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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype


The historian is, by definition, absolutely incapable of observing the facts which he examines. No Egyptologist has ever seen Ramses. No expert on the Napoleonic Wars has ever heard the sound of the cannon at Austerlitz. We can speak of earlier ages only through the accounts of eye-witnesses.1

The study of primary source material is essential to any serious study of a historical discipline. The aim of this web-accessible archive is to provide as much primary source material as possible—a wide array of "pieces of the puzzle"—whether significant or incidental. My endeavor here is not to assemble all the pieces into a coherent narrative (although I do provide some useful notes.) I also make no attempt to correct all errors inherit in the source texts (although providing corrections for misspelled names.) My motivation is simple: to enable a more effective and complete research by those studying this facet of photographic history.

The archive has been years in the making and continues to grow. I began collecting daguerreotypes and other cased images in 1980, but in 1993, when my tastes outgrew my pocketbook, I shifted my focus toward scholarship. While fully appreciating the histories of Taft, Newhall, the Gernsheims, the Rinharts, and others, I found myself wanting to read the original source material, unedited. While often finding this material difficult to obtain, I've continued to gather what I can by every possible means. When realizing that the resulting archive was significant, I concluded that it would be selfish were I not to freely share the gathered information.

About my choice of presentation: Because the texts are drawn from a number of sources (my personal collection, from other colleagues, microfilm, inter-library loans, online databases, etc.,) it is not possible to always provide images of the original texts (although in some instances I do.) Rather, I have chosen to employ the pdf format for content presentation. This allows for full text searching, keeps my server requirements manageable, is the easiest of web-accessible formats to prepare and maintain, and is simply within my abilities to accomplish.

The archive reflects both my collecting interests and my limitations. Many items of ephemera may indeed be humble, yet they still contribute to our knowledge. I have purposely chosen to collect newspapers, journals, periodicals, and ephemera rather than the already-reprinted standard works by Humphrey, Snelling, Hunt, etc. A brief perusal of this site will reveal the archive's US-centricism, although a reasonable representation of British texts (especially from 1839) are provided. A few French-language texts are also provided; I am especially pleased to provide some enjoyable French caricature lithographs.

About myself: My avocation in the field of early photography and fairly voracious study of all-things-daguerreian has been self-directed. I have been a Daguerreian Society member since the Society's inception in 1988. I have served as both Secretary and web site developer/focal for the Society. I have been an occasional Symposium speaker and author of articles for the Society's Daguerreian Annual. In 2006, I was honored to serve as a pre-publication reviewer of Keith Davis's manuscript for his superb volume, The Origins of American Photography: From Daguerreotype to Dry-Plate, 1839–1885.

The nature of this archive is much influenced by the consummate historian and connoisseur, the late Matthew R. Isenburg, who befriended me, encouraged my endeavors, and instilled in me an enduring appreciation of the value of source texts and ephemera. It is to Matthew R. Isenburg that I dedicate this work.

Gary W. Ewer

Gary W. Ewer and Matthew R. Isenburg, Haydlyme, CT, 1993
Gary W. Ewer and Matthew R. Isenburg, in Isenburg's "attic." Hadlyme, CT, 1993

1. Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft (New York: Vintage Books, 1953): 48.