Earliest Image in OHS Research Photo Collection: Daguerreotype

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by Beverly Mosman, Assistant Photo Archivist

The earliest photographic image in the Oklahoma Historical Society collection is a daguerreotype of the Dwight Mission School (c. 1840).*

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word photograph means “an image, especially a positive print, recorded by a camera and reproduced on a photosensitive (light sensitive) surface”. The first known permanent photograph is believed to have been made in France in 1825.

The Daguerreotype process, introduced in 1839, was named for Louis Daguerre, who developed it while improving on the earlier process. It is the earliest form of mirror image photography. The daguerreotype is normally a sheet of copper (plate) with one side washed in silver, heated over iodine, then exposed to mercury vapor and fixed to the plate with salt. The plate and its image are then sandwiched into a box case protected by glass supported by a gilded brass mat or border to prevent tarnish. Because of this assembly, daguerreotypes were one of the most stable forms of photographs ever made.

Very few daguerreotypes were taken in Indian Territory after the Civil War. Some Oklahoma settlers brought family daguerreotypes with them from other areas. Most daguerreotypes are portraits, although a few, like the Dwight Mission image, are landscapes.

The daguerreotype image is fragile if exposed to air. After 1854, tintypes and Ambrotypes began to gain popularity with photographers. Few daguerreotypes were produced after 1860.

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#697 Tintype – Dwight Mission School made from original daguerreotype.

*For more information about Dwight Mission, please see Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 12, No. 4, December 1934: The Cherokee Gospel Tidings of Dwight Mission by Carolyn Thomas Foreman, or the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture entry by Dianna Everett.

The above information was originally gathered by Chester Cowen, Photographic Archivist, Oklahoma Historical Society, from the following references:

Newhall, Beaumont, THE DAGUERREOTYPE IN AMERICA, 3rd edition, Dover Publications, Inc., New York City, NY, 175 pages.

Welling, William, PHOTOGRAPHY IN AMERICA; THE FORMATIVE YEARS 1839-1900, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 1978, X!, (3), 431 pages.

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