The Acquisitions Table: Daguerreotype Apparatus

Daguerreotype Apparatus. Boston: H.P. Lewis, 1840.

Daguerreotype Apparatus broadsideThe technical elements of daguerreotypy were presented by Louis Daguerre to the world in Paris in August of 1839. By September, a technical manual, in French, was for sale on the streets of Paris and London. At the end of September 1839, an Englishman named D. W. Seager was in New York demonstrating the process, and he was soon followed by the Frenchman François Gouraud, who arrived in November and began giving lessons and selling apparatus built in France.

In early 1840, Gouraud traveled to Boston, where the city’s newspapers were already abuzz with the excitement of the new invention. The February 12, 1840, Columbian Centinel announced Gouraud’s pending arrival around February 20, stating that “Daguerreotype drawing is the wonder of the Age.” In June, Gouraud’s apparatus was still set up in S. G. Simpkin’s bookstore on Tremont Row, and the Frenchman was demonstrating daguerreotyping for Boston residents. One of those Bostonians was mechanic Ari Davis, who built and repaired scientific and nautical instruments on Cornhill. This broadside documents the fact that Davis was also building the three devices needed to make daguerreotypes: a fuming chamber, a camera, and a developing box. Davis moved from Boston to Lowell in early 1841, placing the date of this broadside firmly in the momentous year 1840.

On the broadside, Davis outlines the process and touts the advantages of his construction methods over those produced by others, stating that he “modified somewhat the apparatus, as described by Daguerre, and has rendered it more portable, lighter, and more elegant…” Davis writes glowingly of the process, calling the images “solar paintings” and declaring, “To those who have never seen the solar paintings, it may be proper to say, that no description can convey any idea of their beauty, accuracy, and wonderful minuteness.” The Society’s collection of 1839-1841 imprints on early American photography is outstanding, with important technical periodicals and early manuals already in our holdings. This broadside documenting Davis as a home-grown mechanic building cameras in 1840 Boston is an important addition to the evidence and documentation of the birth of photography.

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

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