The Plumbe Daguerreotypes
In 1972 when interest in collecting photographs was just becoming popular, collector Michael Kessler found seven daguerreotypes of architectural subjects at the Alameda flea market in San Francisco. After the tarnished plates were cleaned, Kessler sent copy photographs of six of the images to the Library of Congress for assistance in identifying the buildings.
The newly discovered daguerreotypes were identified as government buildings located in Washington, D.C., and a monument in Baltimore. Library staff were excited to discover that these images were the earliest photographic views of buildings in the nation's capital. Among the images were daguerreotypes of the United States Capitol, the White House, two views of the General Post Office, the Patent Office, and a monument commemorating the Battle of North Point, located in Baltimore.
The daguerreotypes were attributed to photographer, John Plumbe, who opened a daguerreotype studio in Washington, D.C., in 1845. Contemporary newspaper accounts reported on Plumbe's work. The United States Journal, on January 29, 1846, mentioned: "Mr. Plumbe's National Daguerrian Gallery at Concert Hall, is an establishment whose superior merits are well deserving the notice of all who feel an interest in the beautiful art of Photography... We are glad to learn that this artist is now engaged in taking views of all the public buildings which are executed in a style of elegance, that far surpasses any we have ever seen.....It is his intention to dispose of copies of these beautiful pictures, either in sets or singly, thus affording to all, an opportunity of securing perfect representation of the government buildings..." A month later, on February 20th, Washington's Daily Times reported: "Views of the Capitol, Patent Office and other public buildings embellish the walls [of John Plumbe's gallery]..."
The Library purchased six of the daguerreotypes in 1972. An additional view of the U.S. Capitol was sold to a private collector. In 1995, a third daguerreotype of the U.S. Capitol attributed to John Plumbe, was sold at Sotheby's auction house.