Some of your family collections of vintage photos could be ‘daguerreotypes’. These antique photographs captured moments in a unique way, all on a silver-plated surface that differs greatly from the digital photos we use now.

The daguerreotype dates back to 1839, when Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre introduced the style of photography in France. It became very popular in the 1840s and 1850s, but it lost favor during the early 1860s because more innovative styles were introduced. So you can date such daguerreotypes you have. There were other similar processes of the daguerreotype done by other people.

To tell a true daguerreotype from tintypes, the distinguishing features of the daguerreotype, and a key characteristic that separates it from other antique photos is the front of the daguerreotype photo will look shiny and reflective. Brass frames were added about 1847. Also in the early 1840s the daguerreotype mats were heavier and coarser ovals and octagons. By the late 1850s, the mats were thinner.

Daguerreotypes also came in cases because the photo was delicate and could be easily damaged. Daguerreotypes are normally laterally reversed—mirror images.

It did take time to make the exposure to the camera, so someone sat in a special chair in a studio, which helped keep a person’s head still, not move.

These images are protected by glass and copper that created a seal around the photo. By breaking that seal, you’re welcoming all of the pollutants, moisture, light, etc. to wreak havoc on your daguerreotype.

By 1840, daguerreotypes became popular in the US. By 1853, an estimated three million daguerreotypes per year were being produced in the United States alone. So you could truly have a couple in your family collection.

Photo: Young man in a daguerreotype portrait and case.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Photos Over the Years

Vintage Photos of Places and People

19th century Headless Photos

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