Monday, 18 February 2008

Daguerreotype in a locket?

Frances Castle sent me this photograph of a locket which has been passed down through the family generations, and which she is pretty sure must have been taken in Derby. However, she can't decide whether the subject is Sarah Collumbell née Hughes (1781-1863) or Esther Sherwin née Bakewell (1776-1843).

Image © & courtesy of Frances Castle
If it is a daguerreotype - and I can't be sure about it as I'm not very knowledgeable about this type of image - then it is likely to have been taken in the 1840s or early 1850s. After this time, first the ambrotype and then in the 1860s, the tintype and carte de visite, superseded it in popularity. However, the clothes of the elderly woman seem to me to date from the 1850s, and I think it more likely that it was taken after 1843, the death date of Esther Sherwin. Photography was still very much in its infancy in the early 1840s, and daguerreotypes were not at all common. John Johnson, the first photographer to work in Derby, operated briefly from premises in Victoria Street in the summer of 1843, so it is conceivable that he took this photo. However, it is far more likely to be Sarah Collumbell, who would have been 65-75 years old in the late 1840s or early 1850s.

I'd be keen to hear from anyone more knowledgeable about daguerreotypes who might be able to enlighten us on the nature of this locket (Email me).


  1. Daguerreotypes are mercury on a polished coating of silver on a copper plate. It is a very delicate image that is always covered in glass as the image would disappear if you touched it. It is always hard to identify one just from a photo of it. They are generally hard to see because of the mirror like image - so can usually only be seen at some angles whereas an ambrotype has a much more matt look and can be seen from most angles. It is also quite rare to see a circular daguerreotype because the process of cutting out a circular cheet of copper and glass and sealing the edges would be quite difficult. This image looks tinted which was applied to both forms of photo (so that dosen't help!). I think most circular looking daguerreotypes are a circular mask of pinchbeck or similar over a rectangular plate. So .. makes it unlikely this is a daguerreotype unless you can get some more information about it - a photo of the rear of the actual plate would confirm it - you should generally see some copper plate and some paper tape sealing the edge.

  2. Thanks, Tim, for your interesting and informative response which sheds some considerable light on the daguerreotype process and form. I will email the owner to ask if she can access and take a photograph of the reverse.
    Regards, Brett


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