The Best Laid Plansand Heartbreaks & Half-truths, which she also edited. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website.
Facts in Fiction: Daguerreotypes
“There is, at least, no flattery in my humble line of art. Now, here is a likeness which I have taken over and over again, and still with no better result. Yet the original wears, to common eyes, a very different expression.” Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851).
What Hawthorne is referring to is the daguerreotype, an early photographic process using silver-plated copper and mercury fumes (doesn’t that sound safe?), which results in a mirror-like image, similar to a hologram. While the use of negatives in photography would eventually become the norm, in 1840s and 50s America, the daguerreotype had little competition, especially in the area of private portraiture. Until the daguerreotype, portraits and miniatures were considered luxuries for the rich.
Nevertheless, the heyday of the daguerreotype was short-lived. The beginning of the end came in 1854, with the patenting of the ambrotype, a less expensive photographic process, followed by the tintype in 1856. Although the images produced were clearly inferior to the daguerreotype, soldiers in the Civil War embraced the lightweight tintype; almost as quickly as the daguerreotype had risen to fame, it became obsolete.
The shift towards renewed public recognition began in October 1995, when Sotheby’s sold a half-plate of the United States Capitol, circa 1846, for a [then] world record price of $189,500. Other auction sales followed. One of the most significant was The David Feigenbaum Collection, which included 240 daguerreotypes from the renowned Boston partnership of Southworth & Hawes. The sale totaled $3.3 million.
I first became familiar with daguerreotypes in my early days as a freelance writer specializing in antiques, and my fascination with them increased with every article written. Later, as the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal, I would interview Keith F. Davis, a renowned expert in the field, as well as members of the Daguerreian Society. One of those members was kind enough to send me a copy of The Daguerreian Annual 1998: The Official Yearbook of the Daguerreian Society. Inside, there’s an article on Reading Daguerreotypes written by Keith F. Davis, and while it took a few years, it eventually inspired one of the plot points in my latest Glass Dolphin antiques shop mystery, Where There’s A Will.
In the book, the beneficiary of the old Hadley house estate, Faye Everett, asks Arabella Carpenter, owner of the Glass Dolphin, to appraise a reading daguerreotype found hidden inside the house. Of course, the daguerreotype is not the only thing hidden inside the old Hadley house, as Arabella soon finds out.
Where There’s a Will
A Glass Dolphin Mystery, Book 3
Emily Garland is getting married and looking for the perfect forever home. When the old, and some say haunted, Hadley house comes up for sale, she’s convinced it’s “the one.” The house is also perfect for reality TV star Miles Pemberton and his new series, House Haunters. Emily will fight for her dream home, but Pemberton’s pockets are deeper than Emily’s, and he’ll stretch the rules to get what he wants.
While Pemberton racks up enemies all around Lount’s Landing, Arabella Carpenter, Emily’s partner at the Glass Dolphin antiques shop, has been hired to appraise the contents of the estate, along with her ex-husband, Levon. Could the feuding beneficiaries decide there’s a conflict of interest? Could Pemberton?
Things get even more complicated when Arabella and Levon discover another will hidden inside the house, and with it, a decades-old secret. Can the property stay on the market? And if so, who will make the winning offer: Emily or Miles Pemberton?
Photo credit: An example of a reading daguerreotype. Mary H. Lee, half-length portrait, seated, holding a book; McClees & Germon, photographer, 1850-55. Library of Congress #2008680501. Used with permission.