole scientific corps was set in operation, many repeating the experiments, following carefully the directions pointed out by Daguerre, as being necessary to success. Among the number in the United States, was Alexander S. Wolcott (since deceased) and myself; both of this city. On the morning of the 6th day of October, 1839, I took to A. Wolcott's residence, a full description of Daguerre's discovery, he being at the time engaged in the department of Mechanical Dentistry, on some work requiring his immediate attention, the work being promised at 2 P.M. that day; having, therefore, no opportunity to read the description for himself (a thing he was accustomed to do at all times, when investigating any subject). I read to him the paper, and proposed to him that if he would plan a camera (a matter he was fully acquainted with, both theoretically and practically), I would obtain the materials as specified by Daguerre. This being agreed to, I departed for the purpose, and on my return to his shop, he handed me the sketch of a camera box, without at all explaining in what manner the lens was to be mounted. This I also undertook to procure. After 2, P.M., he had more leisure, when he proceeded to complete the camera, introducing for that purpose a reflector in the back of the box, and also to affix a plate holder on the inside, with a slide to obtain the focus on the plate, prepared after the manner of Daguerre. While Mr. Wolcott was engaged with the camera, I busied myself in polishing the silver plate, or rather silver plated copper; but ere reaching the end preparatory to iodizing, I found I had nearly or quite removed the silver surface from off the plate, and that being the best piece of sliver-plated copper to be found, the first remedy at hand that suggested itself, was a burnisher, and a few strips were quickly burnished and polished. Meantime, the camera being finished, Mr. Wolcott, after reading for himself Daguerre's method of iodizing, prepared two plates, and placing them in the camera, guessed at the required time they should remain exposed to the action of the light; after mercurializing each in turn, and removing the iodized surface with a solution of common salt two successful impressions were obtained, each unlike the other! Considerable surprise was excited by this result, for each plate was managed precisely like the other. On referring to Daguerre, no explanation was found for this strange result; time, however, revealed to us that one picture was positive, and the other negative. On this subject I shall have much to say during the progress of the work. Investigating, the cause of this difference occupied the remainder of that day. However, another attempt was agreed upon, and the instruments, plates, etc., prepared and taken up into an attic room, in a position most favorable for light. Having duly arranged the camera, I sat for five minutes, and the result was a profile miniature (a miniature in reality,) or a plate not quite three-eighths of an inch square. Thus, with much deliberation and study, passed the first day in Daguerreotype—little dreaming or knowing into what a labyrinth such a beginning was hastening us.

[Description of apparatus represented on pages 192 and 199:]

A.—The Box—about 4 inches long by about 2 outside diameter. B.—The Reflector soldered to a brass screw, and mounted in the rear of the box. c.—The slide to regulate the focus to the plate holder. d.—The standard to the plate holder screwed to the slide. f.—The plate-holder frame having two small ledges, * *, for the plate to rest upon.


g.—The plate resting upon the ledge., * *, and kept against the frame by the spring h. The plates used were about 3/8 of an inch square. A.—The window with the sashes removed.

B and C (p. 199) are large looking-glasses mounted as plain reflectors, the lower one C having rotary motion upon the saddle, resting upon the sill of the window in order to direct the rays of the sun upon the reflector B, at any hour of the day—the vertical motion of the reflector C being necessary, the sun varying in altitude so much during the hours most favorable to the production of portraits. The reflector C was {193} kept up to the required position by the handle lever, upright post and bolts. Reflector B was hinged at its upper end at the top of the window frame, the only motion being necessary was that which would reflect upon the sitter the incident rays from reflector C—the reflector B being kept at the required angle by the connecting lever m, etc. Suitable back-grounds were placed behind the sitter.

The reflector B and C, had frequently to be renewed, the heat of the sun soon destroying their brilliance or power of reflecting, light, before renewing them, however, we resorted to the springing of them, by which means their power was increased for a period.

The camera or reflecting apparatus, invented by Mr. Wolcott, was, from the nature of the case, better adapted at that day to the taking of portraits from life, than any other instruments. After carefully examining the camera described by Daguerre, and the time stated as necessary to produce action for an image, it became evident to the mind of Mr. Wolcott at once, that more light could be obtained (as the field of view required was not large) by employing a reflector of short focus and wide aperture, than from a lens arrangement, owing to spherical aberration and other causes. Many experiments having been tried with the small instrument figured (p. 199), a reflector for taking portraits from life was determined on, having eight inches diameter, with twelve inches focal distance for parallel rays; this was to admit plates of two inches wide by two and a half long Mr. Wolcott having on hand reflectors of the right diameter, for Newtonian telescopes, of eight feet focal distance, resolved (as it was a matter of experiment) to grind down or increase the curve for the focal distance before named—this required time. In the mean time, many plans were pursued for making good plates, and the means of finishing, them. As the completion of the large reflector drew to a close, our mutual friend, Henry Fitz, Jr., returned from England, whither he had been on a visit, and when he heard what we were about, kindly offered his assistance; he being well versed in optics, and having been before engaged with Mr. Wolcott, in that and other business is offer was gladly accepted—Mr. Wolcott himself having frequent engagement; to fill as operator in the details of mechanical dentistry. Thus, by the aid of Mr. Fitz, the reflector was polished, and experiments soon after tried on plates of two by tow and a half inches, with tolerable success. Illness on my part quite suspended further trial for nearly four weeks.

On my recovery, early in January, 1840, our experiments were again resumed with improved results, so much so as to induce Mr. Wolcott and myself to entertain serious thoughts of making a business of the taking of likenesses from life, intending to use the reflecting apparatus invented by Mr. Wolcott, and for which he obtained Letters Patent, on the 8th day of May, 1840. Up to January 1st, 1840, all experiments had been tried on an economical scale, and the apparatus then made, was unfit for public exhibition; we resolved to make the instruments as perfect as possible while they were in progress of manufacture. Experiments were made upon mediums for protecting the eyes from the direct light of the sun, and also upon the best form and material for a back-ground to the likenesses. The length of time required for a "sitting," even with the reflecting apparatus, was such as to render the operation anything but pleasant. Expedients were ever ready in the hands of Wolcott: blue glass was tried and abandoned in consequence of being, at that time, unable to procure a piece of uniform density and surface: afterwards a series of thin muslin screens secured to wire frames were prepared as a substitute for blue glass. The objections to these screens, however, were serious, inasmuch as a multiplication of them became necessary to lessen the intensity of the light sufficiently for due protection to the eyes, without which, the likenesses, other than profiles, were very unpleasant to look upon. Most of the portraits, then of necessity were profiles formed upon back-grounds, the lighter parts relieved upon black, and the darker parts upon light ground; the back-ground proper being of light colored material with black velvet so disposed upon the light ground, this being placed sufficiently far from the sitter, to produce harmony of effect when viewed in the field of the camera. Other difficulties presented themselves seriously to the working of the discovery of Daguerre, to portrait taking—one of which was the necessity for a constant and nearly horizontal light, that the shaded portions of the portrait should not be too hard, and yet, at the same time, be sufficiently well developed without the "high light" of the picture becoming overdone, solarized or destroyed. In almost all the early specimens of the Daguerreotype, extremes of light and shade presented themselves, much to the annoyance of the early operators, and seriously objectionable were such portraits. To overcome this difficulty, Mr. Wolcott mounted, with suitable joints, upon the top of his camera, a large looking-glass or plane reflector, in such a manner that the light of the sun (as a strong light was absolutely necessary), when falling upon the glass could be directed upon the person in an almost horizontal direction.

Early in February, 1840, Mr. Johnson, Sen., (since deceased) sailed for Europe with a few specimen likenesses taken with the instruments completed as above, with the intention of patenting the invention. On his arrival a joint arrangement was effected with Mr. Richard Beard, of London, in patenting and working the invention in England. Up to February, 1840, but few friends had been made acquainted with the progress of the art in the hands of Mr. Wolcott and myself. From time to time reports reached us from various sources of the success of others, and specimens of landscapes, etc., were exhibited at Dr. James R. Chilton's laboratory, in Broadway, much to the gratification of the numerous visitors and anxious expectants for this most wonderful discovery. Dr. Chilton, Professor J. J. Mapes, Professor J. W. Draper. Professor S. F. B. Morse, all of this city; Mr. Cornelius, Dr. Goddard and others of Philadelphia; Mr. Southworth, Professor Plumbe, and numerous others were early in the field; all, however, using the same description of camera as that of Daguerre, with modification for light, either by enlargement by lens and aperture for light, or by shortening the focal distance.

At a conversational meeting of the Mechanics' Institute, Professor J. J. Mapes being present, a question was asked if any one present could give information relative to portraiture from life by the Daguerreotype. Mr. Kells, a friend of Mr. Wolcott and a scientific and practical man (since deceased), at once marked out upon the black-board, the whole as contrived by Mr. Wolcott. This gave publicity to the invention of Mr. Wolcott. Shortly after, Professor Mapes, Dr. Chilton, and many others, sat for their portraits, and were highly gratified. Professor Morse also came and proposed to Mr. Wolcott to join him in the working of the invention, etc.

From this time much interest was manifested by our friends in our progress. Rooms were obtained in the Granite Buildings, corner of Broadway and Chambers street, and fitted for business. The rooms being small, it was soon found impracticable to use the arrangement of looking-glass, as previously spoken of; a new plan became necessary, to introduce which, the sashes were removed, {199} and two large looking-glasses were mounted in proper frames, thus:—

Just in front, and between the sitter and {200} the reflector, upon a proper stand, were used those paper muslin screen before described; also screens of tissue paper. These screens, however, when they were used, required so much time for a sitting, that some other medium, as a protection to the eyes, became absolutely necessary. The most plausible thing that suggested itself was blue glass; but, as this could not be found, numerous were the expedients proposed by the friends of the art, who from time to time visited our rooms. At the suggestion of Professor Mapes (who is ever ready to assist those in perplexity), a trough of plate glass s, about twenty-eight inches square in the clear, and from three to four inches thick, was filled with a solution of ammonia sulphate of copper, and mounted on the frame as in the sketch, which, for a time, answered extremely well; soon, however, decomposition of this solution became apparent from the increased length of time required for a sitting, although to the eye of an observer, no visible cause for such long sittings could be pointed out. Professor Mapes being appealed to, suggested that to the above solution a little acid be added which acted like a charm—shortening the time for a sitting from six, eight, or ten minutes to that of about one. Decomposition, however, would go on by the action of light and heat through the solution. New solutions were tried, when the whole were finally abandoned as being, too uncertain and troublesome. (The reflecting apparatus R, was placed upon the stand as in the sketch, with a wedge for elevating the camera, between it and the table, to obtain the image properly upon the plate.) A quantity of blue window glass was next obtained, and holes drilled through the corners of it, and several sheets were wired together to increase the size, and, when complete, was suspended from the ceiling in its proper place, and so arranged that when a person was sitting, this sheet of glass could be moved to and from, the object of which was to prevent shadows on the face of the sitter produced from the uneven surface of the glass. This latter contrivance was used until a perfect plate of glass was procured.

The number of persons desirous of obtaining, their miniatures, induced many to entertain the idea of establishing themselves in the Art as a profession, and numerous were the applications for information; many persons paying for their portraits solely with the view of seeing the manner of our manipulations, in order that they might obtain information to carry on likeness-taking as a business.

The reflecting camera being a very troublesome instrument to make, and difficulties besetting us from every source, but little attention could be given to teaching others; and, indeed, as the facts seemed to be at this time, we knew but little of the necessary manipulations ourselves. In course of time, several established themselves. The first one, after ourselves, who worked the discovery of Daguerre for portrait taking in this city, was a Mr. Prosch; followed soon after by many others, in almost all cases copying the reflecting arrangement for light, as figured above, many using it even after we had long abandoned that arrangement for a better one.

Innumerable obstacles to the rapid advance of the daguerreotype, presented themselves almost hourly, much to the annoyance of ourselves, and those dependent upon our movements for their advancement. Among the most difficult problems of the day, was the procuring of good plates. Messrs. Corduran & Co. were among the first to supply the trade; at that early day, however, it was a very rare thing, to be able to procure an even perfect surface, from the fact that a pure surface of silver could scarcely be obtained, the manufacturers deeming it too much trouble to prepare silver plated copper with pure silver—the result was, that in attempting to polish perfectly such plated metal as could be procured, the plates would become cloudy, or colored in spots, from the fact of having more or less alloy, according as more or less of the silver surface was removed in polishing the plate fit for an impression. To explain more clearly, it was the practice of most silver platers to use an alloy for silver-plating. In the reduction of the ingot to sheet metal, annealing has to be resorted to, and acid pickles to remove oxides, etc. The number of times the plated metal is exposed to heat and acid in its reduction to the required thickness, produces a surface of pure silver. The most of this surface is, however, so rough as to be with difficulty polished, without in places removing entirely this pellicle of pure metal, and exposing a polished surface of the alloy used in plating. Whenever such metal was used, very unsightly stains or spots frequently disfigured the portraits. The portrait, or portion of it, developed upon the pure silver, being much lighter or whiter than that developed upon the alloy; it therefore appeared that the purer the silver, the more sensitive the plate became. Accordingly, we directed Messrs. Scovills, of Connecticut, to prepare a roll of silver-plated metal, with pure silver; it fortunately proved to be a good article, but, unfortunately, a pound of this metal (early in 1840) cost the round sum of $9. Like descriptions of metal, the same gentlemen would be glad to furnish, at this time, for $4. Soon after this, some samples of English plated metal, of a very superior quality, came to our possession, and relieved us from the toil of making and plating one plate at a time, an expedient we were compelled to resort to, to command material to meet the pressing demands for portraits.

Having it now in our power to obtain good plated metal, a more rapid mode of polishing than that recommended by Daguerre was attempted as follows:

This metal was cut to the desired size, and having a pair of "hand rolls" at hand, each plate, with its silvered side placed next to the highly polished surface of a steel die, was passed and repassed through the rolls many times, by which process a very smooth, perfect surface was obtained. The plates were then annealed, and a number of plates thus prepared were fastened to the bottom of a box a few inches deep a foot wide, and eighteen inches long; this box was placed upon a table and attached to a rod connected to the face plate of a lathe, a few inches from its centre, so as to give the box a reciprocating motion. A quantity of emery was now strewn over the plates, and the lathe set in motion. The action produced wag a friction or rubbing of the emery over the surface of the plates.

When continued for some time, a greyish polish was the result. Linseed, when used in the same manner, gave us better hope of success, and the next step resorted to was to build a wheel and suspend it after the manner of a grindstone. The plates being secured to the inner side of the wheel or case, and as this case revolved, the seeds would constantly keep to the lower level, and their sliding over the surface of the plates would polish or burnish their surfaces. This, with the former, was soon abandoned; rounded shots of silver placed in the same wheel were found not to perform the polishing so well as linseed. Buff-wheels of leather with rotten-stone and oil, proved to be far superior to all other contrivances; and, subsequently, at the suggestion of Professor Draper, velvet was used in lieu of buff leather, and soon superseded all other substances, both for lathe and hand-buffs, and I would add, for the benefit of new beginners that those who are familiar with its use, prefer cotton velvet. The only requisite necessary is, that the buffs made of cotton velvet should be kept dry and warm.

The greater number of operators, with whose practice I am familiar, use, for polishing plates, prepared tripoli, imported from France, or Browne's rotten-stone. The former of these articles is very objectionable, inasmuch as there is no positive certainty of being enabled to procure or make the article of uniform grit—the nature of the substance rendering, it impossible to reduce it to varying degrees of evenness, by the well known process of washing, for that purpose, and the burning of rotten-stone changes its chemical nature somewhat, at the same time rendering, this invaluable article harsh and gritty. And especially, no reliance can be placed upon burned rotten stone if purchased from those who do not give very great attention and care to its preparation; and the same remarks apply to rouge.

The best article for polishing Daguerreotype plates is rotten-stone, such as can be procured in any town, prepared after the following manner: Procure, say half a dozen wide-mouthed bottles, of suitable dimensions, numbering each from one to six. Put into No. 1 about half a pound of rotten-stone, and nearly fill the bottle with water. Then, with a proper stick or spatule, mix well the rotten-stone and water; after which, let No. 1 rest for, say one minute, then carefully pour off into bottle No. 2 (or, what would be better, draw off by a syphon) as much of the floating particles of rotten-stone as is suspended in the water. Again fill bottle No. 1 with water, agitate it as before, and decant it to bottle No. 2, care being taken to draw off only the suspended particles of rotten-stone.

When a sufficient quantity of washings from bottle No. 1 is collected into bottle No. 2, a similar process must be gone through, as above stated, for No. 1; the difference being in the care required, and in the time allowed between the stirring or mixing the rotten-stone and water. The floating particles of rotten-stone, after four minutes' subsiding, will be found fine enough for the finest Daguerreotype polishing required.

A quantity of such washings may be collected in a large bottle, and allowed to stand a few hours, when all the rotten-stone will have settled. The water may be poured off and the rotten-stone put into an evaporating dish, and while being dried, must be constantly stirred to obtain an impalpable powder.

Further washings may in like manner be resorted to for finer qualities of rotten-stone. In my practice, I have used the articles at two and four minutes' settling, and occasionally have prepared it after standing for eight minutes. So fine a quality as this, however, is seldom required. In using, rotten-stone, I mix with it, for polishing, fine olive oil, until I obtain a thin paste—and the best of all methods for polishing (well planished) Daguerreotype plates, is one like that used for glass by lens polishers; that is, by using a disc or buff-wheel, and having, a suitable holder by which to secure the plate, and then by pressing the plate against the revolving buff, well saturated with the mixed oil and rotten-stone, a very good surface is obtained. A quantity of plates may be prepared in this way, and all the adhering oil, etc., may be removed by a clean hand, or lathe buff, after which each plate must be heated to the point necessary to burn off the remaining oil great care being required not to overheat the plate. A very slight excess of temperature will at once destroy all the polish previously obtained. The test for ascertaining the right temperature is at hand; the adhering oil will be driven from the plate in the form of smoke when the right temperature is reached. The moment the smoke ceases to rise from the plate, the heat must be removed, and the plate quickly cooled upon a piece of iron.

A quantity of plates thus prepared may be kept on hand for any required time, and the labor of one minute, with a lathe or hand-buff with dry charcoal, or rather, prepared lampblack, will perfectly polish the surface ready for indexing, etc. This lampblack also requires some care in preparing. Take a small-size crucible, properly temper it by a slow fire, that it may not be cracked after which, fill it with common lampblack, cover it over with a piece of soap-stone, and again replace it in the fire. Build a good hard coal fire around it continue the heat for two or three hours, being careful not to raise the cover till the crucible be quite cold. Pulverize when using it. It is very desirable to keep this lampblack dry and warm. Some operators use much rouge I would recommend the above in preference; but those who feel that they cannot dispense with the use of rouge, had better try a large addition of prepared lampblack to a small one of rouge, as this latter article, unless great pains be taken in its preparation, will adhere and work itself into the body of the surface, so that it cannot be removed therefrom; and I have seen many specimens of Daguerreotype very much injured in effect from this rouge tint disseminated throughout their shaded features, at the same time that the whole general effect of such pictures is that of a want of life. It is true that with the use of rouge a very high degree of polish may be obtained, but probably not higher than can be produced with many other substances of a less objectionable nature.

From the announcement of the discovery by Daguerre to the beginning of the year 1840, I am not aware of any attempt to lessen the time for the action of an image, or an impression, other than that of the reflecting camera invented by Mr. Wolcott. Early, however, in 1840, Mr. Wolcott was desirous to be enabled to further shorten the time for a sitting, and having some knowledge of bromine and its action, by request, Dr. Chilton prepared a small quantity; but Mr. Wolcott did not succeed very well with it, he having invariably used too much in combination with iodine to produce that sensitive coating now well known to the profession. Professor Morse, of this city, Dr. Goddard, of Philadelphia, and others, in the years 1840 and 1841, were acquainted with the use of bromine. N. Griffing, of this city, or myself, used with tolerable success, iodine in large excess to nitric acid and water; and, subsequently, to nitro muriatic acid (which reacted and formed a peculiar chloride of iodine); this latter combination proved to be preferable to simple iodine, at the same time somewhat more sensitive, and was used by me in this city up to the time of my leaving for London (October 1, 1840). On arriving in London, I instituted a series of experiments in the various chemical combinations, solely with the view to be enabled to obtain more speedily a portrait than it was practicable to do with any known chemicals at that date. The high latitude, and the winter season of the year rendering but a feeble light at best, the greater the necessity for a more sensitive chemical preparation to the shortening the time for a sitting. Near the beginning of the year 1841, I discovered and practically applied, chloride of iodine to great advantage, and, as far as memory serves me, I believe the first used in this country was some made and shipped, Messrs. Harnden & Co., from London, to Mr. Wolcott, in New York.

About the same time, Mr. John Goddard, of London (who was associated with myself), discovered a rather valuable combination of chemicals, consisting of a mixture of iodine, bromine, iodus, and iodic acid, and a proper combination of those bodies gave an action somewhat more sensitive than chloride of iodine—but the "high lights" of the portraits would become solarized or overdone, more frequently with this combination than with the chloride of iodine. Throughout the year 1841, I used, with great success, chloride of iodine, applied as one coating—occasionally in conjunction with Mr. Wolcott, attempting the use of iodine, bromine, and chlorine, and at times with more or less success. The difficulty of exactly combining, the three elements above mentioned, in order to produce a certainty of result with harmony of effect, was the work of many months, with great labor and study, the slightest modification requiring a long, series of practical experiments, a single change consuming, frequently, an entire day in instituting comparisons, etc., etc.

Early in the year, 1842, I discovered a combination of chemicals (now known in London as "Wolcott's Mixture," in hermetically sealed bulbs) of exceeding uniform character, very sensitive to the action of light, and specimens produced in 1842-3, with this combination, will bear comparison with the best specimens produced at this late date.

About the same time, I discovered that however much overdone a Daguerreotype might be, the means were at hand to save or redeem it. It has long, since been known to operators, that if a plate be exposed to light after being coated, unless it be again coated, a clear and distinct picture could not be obtained upon the same plate without first repolishing and recoating the same, care being taken that no light fall upon the prepared surface. To prevent solarization, coat a plate as usual, expose to the action of light any required time (according to circumstances), say from quarter to one half more time than would be required in the ordinary method of procedure; observe, before putting the plate in the mercury box, place it over the vapor of iodine, bromine, or chlorine, etc. (carefully excluding the light), for a very brief period, great care being required to have the selected vapor very much diluted with air, in order to success. Many experiments will be required ere arriving at satisfactory results. Specimens now unknown to general operators, for harmony of effect, have been, and may again be produced by the method pointed out above. I have found the best general effect, and the most certain result to follow from the use of the vapor of chlorine—but this requires more than ordinary care. I would, therefore, recommend the use of iodine. Thus: to a few grains of iodine, add an ounce of warm water (which will become tinged with iodine); when cold, to half a pint of pure water in a new and clean coating box, put, of the above, fifty drops; stir and mix well this small quantity of iodine in with the water; in ten minutes this box will be ready for use. Great care and judgment will be required in the application of this vapor to the plate; if the plate remain over the vapor too long, the developed picture will have a faint and misty appearance; if not exposed long enough, the "high light" will be solarized. I have great hope of the ultimate use of this process, as it is the only means yet discovered to be enabled to secure specimens of extremes of light and shade, yet producing harmony of effect; and I would call the attention of the profession to the fact, that a plate may be exposed to the action of light for any length of time (a thousand times longer than required to act for the lesser quantity of mercury to deposit itself, or that amount necessary to form a perfect specimen), and be restored by the application of any of the vapors above mentioned, remarking that for extremes for solarization, denser vapors will be required. Much remains to be done with this discovery to the application of the Daguerreotype.


The above-named publication is well known as the best and most valuable one devoted to the Photographic Science in this country. Humphrey's Journal made its appearance November 1st, 1850, and consequently is the first and oldest serial offered to the Photographic world.

The art of producing Portraits and Landscapes by means of Light, has recently taken a new and enlivening impulse, which will in all probability lead to important and interesting results. No practical Daguerreotypist, Photographer, or amateur, should be without the means at hand for securing all of the information upon this subject. Each should be ready to receive and apply the improvements as they may be developed. In order to accomplish this, it is a matter of great importance to the Practitioner or Experimenter that he should have a reliable medium through which he can obtain information. In what source can the inquirer better place his confidence than in a regular Journal, whose editor is literally a practical person, and familiar with the manipulations necessary for producing Portraits upon "Daguerreotype Plates," and upon glass and paper? Such is the conductor of Humphrey's Journal.

This Journal is published once every two weeks, and contains all the improvements relating to the Art, and is the only American Journal whose editor is practically acquainted with the process for producing Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, and Photographs. The first No. of Vol. X. is dated May 1st, 1858. The terms (Two Dollars per annum) are trifling compared with the vast amount of information furnished.

AMBROTYPES.—Humphrey's Journal contains everything novel which appears upon this subject, and has already presented more new, important, and original matter than can be found in any other place.

Many are the letters we have received during the term of the last volume, in which the writer has stated that a single number of Humphrey's Journal has contained information of more value to him than "several times the amount paid for the entire volume."

Our resources have grown up around us, and our facilities for procuring, as well as distributing, all such facts and improvements as will benefit as well as instruct all who have the progress of the Art at heart, are as ample as they can well be made.

The future volumes will be abundantly furnished with original writings from persons of standing in the scientific world; and the practical Photographer will here find a full account of such improvements as may from time to time develop themselves.

From the editor's long practical experience in the Heliographic Science, he will be enabled to present the subject in a plain, clear, and concise manner.

Read what the Editors say of Humphrey's Journal:—

"We have received a copy of a valuable Journal (Humphrey's) published in New York, which has reached the 18th number of Vol. VI.... We now have the pleasure of quoting from our trans-atlantic coadjutor."—Liverpool Photographic Jour.

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"This Art is entitled to its own organ, which could not have fallen into better hands than those of the editor of 'Humphrey's Journal.'"—Transcript.

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From some of our Subscribers

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We might quote like commendatory extracts enough to more than ten times fill this page.

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Containing simple and concise directions for obtaining Views, Portraits, etc., by the chemical agency of Light, by W. H. Thornthwaite, author of "Photogenic Manipulations," etc. Illustrated with numerous wood-cuts. The Book contains more than one hundred 12mo pages, bound in board, and is sold at twenty-five cents per copy, or five copies for one dollar. Address

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