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May 20, 2021

Identifying Ancestor Photos: Daguerreotypes

Photography arrived in the United States in 1839 thanks to Samuel F. B. Morse, an American artist and inventor. 

Genealogists often have old family photos in their possession or they find some in Great Aunt Matilda's attic. But how do we know when the photograph was taken? One method is to determine what type of photograph it is. The earliest type is the Daguerreotype.

Identifying a Daguerreotype

Morse visited Daguerre in Paris in March 1839 and observed a demonstration of the daguerreotype process. He returned to the United States to spread the news, and by the end of 1839 some larger cities on the East Coast had very successful portrait studios.

Every daguerreotype is a unique image on silvered copper plate.  Daguerreotypes are small, usually about 2x3 inches and they tarnish easily. What else makes it unique? 

Daguerreotype Cases

Daguerreotypes are fragile and were always put in protective cases. Here are a few from my personal collection.

 This is a daguerreotype from 1854

This daguerreotype of a woman in formal evening wear is from the Civil War era.

A rare beautifully decorated double case holding a daguerreotype on side, an ambrotype on the other 

Learn More

Watch my video Five Types of Early 19th Century Photographs

Read more about daguerreotypes on Lost Faces website

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