Monday, July 27, 2009

The Case of the Mysterious Daguerreotype

It was a BUSY weekend, but I had a lot of fun. I saw a great play on Saturday night during an actual, honest to goodness date night with Handsome. These are rare and far between, so it was nice to spend time together.

It was also my weekend at the museum I work for 2 weekends a month. My job mostly consists of "being in charge" and "running things" and bossing around the little old lady volunteers, but this weekend I had a "project".

Someone donated a daguerreotype of who she thought was the original owners of the museum. It absolutely wasn't them, as most anyone could tell at first glance, but it did pose a very intriguing history mystery. (Sorry for no picture, but daguerreotypes don't photograph very well and these are sort of faded to begin with.)

So I got to do some research. Which I love to do. (I'm a nerd, I fully admit it!) My only real clue in trying to figure out the identities of the man and woman in the daguerreotype was found in the bottom of the corner of the print. "E. Jacobs N.O" was the clue.

On a hunch, I figured N.O. was New Orleans, since many photographers, even until late 20th Century, would mark their photos with their name and city.

A little google searching turned up Edward Jacobs, one of the pioneering daguerreotypists in the US.

It was fun researching the daguerroptypes for a few different reasons. First, I enjoy a challenge. Second, a few years ago I read "Feast of All Saints" by Anne Rice. (Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with vampires)It does have to do with the gens de couleur libre, or Free People of Color who have a fascinating, mostly unknown, history in New Orleans all their own.

In the book, one of the young men, Marcel, decides to become a daguerroytpist and the book revolves around his life and the "white" Southern planter father who foresakes him, his mother, sister and their dreams. If you've never read it, and you like historical fiction, it's a must read, even if you aren't an Anne Rice fan.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure my daguerrotype search is at a dead end. The two rather striking man and woman in my prints will probably remain unknown. All I know is they are allegedly from the family of the museum's past, they were upperclass, and judging by their clothes and the dates of Jacob's daguerroptype career, the year was between 1844 and 1861.

But their names are probably lost...which I find just as sad as the markers in cemeteries that fall into disrepair because no one is left to care for them. They probably lived interesting lives, they were young...the Civil War was about to start...their story may never be told...

8 comments:

m.v. said...

this is probably too old for that but you can do something like JoCo history website,post it an see if anyone comments or recognizes something.

Heather J. said...

What an amazing story. It would be so much fun to be able to find some names, but you're right, it IS unlikely. You could try posting to ancestry.com (if they have a photo section) and seeing what comes up ...

Andy Stockton said...

Daguerreotypes don't actually fade, but have to be viewed at the correct angle to be seen well. If you wear dark colored upper body clothing and light them from the side while you hold them facing the dark area, they transform themselves into a window into the past with a breathtaking amount of detail.

While difficult to photograph, a high quality flat plate scanner will capture them with ease.

MoxieMamaKC said...

Thanks, Andy for the tip. There's been some water damage under the glass at some point and I think that might have a little bit to do with it, but you're right, a scanner would have been better than a camera.

Melissa Miller said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and your kindness. I really appreciate it. You're always welcome!

Have a wonderfully blessed evening.
~Warmly, Melissa :)

Sugar Boogers & Tantrums said...

Thanks for stopping by! It's nice to meet you!

Kelly said...

That's really interesting! I love that you get to work at the museum. I've thought about volunteering at ours, but it's a pretty good drive from my house.

karen said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and your nice comment. I'm also fascinated by old photographs and wonder what the stories are behind the faces...