Daguerreotypes on Mr. Deacon’s Mantle

Daguerreotype, 1850s

Daguerreotype, 1850s

Walt Whitman daguerreotype, New Orleans, 1948 The Walt Whitman Archive

Walt Whitman
daguerreotype, New Orleans, 1948
The Walt Whitman Archive

Daguerreotypes of Deacon’s mother and of Walt Whitman in oval frames stood on Mr. Deacon’s mantlepiece. The features of his mother “so much resembled her son’s as for the picture, at first sight, almost to create the illusion that he had himself posed, as a jeu d’esprit in crinoline and pork pie hat. Juxtaposition of the portraits was intended, I suppose, to suggest that the American poet, morally and intellectually speaking represented the true source of Mr. Deacon’s otherwise ignored paternal origins. ” [BM 246/236 ]

Daguerreotypes, introduced in 1839, were the first widespread photographic method.  The images  were made directly on a silver plate; there was no photographic negative. Small daguerreotypes, about 2.75 by 3.25 inches, were widely available by the mid 1840s without great expense.  However, the images were heavy and hard to view due to reflections from the silver, and by the early 1860s, daguerreotypes had been superceeded by other processes such as ambrotype and tintype, and sometimes images with these later techniques are mistakenly identified as daguerreotypes.

 Woman in Pork Pie Hat daguerreotype, 1860s uploaded to Pinterest by Lisa Ward

Woman in Pork Pie Hat
1860s
uploaded to Pinterest by Lisa Ward

The pork pie hat also dates the photo. The pork pie hat was popular among women in the US and Britain from about the 1830s to mid 1860s; it was small and round with low flat crown and narrow turned up brim.

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