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The Precious Daguerreotype

folding-camera

January 23, 2020

If you have ever seen one, you know how unique and precious a daguerreotype is. If you have one with an image of your ancestor on it, consider yourself lucky! Daguerreotype pictures, produced from 1839 to the 1860s, use a copper sheet coated with silver. They are displayed behind glass covers to protect the polished silver surface, with a tape border binding and placed in hinged cases. They are physically fragile, and the silver tarnishes easily. Handling and storage of daguerreotypes is important as many things can affect the image, including:

  • Light
  • Temperature
  • Humidity, pests, mold
  • Improper handling
  • Water and fire damage

When you handle a daguerreotype, you need clean hands and should wear non-scratching microfiber or nitrile gloves. Keep photographs away from food and drink, do not write on them, and refrain from using fasteners, rubber bands, or glue. To properly store a daguerreotype, you must have:

  • A dry, cool, clean, and stable environment (not the attic or basement)
  • Reduced exposure to light
  • Protective sleeves or boxes
  • Low exposure to atmospheric pollutants

Proper care will ensure your photograph will last. One word of caution: only a trained conservator should ever remove a daguerreotype from its casing. If you would like more information on daguerreotypes, the Library has many books in its collection on daguerreotypes as well as other types of photographs, including the American Hand Book of the Daguerreotype and a periodical called The Daguerreian Annual. In addition, MGC will offer the free class Dating Old Photographs on February 10.

The precious daguerreotype—a wonder of photographic genealogy!

Sheri V.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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