Half Plate



D04-93    Terms of Sale

TWO TITANS . . . Of very early experimental daguerreotypy were taken by Montgomery Simons June 16 1846 in his studio located at 120 Chestnut St., below Fourth (on the) South Side of Philadelphia! The second scan reproduces the entire gallery label that was adhered to the reverse of his archivally sealed half plate masterpiece! Since we all know that truth is stranger than fiction, let me share an abbreviated version of how I acquired these men. I was in Washington DC visiting Carol Johnson, who at the time was curator of photography at the Library of Congress. We were seated together studying one of the most historically important iconic daguerreotypes in America, the remarkable self-portrait of Robert Cornelius. Carol had just commented that he was quite a handsome fellow. My mobile phone rang and when I attempted to answer it, the service ended. Hours later upon leaving in a dag daze, since Carol graciously shared many other triumphs on silver with me that were in the LOC collections, she asked me outside who had phoned. It had been Erin! Later that evening I finally called her back and she told me that she had been out antiquing and she found two fantastic daguerreotypes that I needed to purchase. Since I was flying home the next day I told her we could go look at them together. The instant I saw this piece I suspected it had been taken in Philadelphia because that school of daguerreotypists continued to use paper rectangular mats covered with gold foil up to about 1848 without brass protectors. After Casey did the restoration, I made a scan and sent the image to Carol, to share with her what Erin had found. She immediately phoned and we chatted about the dag and she remarked that the guy on the left was “quite handsome”! I nearly dropped the phone because the big light bulb flashed brightly in my brain! I suggested that she retrieve her copy of Robert Cornelius Portraits from the Dawn of Photography that had been published showing the Cornelius self-portrait on the cover. Inside there was also an 1839/1840 portrait of Paul Beck Goddard who was instrumental in aiding Cornelius in advancing the art before the pair opened their first Gallery in the city, about May 1840. Further along was a daguerreotype of Cornelius, his face mostly hidden by his hand and a glass beaker. I noticed that his middle finger and the one next to it were nearly the same length. Comparing those digits to the gent’s seated on the left of my dag and holding that book revealed the same phenomena! Carol and I were both astounded when we realized that Cornelius and Goddard had been daguerreotyped by Simons, who used a lower camera angle to give more prominence to the men. The positioning of the subjects, the magical illumination and the extraordinary contrast he achieved all are harmoniously displayed on this monumental likeness. Was it a reunion of sorts that brought the two experimenters to Montgomery’s gallery? I always wondered. Fast forward a few years and return to the LOC where Carol was entertaining a direct descendant of Cornelius. The woman was there asking about unpublished dags made by her ancestor. Carol thought to share my image with her on a computer screen. After a moment of thought, her visitor commented, “So that’s where the other one is”. She didn’t say more and left shortly afterwards. Carol and I both attempted to ask the lady more, but were unsuccessful. At the time this daguerreotype was executed, Cornelius was 37 years old and Goddard would have been 35. Beautiful patina flows inside the mat. There is a slight touch mark, where the plate was once pinched against the glass on Cornelius’ vest near his tie. The watermarks across the top don’t interfere with the sitters. Casey has made a new leather spine on the case, which features a Maiden and Cornucopia on the cover and a herringbone design on the reverse. There was a single word written in pencil on the plain red silk pad. We have not been able to determine what it says. I can’t guarantee that the case was original to the daguerreotype. It came with the daguerreotype when I purchased the piece in 2004. I sincerely believe that the portrait represents one of the most important mirrors with a memory extant today.

For Purchase Inquiry Contact:
Erin Waters at