Daguerreotypes Collection (2019.08)

Unknown Couple's Portrait (2018.30.53)

What is a daguerreotype?

“The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process (1839-1860) in the history of photography. Named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, each daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate.”

What is a daguerreotype?

Early Photography: Making Daguerreotypes video from the J. Paul Getty Museum shows the process of making daguerreotypes. 

Photography Process

“The daguerreotype is a one-of-a-kind, highly detailed photographic image on a polished copper plate coated with silver. It was the first popular photographic medium and enjoyed great success when it was introduced in 1839.” – Getty Museum

The creator of this photographic process was Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. He was a relative of Lewis F. Moulton’s investment partner, Jean Pierre Daguerre. In 1874, Jean immigrated to the United States at eighteen years old.

"Mr & Mrs. Jean Pierre Daguerre & their 4 children L-R Josephine (Jo), Domingo, Juanita (Juana) and Grace 1/3 interest in Moulton Ranch 22+- Ac When the ranch was divided, the Daguerre family ended up with the South West portion of the ranch." (2018.40.16)


This collection was stored in a box with eight complete plates and three half plates. The following was inscribed with a pencil in on the box that stored the collection, “Heirlooms given us by Hallie Moulton when she went over her mother’s things in 1925. Amour Annis passed away Jan 15 – 1923-” likely by Nellie Gail Moulton. 


The archivists processed this collection based on information from the Getty Institute, Smithsonian, and the Daguerreobase. This collection is likely from post-1842 as they have a “gilded” encasing, which was treated with a solution of gold chloride. Some have been hand-colored with dry pigments mixed with gum arabic. According to John P. McElhone who specialized in cased photographs “Most daguerrotype images are laterally reversed; some later daguerrotypes cameras included a mirror system to correct the image reversal.” Since the museum does not have access to the original camera, we don’t know which perspective the image was actually taken.

Preservation + Conservation

If you own a daguerreotype, we recommend that you place it in a dark container and reduce the exposure to light. Custom enclosures are advised for each piece.

The Getty Conservation Institute stated, “the standardized daguerreotype process after 1843 entailed seven essential steps: plate polishing, sensitization, camera exposure, development, fixation, gilding, and drying. The daguerreotype process is explored more fully in the Technical Note: Daguerreotype. The daguerreotype image is seen as a positive to full effect through a combination of the reflection the plate surface and the scattering of light by the imaging particles. Housings exist in great variety of style, usually following the fashion of miniature portrait presentation. The daguerreotype plate is extremely vulnerable to mechanical damage and the deteriorating influences of atmospheric pollutants. Hence, highly colored and obscuring corrosion films are commonly found on daguerreotypes. Many daguerreotypes have been damaged or destroyed by uninformed attempts to wipe these films away. Professional chemical “cleaning” methods have long been employed. Growing understanding of the complexity of the physical and chemical deterioration manifestations of the daguerreotype has led to a very conservative approach to the “restoration” of this form of photography.”

Read more here:

Preserving Your Personal Collection: Daguerreotypes

How to make an archival storage box for your daguerreotype.