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Full plate ambrotype of a honeymooning couple at Niagara Falls

Full plate ambrotype of a honeymooning couple at Niagara Falls

The only thing better than doing dogged research is profiting from someone else’s.  (Okay, maybe not….)  But this is still what I was thinking last month while my husband was off teaching his morning course at the Chautauqua Institution and Nora and I were enjoying our breakfast while looking out the bay window at Lake Erie.  It was a lovely week and a respite from the heat (not to mention another reason not to complain), and while we were so close, we decided to take Nora to Niagara Falls for the day.  (“Mama, big water!  See BIG water!” was Nora’s oft-repeated account of the visit.)

Tourism is, I’m happy to report, alive and well at the Falls, but that’s really nothing new.  There’s great debate over the first European to see the Falls (various candidates visited the area throughout the 1600s), but generally, Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish naturalist, is credited with offering the first scientific account of their wonders around 1750.  Sketches and various artist renderings of the Falls region began to appear, and it didn’t take long for Niagara Falls to start appearing on everything from needlework pictures to wallpaper, transferware plates to lithophane lampshades.

Over roughly the next one hundred years, tourism at Niagara blossomed and by 1848, a footbridge was constructed.  (A footbridge.  In 1848.  Who needed to be a Wallenda….)  Fortunately, the 19th century also brought John Roebling (perhaps better known for his work on the Brooklyn Bridge), whose suspension bridge was completed in 1855.  Several years later, as the Civil War ended and the Victorian era hit full swing in the United States, tourism, made especially attractive through rail travel, exploded, and Niagara Falls earned its reputation as a great honeymoon destination.  This boom also ushered in the era of a new kind of Niagara Falls souvenir – the photograph.  Today, there are dozens and dozens, probably hundreds, of large-plate daguerreotypes and ambrotypes of newlyweds, like the one pictured above, or family groups posed in front of the Falls.  The daguerreotypes, particularly full-plate images, can be very valuable.  I’m pretty sure the same will never be said of Nora’s souvenir t-shirt….

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor,

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Jesse Harrison Whitehurst quarter-plate daguerreotype of two little girls holding hands

Jesse Harrison Whitehurst quarter-plate daguerreotype of two little girls holding hands

This week marks the 224th birthday of Louis Daguerre, inventor of the daguerreotype, a photographic process that allowed images to be captured on silvered copper plates, a revolutionary process that permitted people for the first time to capture exact replicas of what they saw before them. These images remain popular with collectors today and at Prices4Antiques, we see regular searches for them. The most common searches this week have been for a portrait of little girls by Jesse Harrison Whitehurst, an image of John Cabell Breckinridge by W.R. Phipps, a stereo daguerreotype portrait by Jules Duboscq, an occupational portrait of a fireman in uniform, and a photograph of a young woman whose family wanted to capture a final image as she is clearly near death. The ability to retain the faces of loved ones long after they were gone was an amazing gift, and it’s wonderful to see that so many years later, the results of Daguerre’s invention continue to be treasured for the remarkable objects they are. These gorgeous, poignant photographs are just a few of the thousands of photographica records in our database and just a few of the records viewed by searchers this week at Prices4Antiques!

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