Louis Daguerre was a renaissance man. Born in 1787, he worked in the opera as a set designer and painter, then later as a revenue officer.
Daguerre is best known as the inventor of the daguerreotype, a photograph produced on a silver-coated copper plate treated with iodine vapor. The daguerreotype was an immediate success, particularly in America, where the process was used for over twenty years.
Not long after Daguerre’s invention, the process was improved, and that, along with better camera lenses, made portraiture possible with relatively short exposures. By 1843, the daguerreotype portrait business in America was booming. In the past, in order to preserve a “likeness”, families had to employ a portrait painter—if they could afford one.
Now, for the equivalent of $2 to $5, anyone could have their portrait taken by a photographer. The photo was often framed with a rich gilt mat, and placed in a small fitted case covered with leather. When gold was found in California, Americans could see images from the gold fields, thanks to photographers who made daguerreotypes on the spot.
On February 2, 1839, Louis Daguerre made history when he took the first photograph of the moon.
I have often seen Civil War era daguerreotypes in antique shops. Do you happen to have one of your own ancestor?