a pretty little poser

Little girl in studio portrait c1850s

Toronto. I bought this daguerreotype of a little girl around 1975 at one of our fairs from Bill Marshall of Deux Montagnes, Quebec. There was only a half case on it so the quarter plate image was priced under $10. For most of the 1800s, media and equipment were so slow that stands had to be used to brace subjects for the long exposures needed (up to a minute or more depending on the studio lighting  and apparatus). This little girl held a chair back and leaned on a metal stand (at one time you could see the upside down T shape with the short bar on the floor below the pantaloons).

On July 2, 1976 I cleaned the image using  the Missouri Historical Society formula of thiourea, phosphoric acid, and distilled water, plus a dash of wetting agent. The plate was dried off by dipping it in pure alcohol (Alcool from Quebec) and air dried. You could then see details like the varnish cracks on the chair, and the stand below her body. 46+ years later, the stains have returned and blocked the details once again.

In the larger image shown here, you can see that the hand and dress at the chair back are sharp while the head, body, and dress a bit further away are slightly blurred, perhaps by tiny movement. One book I have suggests the plain brass frame and metal binding (not cardboard) indicates a later daguerreotype, hence my c1850s estimate.

As you can see, the child is well fed, clean and dressed up in her Sunday best to have her ‘likeness’ taken for eternity. Less fortunate folk could not afford the clothes or studio photographs, especially of children. The very wealthy could engage an artist to paint a portrait.


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