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Original Giroux Daguerréotype Camera
Sensational Find Of An Original Daguerréotype!
Daguerréotype” was the first commercially-produced camera in the world and
represents the initial spark that began the worldwide spread of photography.
It was made in Paris from 1839 in limited numbers from original plans drawn
up by its inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, by his brother-in-law,
The camera being auctioned on the 29th of May by WestLicht Auctions in Vienna was completely unknown and has never before been documented. It has been in private ownership in northern Germany for generations. The present owner’s father gave it to him in the 1970s as a present for passing his final apprenticeship test as an optician.
The outstanding original condition of the 170 year-old apparatus is remarkable. Every detail including the lens, the plaque signed by Daguerre himself, the black velvet interior and the ground-glass screen are in their original state.
The unique camera comes with the extremely rare original instructions in German with the title: “Praktische Beschreibung des Daguerreotyp’s”; published by Georg Gropius, Berlin 1839, 12x20cm, 24 pages with 18 illustrations in 5 plates showing the equipment used for producing Daguerreotypes in accordance with Daguerre’s invention. On the back of the little book there are two handwritten notes from 1840 with details of the process.
The expertise has been written by Michel Auer, the internationally renowned expert on historic cameras and author of numerous books. Worldwide, only a few of these cameras are known to exist and all of those are in public museums. A camera like this has never been offered for sale by auction before. It is anticipated that WestLicht Auctions’ own world record price of 576,000 Euros (also for a camera from 1839), will be significantly exceeded. The starting price is Euro 200,000, the estimate Euro 500,000 – 700,000.
From the end of the 1820s the industrious stage-set painter and showman Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre and lithographer Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce have been carrying out joint experiments into a process for making images from a camera obscura permanent. In 1829 they form a company in order to develop this idea but Daguerre achieves the technical breakthrough only after Nièpce’s unexpected death in 1833. He refines the process and, at the end of 1838, finally manages to fix the chemically generated images permanently.
The public first learns of this pioneering invention on the 6th of January 1839 in the daily newspaper “La Gazette de France”. The article reveals almost no details. Thereafter events follow thick and fast. The day after the report is published, physicist and politician Francoise Jean Arago makes a fiery speech in which he declares Daguerre’s invention to be too important to be the concern of a single person and proposes that the French nation should make the invention of photography a present to the world.
The Chamber of Deputies in Paris enthusiastically accepts this idea and Daguerre and Isidor Nièpce, the son of his former partner, are awarded a life-long pension of 10,000 Francs per year in return. On the 19th of August 1839 the secret of the new process is revealed stimulating world-wide interest.
The news spreads like wildfire and on the 24th of August, punctually for the public announcement, the first advertisement for the Daguerreotype made by Alphonse Giroux et Cie is printed in the “Journal des Débats”. The announcement explicitly draws attention to the fact that production will be supervised by Daguerre himself and the reader is informed of the brochure which contains a detailed description of the process.
The booklet, which will soon be printed in numerous languages and will go through 32 editions, also contains precise plans of the camera developed by Daguerre.
Since the French nation has compensated him for his invention, Daguerre no longer has the exclusive rights to it but, as a good businessman, he finds ways of making money out of his name which is now famous all over the world. On the 22nd of June 1839, two months before the process was made public, he already signed a contract with Alphonse Giroux and the Susse Brothers. (Incidentally, an original Susse Frères camera was auctioned by WestLicht Auctions in 2007 for 576,000 Euros). See http://www.novacon.com.br/odditycameras/theoldest.htm and http://www.novacon.com.br/odditycameras/LeDague.htm In the contracts the two companies were given the exclusive rights to produce and sell the Daguerreotype and the other equipment necessary.
The famous optician Charles Chevalier expressed his disappointment at this agreement because he had been hoping to acquire it. After all, it had been Chevalier who had made the contact between Daguerre and Nièpce in 1826 and he had also been following their experiments over the years. In his biography the respected producer of scientific instruments commented on the choice of an interior decorator and a stationer for the production of the Daguerreotype with ridicule and a certain degree of annoyance. Despite (and because of) that position Chevalier was given the commission of producing the lenses for the cameras made by both companies.
The cameras produced by Daguerre’s brother-in-law are more opulently finished that those of the competition. Every Giroux camera has a golden plaque which, in addition to the maker’s mark, bears Daguerre’s personal signature. The selling price of 400 Francs was very high, representing approximately annual income of a normal working man. Under the terms of the contract Giroux was to have half the profits, Daguerre and Niépce taking equal shares of the remainder.
There is no record of the total number of cameras that Giroux produced but since cheaper and improved cameras came onto the market relatively quickly, it is assumed that the numbers were very limited. It can also be assumed that the Giroux Daguerreotype was only produced in 1839. Apparently Daguerre did not take the development of his camera any further. The inventor died in 1851 at the height of his worldwide fame.
On the functioning
of the camera and the process
Making Daguerreotypes is a relatively involved process. Since the photographer has to ensure the light sensitivity of every photograph, he needs to have a lot of equipment with him. For open-air shots he must also carry a darkroom. For this reason the Daguerreotype was originally sold with everything necessary for the production of Daguerreotypes. All in all the required equipment weighed around 50 kilos and included in addition to the camera itself, fuming and mercury boxes, a spirit burner as well as the silver-covered copper plates and the necessary chemicals.
The camera itself consists of two boxes which are slide into each other and are made of different kinds of wood. The larger of the two, which has the lens attached to it, is fixed to the base plate. The back of the smaller box is either the ground glass plate or the holder insert and it fits into the forward box so that the whole is lightproof. The interior is lined with black velvet. In order to bring the image into focus the rear box is moved back or forwards along the wooden camera base.
It can then be fixed in position by means of a brass screw. A fold-out mirror behind the ground-glass screen allows the image to be seen while standing upright.
Initially Daguerre used plates of pure silver. Later, to save costs, they were made of silver-plated copper. Before the exposure was made the plates were fumed with iodine or bromine. This took place in a special wooden box with the aid of a spirit burner. Under the influence of this fuming process, light-sensitive silver iodide formed on the surface of the plate.
In order to maximise the brightness of the image while focussing, the lens’s outer brass fitting was removed. During the exposure the ground glass screen was exchanged for the (now) light sensitive plate (167 x 216 mm). Before the exposure was made the diaphragm was replaced and a swivelling cap served as a shutter. Daguerre suggested exposure times of between 3 and 30 minutes, depending on light conditions.
After the plate was exposed, the photograph was developed with the aid of mercury fumes which adhered to the surface producing a very faint silver image. Development and fixation in a salt or cyanide solution results in a positive image made of grey quicksilver. The tonality of the original pictures varied between grey and blue-grey but, after the introduction of gold toner, they could also be gold, purple or sepia-coloured.
Daguerreotypes are astoundingly finely nuanced and practically grainless – even when examined under a magnifying glass they exhibit very fine details. When they are framed in a way that excludes air they are extremely durable. Daguerreotypes are always unique and cannot be reproduced. This is also one of the reasons why they are such sought after and desirable collectors’ items nowadays.
The “Giroux Daguerréotype” is the first commercially-produced camera in the world and represents the initial spark that started the worldwide spread of photography. From 1839 it was manufactured in Paris in limited numbers by Alphones Giroux. The design was taken from original blueprints drawn up by Giroux’s brother-in-law, the inventor Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre.
It is a wooden sliding box Daguerreotype camera for 167x216 mm (“full-plate” 6.5x8.5 inch) exposures. The body is made of cedar wood, but the middle part holding the lens is made of walnut wood. On the right side the printed label with a golden border strip bears Daguerre’s authentic signature and the seal of Giroux. The label is inscribed: ‘LE DAGUERRÉOTYPE EXÉCUTÉ sous la Direction des son Auteur, á Paris chez Alph. Giroux et Cie., Rue du Coq St. Honoré, No7. Aucun Appareil n’est garanti s’il ne porte la Signature DE Mr. DAGUERRE et le Cachet de Mr. Giroux.’ (LE DAGUERRÉOTYPE, produced under the supervision of it’s inventor in Paris by Alph. Giroux and Company, Rue du Coq St. Honoré, No7. No apparatus is warranted if it does not bear the signature of Mr. Daguerre or the seal of Mr. Giroux). The seal shows minor age related chipping, is intact and reads: ‘DAGUERRÉOTYPE 1839 ALPH. GIROUX.’ Instead of a serial number the label is marked in handwriting ‘uv.’ According to Michel Auer’s expertise the meaning of this caption is unknown.
The original doublet lens is produced by Charles Chevalier and has a focal length of 38cm and an opening equal to f/14. At the front of the lens is a cylindrical brass mount that functions as an aperture as well as a swivelling brass plate that serves as a shutter. On the lens cap is an inscription: 'LE DAGUERRÉOTYPE, Chez Alph. Giroux et Comp.e A PARIS’. To make the camera lightproof the interior of the front box is lined with black velvet - the cloth is original and in very good condition. The rear sliding box is designed to house a frame that holds the frosted-glass screen. In order to look at the projected image in the correct alignment, it is viewed through a hinged mirror on the rear of the camera. The mirror is mounted on a wooden flap which is held in a 45° angle in relation to the focussing screen by a pair of metal chains and serves as a protection for the screen when closed.
The overall, original condition of the Daguerréotype Giroux is exceptionally good. Only minor professional restoration work has been conducted.
Until now it was completely unknown and has never been documented before. The camera has been in private ownership in northern Germany for generations. The present owner’s father gave it to him in the 1970s as a present for finishing his apprenticeship to become a certified optician.
The unique camera comes with the extremely rare original instructions in German with the title: “Praktische Beschreibung des Daguerreotyp’s”; published by Georg Gropius, Berlin 1839, 12x20cm, 24 pages with 18 illustrations in 5 plates showing the equipment used for producing Daguerreotypes in accordance with Daguerre’s invention. On the back of the little booklet there are two handwritten notes from 1840, outlining details of the process.
Michel Auer, the internationally renowned expert on historic cameras and author of numerous books, has written the expertise and confirmed the authenticity of the camera. Worldwide, only a few of these cameras are known to exist and all of them are in public museums. A camera like this has never been offered for sale in an auction before.
Giroux Mercury Box
Original mercury box of a Giroux Daguerreotype outfit. Large wooden box designed to develop full plate (164 x 216 mm) Daguerreotypes: after the exposure the plate was inserted in the upper part of the box in a 45° angle and was exposed to mercury vapor which was produced by heating up a small sheet metal cup in the pyramid shaped lower part of the box. In order to allow inspection of the state of development the upper portion of the box has a semi-circular glass front which originally was covered by a curtain to keep out the light. On the right side a thermometer was mounted to measure the temperature of the mercury. The thermometer is missing, but the wooden scale still remained. On the lower left side, just next the metal cup, there is a small opening to refill the mercury with a dropping glass. The box is supported on legs holding an attached wooden platform. Mounted in the middle of the cross shaped panel is a central wooden ring to keep the spirit lamp in place. At the top of the box a removable wooden cover to keep the vapor inside.
The mercury box is built according to the plans that Daguerre published in 1839 and was part of the original outfit produced by Alphonse Giroux. Two similar boxes are in the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester and are published the 2009 GEH publication ‘Camera – A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital’ by Todd Gustavson. The offered box was professionally and carefully restored and is in very good original condition. Except for the thermometer no parts are missing. To our knowledge only about five of this boxes are known to exist. Height: 54cm.