Sixth Plate



D3-52    Terms of Sale

DAGUERREIAN CAMERA’S PLATE HOLDER! Very infrequently are we afforded the opportunity to examine daguerreian equipment displayed in an actual daguerreotype, but this stunning resealed sixth plate is truly a special exception. The very confident, handsome man with piercing eyes has a wonderful set of unruly muttonchops and black curly hair. He is holding a small wooden frame about 4 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches in his right hand. The outer portion is four pieces cut and joined at 45-degree angles while the center portion, the exact size of a sixth plate daguerreotype plate, 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 inches, is a separate piece of wood with a small knob in the center. It is held in place with two pressure sensitive brass tabs that can be swiveled on and off. The man was very clever and wanted us to know the application, since he has revealed about 1/2 inch of a standard size daguerreotype plate at the top of the frame. I have estimated the sizes by holding a modern 4x5 sheet film holder in my hand and looking at the reflection in a mirror and also exposing a sixth plate at the top in the same fashion. The mirror’s rendering I observed was identical to the central theme in this remarkable image. I made a quick search of the patent records listed in the index of “The American Daguerreotype”, by Floyd and Marion Rinhart but failed to find such a device listed during the early experimental period. The subject’s manner of posing, comfortable and relaxed, tells me that he was certainly accustomed to the daguerreian process (probably with more experience on the other side of the camera). He has rested his right elbow on top of a dark, shiny wooden table. The rounded edge has a bright hot spot to the right of center, caused from strong light that bathed the gent from just behind the camera on the right. A white reflector board was placed close to him on the opposite side. Consequently, the entire view is quite evenly lit. The range of contrast is tremendous. The heavy plate has deep buff marks; three corners clipped narrow (and erratically) with the upper right corner left square. The top has been trimmed at an angle and the sides are flat. The upper left corner was crimped by a pair of pliers used during part of the process. The mat is a simple brass oval with a wide opening. On the surface are wide swathes of tarnish and a consistent layer of gilded gold chloride, which has deteriorated in places, especially across the bottom near the man's left hand that is resting on his leg. There is a small nick in the silver layer near the left side of the man’s head and another teeny one on his shoulder. Mold spiders are widely scattered. Thin light blue tape was used to secure the package. All these physical features suggest a date of 1843. The original case, slightly undersized, is listed in the Rinhart casebook, plate #193, as a circle motif, circa 1841. In their notes in the index, they also mention that the case construction strongly resembles a signed Brady lyre motif case, circa 1843. I question whether the “circle motif” design was actually used as early as 1841. I think it was probably unveiled in 1843. The fellow's dark jacket, long dark silk tie, dark vest and another layer of inky cloth over his white shirt, unseen except for his turned down white collar, is an unusual costume. The jacket was stylish in the late 1830s. It has a black and white checkered lining, quite prominently seen under the plate holder. There is very little distortion (which would have been caused by an inferior lens) and fine sharpness throughout. The maker of the stunning portrait (who most likely modeled in front of his own camera) had great equipment and a sense of immediacy and design. On page 209, in the 1993 “Daguerreian Annual” a reproduction of William H. Butler’s 1840 daguerreian camera and accessories are displayed. It is instructive to compare the plate holder in the unknown sitter’s hand in my daguerreotype with the middle holder in the photo. Butler was one of the earliest, if not the first US manufacturers of daguerreotype plates. Obviously, he was also a very early experimenter and operator. I am not suggesting that the man is Butler. Regardless of the daguerreian’s identity, the daguerreotype offers an extremely rare visual presentation of a very indispensable piece of equipment from the earliest age of photography.

For Purchase Inquiry Contact:
Dennis A. Waters at