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An Early Daguerreotype

Presented by Hanako Murata, Thomas Walther Project, Asst. Conservator of Photographs, MoMA

The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the Gilman Paper Company collection of photographs in 2005. Among the extraordinary works in this collection is one of the few known daguerreotypes by Henry Fitz Jr. (1808-1863). The condition of this early plate presents unusual challenges. Fitz is famous for his early innovation of lenses for telescopes and daguerreotype cameras as well as for one of the first known daguerreotype self-portraits, now in the collection of the National Museum of American History. The Met’s portrait of a gentleman, a ninth plate, is dated circa 1840 and is housed in a black leather case with a brass mat embossed "H.FITZ JR. FECIT BALT." The atypical characteristic of this work is that the left side of the plate is split into two layers resulting in a Y-shaped cross-section view. The image surface shows a vertical line under raking light representing the border of the split. The edges of the plate indicate that it may have been made from more than two layers, and is possibly is a composite of multiple brass sheets. Most daguerreotypes are made on silver-clad copper. Further investigation of the Metropolitan Museum portrait as well as other Fitz daguerreotypes in the collection of the National Museum of American History brought up new questions about the practice of daguerreotypist pioneers, and provided new insights to Henry Fitz Jr. and his contributions to the early history of photography in the United States.

Summary of Hanako Murata's Lecture (Audio Only)

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