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Collection Daguerreotypes

About this Collection

There are approximately 700 daguerreotypes in the Prints & Photographs Division. The majority of the images are portraits, but the collection does include a few early architectural views, outdoor scenes, and copies of works of art.

384 of the daguerreotypes are credited to Mathew Brady's studio. Brady, who today is mainly remembered for the work produced by his studio during the Civil War, opened his first daguerreotype studio in New York City in 1844. The Library has the largest collection of Brady studio daguerreotypes in existence. Most of these were acquired in 1920 from the Army War College. Some of the images are copy daguerreotypes. Portrait sitters represented in the collection include political figures, such as President James K. Polk and Thomas Hart Benton; artists, including Thomas Cole, George Peter Alexander Healy, and Henry Inman; and journalists, Horace Greeley, Henry J. Raymond, and James Gordon Bennett. Many of the sitters are unidentified.

John Plumbe's architectural daguerreotypes of sites in the Washington-Baltimore area are the earliest existing photographic views of buildings and monuments in the nation's capital and its neighboring city. Dating from 1846 or so, the six views include images of the White House, the Capitol, the Patent Office, the General Post Office, and a monument commemorating the Battle of North Point (Baltimore). The Library acquired these views in 1972.

The earliest known portraits of President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln are daguerreotypes, presented to the Library in 1937 by their granddaughter, Mrs. Charles Isham. The quarter-plate portrait of Lincoln was most likely taken shortly after the thirty-seven year old was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. It has been attributed to photographer N.H. Shepherd, who ran a gallery in Springfield, Illinois, in 1846-1847. This attribution is based upon the recollections of a member of the Lincoln and Herndon law office.

Many daguerreotypes have come to the Library with the manuscript collections of prominent Americans. Such collections include the Clara Barton Collection, the Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection of Alexander Graham Bell Family Photographs, the Feinberg/Whitman Collection, the Anson Conger Goodyear Collection of Lincoln images, the Blackwell Family Collection, and the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection.

The American Colonization Society collection, a group of material related to African American emigration to Liberia, contains thirty daguerreotypes of Liberian government officials and other colonists. The sitters include Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first president of Liberia; his wife, Jane Roberts; Stephen Allen Benson, Secretary of the Treasury under Roberts; and Edward W. Blyden, who became a prominent educator in Liberia. Five images have the name of the photographer, Augustus Washington, stamped on their brass mats. Washington was a black daguerreotypist who operated a studio in Hartford, Connecticut, until November 1853 when he moved to Liberia. An additional eleven images, housed in identical brass mats and preservers, were also most likely taken by Washington.