Daguerreotypes - The Story of the making of the images

H. L. Pattinson visited America in 1839, and from reports and examination of the daguerreotypes we can follow some of his movements. Some of the events in the following account are assumptions and where this is the case it is stated.

We do not know exactly when Pattinson travelled to America, but the first accounts of the daguerrotype process were beginning to be published in England at the time we assume he sailed. It is not known whether he already had an interest in the process before he left England and had managed to acquire a manual to read on the journey or, much more likely, that he bought the American Version on his arrival in New York. The New York Evening Post reported the arrival of the Great Western in New York Harbour on September 10th 1839 carrying copies of the Globe and other European newspapers that described Daguerre's process. On September 20th 1839 the British Queen arrived and is reputed to have carried the official booklets sold by Giroux and Company along with additional accounts of the process. Pattinson may have gained his first knowledge and enthusiasm of the daguerreian process by travelling on one of these ships.

America was very quick to adopt Daguerre's invention and there were several cabinet makers who could have produced a camera. On the 22nd of June 1839, Daguerre and his partner Niepce signed a contract with Alphonse Giroux - a relative of Mme Daguerre - granting the manufacturing rights of daguerreotype apparatus in France and elsewhere, "with the exception of England". It is possible that Pattinson used a Giroux camera and apparatus. This apparatus was sold by dealers such as Dr James R. Chilton, a Chemist at No.263 Broadway, New York City. Chilton is also accredited with exhibiting the first daguerreotypes in America. Cost of this apparatus was around fifty dollars.

The Apparatus took the form of the camera and lens, an Iodine fuming box, a mercury fuming box and the plates. The apparatus came with its own wooden box that was as large as a gentlemans travelling case.

Examination of the Pattinson plates reveal the name of Courduan, Perkins & Co. stamped along their bottom edge. Courduan, Perkins & Co. made and sold daguerreotype plates and were based at Nos 28 and 30 Cherry Street, New York. In the corner of some plates was also stamped a number (20) this is believed to be a quality mark. Pattinson is quoted by the Newcastle Chronicle, 5th December 1840, to have stated in a presentation to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society that he had expected to take sixty to seventy images of Niagara but on arrival had found the plates to be, "defective owing to the silver not being pure" and had been obliged to return with a smaller number of "drawings."

Pattinson's main reason for visiting America was to investigate an offered mining speculation that proved worthless and he and his companions had to flee by night to avoid the menace of violence by disappointed proprietors. We can assume that it was part of this journey that brought him to Niagara and not, as was reported sometime later, at the order of Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours, a well-known professional daguerreotypist, to collect images for a forthcoming publication, Excursions Daguerriennes.

Niagara Falls at that time was already a busy attraction with around 25,000 tourists a year visiting the Falls. Pattinson on his arrival, crossed to the Canadian side and took images of the American and Horse-Shoe falls. In one image a figure can be seen looking out at the Horse-Shoe falls. It is quite possible that this could be Pattinson himself as exposure times could range between 3 and 30 minutes. The plates are marked "April 1840" and with the temperature and lighting conditions at this time of year there is a good chance that exposure could have taken up to 15 minutes. This would give Pattinson ample time to appear in the image. (Who else would stand perfectly still for 15 minutes?). The engraving that subsequently appeared in Excursion Daguerriennes shows this figure, but until the plates were rediscovered, it had been assumed that the engraver had added the figure for scenic purposes (a common practice of the time).

Eight of Pattinson's plates were discovered, not all were of the Falls. One was of the Clifton Hotel that stood on the Canadian side. The hotel was frequented by dignitaries and Presidents in its day and it is likely that Pattinson stayed here.The Hotel does not exist today and the same can be said for many of the other buildings seen in the images. This makes them of interest to historians as some buildings do not show up in any other later images.

Soon after Pattinson's visit, daguerrotypists and photographers became a common sight at the Falls. The next year a famous American daguerreotyper, Babbit, took daguerreian images of the Falls, this time from the American side. Later, booths set up by professional camera operators, keen to exploit the tourist trade, provided "photo opportunities" to visitors. There is no record of any earlier images of the Falls than the ones Pattinson took or of any earlier images taken in Canada itself, providing two firsts for our rediscovered daguerreotypes.

Pattinson returned to England, but did he fix the plates and mount them before he returned or after? If they were fixed and mounted in America he would have had to carry heavy and fragile glass plates all of the way home. It is possible to speculate that he carried them to England unglazed in a plate box and finished the mounting at home. The plates were mounted in an unusual manner using brass nails into a very dense board.

Back in London, Claudet and Houghton of 89 High Holborn, a firm of glass importers famous for their ornate lampshades, domes for protecting statuettes, wax flowers, alabaster and "other objects of vertu" had recognised the possibilities of the new invention. Antoine Claudet was a friend of Lerebours and took his advice to go to France and take instruction from Daguerre himself. Claudet bought the first English patent for the process.

In September 1839, Claudet had imported from Lerebours some daguerreotypes illustrating, "Views of Paris, Rome and other cities, their public buildings, bridges, fountains and monuments; also landscapes".

On October 15th he submitted these first specimens of "the new art in Britain", to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who are reported to have bought some of the best. The remainder were put on exhibition at meetings of the Royal Society while Pattinson was in America in March 1840. They were then offered for sale at Claudet's business premises. An article in The Athenaeum, 14th September 1840, states that the images were for sale,"at prices varying from 1-4 guineas and upwards according to their perfection and the expense attending their production by travelling to the distant countries from which many of the views are taken."

Along with the Pattinson plates are two Lerebours images, "Saint Pierre et Chateau St. Ange" and "Port Ripetta a Rome." During conservation at Eastman house we found beneath a green backing (Originally thought to be contemporary) two cream sales stickers on a light blue paper. They were marked, "Claudet and Houghton." The largest of these stickers proclaims in large letters "Daguerreotype" and beneath, somewhat smaller, "Under Her Majesty's Royal Letters Patent." Beneath this is the name and address of Claudet and Houghton followed by a signature believed to be in Claudet's hand.

It is unclear what transpired but we can guess that Pattinson, on his return, visited Claudet's shop and either bought or swapped images with Claudet. As a result of this, Lerebours would have become aware of Pattinson's adventures and the images he had taken of Niagara. It is possible that a tracing was taken in London and sent to Lerebours who then had an engraving made and reproduced it in his publication, Excursion Daguerriennes.

Pattinson returned home with his eight images of the falls and his two additional images marked, "Daguerreotype, Lerebours a Paris." He would later use his images of the Falls, along with an image of Ravensworth Castle (presumably taken after his return) in his presentation to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society on the 1st December 1840.

The daguerrotypes were then kept by Pattinson's family after his death and given to the University Library in 1926 along with an archive of over 7,000 photographs of the Middle East taken by his great granddaughter, Gertrude Bell. There they lay protected from harm from 1926 to the present day.

Further information about Pattinson's daguerrian activities can be found in Graham W Garrett, "Canada's First Daguerrian Image", History of Photography, 20 (2), Summer 1996, 101-103. This article was researched, written and published before details of the Newcastle discovery were released.

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