TO DETERMINE THE AUTHOR OF THE PETŐFI
DAGUERREOTYPE USING COMPUTER EVALUATION OF THE DATA ON THE
Many thanks for English
translation to Mr. Anthony DeKunffy
connection with a 1989 exhibit – under some adventurous
circumstances – I have had the opportunity to complete basic
preventive actions on a portion of the Hungarian public
collection of daguerreotype stock, such as restoring or
preparing vacuum packing, etc. I have reported of the
experience gained from this work during the Book and Paper
Restoration Conference in September 1990.
Due to my circumstances I was unable to proceed later with my
previous work as Society in general will not reward individual
initiatives especially if they are not synchronized with the
special sphere of interest prevalent in a particular field of
action. I could not resist the urge, however, not to
continue process this valuable data base when the technical
conditions became available for me again. In order to
try this possibility I have examined the probability of a
suspicion emerged during another work. It appeared to me how
similar are that the photographic method and total
characteristics of two daguerreotypes to the Petoefi
daguerreotype the author of which has been a subject of debate
from the beginning. I have first published the
results of my experiment during the National Restoration
Conference of the Hungarian National Museum in 1996.
Let me mention in advance that I do not want to reserve myself
the right to decide the question. I should only like to
publish what I have found out. I believe that this will
be the first verifiable data base established based on
material facts in this area.
My other purpose with this paper is to call attention again to
the usefulness of, and the necessity to establish a data base
of Daguerre plates. I have mentioned that during the
conference in my presentation without any notable result.
We shall talk more about that later.
A bit of
The process was broadly used from the beginning of the 1840-s
to the beginning of the 1850-s, in the same time during which
the Talbotipe(Calotype) process producing (paper)
negative/positive picture was also used. These two
procedures were supplanted in the 1850-s by the wet
collodion negative and albumin paper positive method.
Usually the daguerreotype plates were ˝ mm thick copper plates
polished and silver plated on one side. The most often
found silver plating technology was electrolysis (after 1851),
but especially in the beginning it could have been done with
several complicated mechanical processes. On the whole they were
prepared in workshops in greater quantity and reached the
consumers as finished product as opposed to the other materials
of the photographic technique used that time which were prepared
by the picture taker. The plates were on the market in
various qualities primarily determined by the thickness of the
silver layer. The quality and method of preparation were
often designated by conventional symbols on the plates; the most
often used quality symbol relating to the silver content was 40
and 30. This means that 1/40th or 1/30th part of the total
mass of the plate was silver. I know of a scale from 10 to
60, but during the period the scales were widely used the
symbols 20 and 30 were most common. Such symbols suggest a
plate originating from a French source as its use was prescribed
there, but they can also be found on American plates where they
were in use due to market pressures.
(Significance: Under certain circumstances ruined plates
could be re-used more than once depending on the thickness of
the silver layer by re-polishing and cleaning them. A
better – galvanized, well polished, etc. – 40 designated plate
could be re-used two-three times.)
Quality mark 40M
Some hallmarks provide information regarding the place of
preparation (sometimes with an exact address), its technique,
the name of the preparing firm, even the time when the plate was
prepared. (More about the daguerreotype hallmarks.)
JP. and Gaudin.
The dimensions of a plate are also characteristic. From
the beginning they used “standard” sizes, the standard for a
whole plate being the 6x8 Parisian inch size (162x210
mm.). The most often used sizes were designated by their
relation to the whole plate, i. e.: quarter plate, sixth plate,
From the point of this research the sixth plate and the eighth
plate will be interesting. These were, incidentally, the
most often used sizes.
Small variations of these sizes can be construed as normal and
there are many plates cut subsequently to other sizes.
(This, too, will be important later!)
The reason for various side dimensions found in a standard size
is that the measure has changed during the course of time.
Variations are also caused by the fact that the measure was
derived from the Parisian inch and the inch meant a different
length in different countries at various times. Thus one
can find dimensions according to the British inch, the Prussian
Zoll (inch), of the Viennese inch too.
The ornamental protective used at some pictures (in
future: installation), its stylistical elements,
construction, material, etc. are also characteristic for a
certain period, region, and in some cases for the manufacturer
too. (This was the subject of my lecture mentioned in the
Introduction. Hopefully the content of it appearing in the
home page will soon evolve to the point where instead of this
sentence there will be a link here). In the following the
primary importance will be placed on the variations in general
use in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and its neighborhood.
The protective packaging used from the beginning protected the
plate from the influence of the corrosive materials in the air
which discolor the plate and cause the picture to become
invisible. Even though this method of conservation was
documented in the Hungarian translation
Jakab Zimmermann which appeared in the 1840-s, it managed
to get forgotten in the later years. The oxidized pictures
would be enthusiastically cleaned with the potassium cyanide
method as the one shown below. This procedure, used often
by many for the next 100 years, has the most damaging side
effects. In Hungary it was in use until the 1960-s.
More than likely, we can thank the current bad condition of this
picture to these two unfortunate circumstances (Oxidation due to
the lack of protective packaging, then potassium cyanide
cleaning followed by the same cycle). (See the paper by Károly Escher about his
cleaning process of this daguerreotype. Hungarian language
text.). A well maintained protective packaging and
reasonably good storage procedure could have normally preserved
the pictures in good condition even to these days.
8. SEM micrographs showing the comparative results of
microstructural alteration of shadow particle agglomerates due
to cleaning. (a) is an untreated sample, (b) is from the KCN
treated sample, (c) is from the thiourea treated sample and
(d) is from the one-minute sputter cleaned sample. The marker
in all the micrographs indicates 5 μm.
As seen from the previously
mentioned Collection Sheet (blank form)
many other technical characteristics can also be collected but I
will only mention those that are important to the
Naturally, I do not desire to take a stand regarding
the historical data during this research. My data
base consists of those existing publications that were available
According to the verbal tradition the Petőfi
daguerreotype is the creation of the photograph Lipot
Strelinsky. This fact was already contested by the 1963
edition of the Fotolexikon (Akademiai Kiado, photohistorical
editor Zoltan Király) among other sources. According to
various reminiscences the actor Gábor Egressy, functioning as a
photo amateur, among others had taken the picture of his actor
college, Petőfi, too.
Lipót Strelisky was a significant
member of the early Hungarian photography. From
goldsmith he became a photographer. I have not found
hallmarks on those plates known by me that were supposed to be
made by him. It can be supposed that as goldsmith, he
(also) used plates prepared by himself.
According to various sources he served in the home guards during
the Hungarian revolution (1848/49) and photographed its
prominent personalities partly with daguerreotype partly with
talbotype technique. The location of these pictures, if
still exist, is unknown. During the years of absolutism he
continued to distribute the pictures of the revolution’s main
players reproduced using photo technical processes
(daguerreotype?) for which he was imprisoned in the Újépulet
(New Building, notorious prison), although in the book by Etelka
Baji about Strelinsky the contemporary judicial books do not
mention this fact. More than likely these pictures were
reproductions of artistic pictures prepared using graphical
multiplying processes (such as the one shown here).
reproduction of Strelisky of the lithography of József
Borsos – August Pettenkoffen: The opening of the first
Hungarian parliament (5 July, 1848, Pest).
On the back with the
sign: L. Strelisky Daguerreotypeur Blühdornische
Haus No 218 Göttergasse. (Clicking on the picture will show
an enlarged version of the sign.) Owned
by the Dobó István Múzeum of Eger
In the domestic collections one can find many, done with the
formerly shown technique but with a very small dimension (can be
hidden easily) daguerreotype reproductions of pictures created
with graphical multiplying processes of renowned actors of the
revolution. Naturally, as in the majority of the
daguerreotype pictures, - and here the reason can easily be
understood – without signature. I feel really strongly
that these, too, originate from Strelisky and I, or someone else
will one day be able to prove that. The currently
touched upon subject should also merit some research and
rediscovery for the photographic history.
These pictures also exemplify the characteristic and complete
daguerreotype installation used in the second half of the 1840-s
in our region.
It may be surmised that Strelisky, as the famous photographer
whose fate was associated with the revolution, was “given” the
title of the photographer of the Petőfi daguerreotype by public
belief. Naturally the fact cannot be excluded that he (or
anyone else) could have made pictures of Sándor Petőfi, as in
the last 10 years of his life any number of either daguerreotype
or talbotype could have been made of him.
Gábor Egressy (1808-1866) is a prominent personality of the
contemporary theater and is one of our first amateur
photographers. The Hermann Otto Museum of Miskolc
owns two daguerreotype self portraits of him.
In his memoirs he mentions that he would have liked to record
himself in his roles that are why during his trip to Paris in
1843-44 he bought a daguerreotype outfit and learned to
photograph from a Parisian Hungarian called Kunwald. His
son, Ákos Egressy mentions in his memoirs that his father had
photographed his fellow actor Petőfi as well.
Behold the Petofi daguerreotype with the back of a chair
(euphemized as a book by many) under the armpit of
the poet (This is important now!!). The picture is a bit
blurry. At the top the hallmark G.R.B., at the top left
corner the quality designation of 40. The size is a sixth
plate but a bit has been cut off the shorter side.
40 and G.R.B. hallmarks on the upper part of the Petőfi
And now let us look at the plates of the two Egressy
self portraits too. They are sixth plates with the G.R.B.
hallmark and the quality designation of 40 and a bit has been
cut off their shorter sides...
It is noticeable that the method of the photography is
similar, the pictures are a bit blurry, on each one the back of
the chair is at the same side on which the subject is
leaning. The reason for this posture could be
that while the photographers of the daguerreotype period fixed
the subject’s head in a head propping device mounted on the back
of the chair in order to ensure that the subject is motionless
during the excessive exposure time to produce a sharp picture.
An amateur would not possess such implements used in ateliers
(The separate, smaller head supports came in general use
later). Instead they could use this posture to assist the
subject to sit still. If we examine the works of the
professional photographers of the period where the subjects
aspiration was to sit in a dignified manner, it would be
debatable that someone would have adapted such frivol posture in
an atelier picture. The comparative illustration below
shows the similarity how the pictures’ subjects relate to the
back of the chair.
It can be seen comparing these pictures to the professional
daguerreotype shown below that the pictures are not sharp. This
picture is a signed daguerreotype from Strelisky. (The already
shown Strelisky reproduction of the print.)
Let us look at the sharpness of the picture
(but at the middle of the picture, as the lenses at those days
were not really suitable for reproduction, as it can be seen at
the edges of the picture).
As I have mentioned, on the plate of the
Petofi picture (as on those of Egressys’) one can see the
quality designation of 40 showing a French origin, as well, as a
hallmark of G.R.B. (Egressy brought his equipment
from Paris.) The size of all three is a sixth plate and on
all three a piece had been cut off on the shorter side (too?).
With the help of a tabulation chart I have grouped the data of
all existing daguerreotype plates according to various
Even the first grouping indexed by plate size brought the
expected result. The data of the three plates were grouped
together. And two more, of which I knew neither the
author, nor the subjects. ...
On both of these the hallmark is G.R.B., their size is a sixth
plate and a piece had been cut off at their shorter side. The
black arrow sign the place of the R.G.B. hallmark.
Let us observe what the subject does with his hand shown at the
left side of the picture, as compared to the previous three, but
this time on the other side!
Even the installations (framing, mounting, presentation) are
similar to the Egressy portraits: Monarchy style, and in
both cases one is blue, the other red. (The original
installation of the Petofi daguerreotype – if ever existed – did
The next tabulation indexed by
1. Hallmark ,
2. Longer side,
3. Longer side
sequences can be seen below in a simplified format in order
to be more understandable:
Normal French one
eighth plate size
fiu (77. 98.)
fiu (77. 97.)
(female portrait 88.1101.from a drawing from Mrs Röck
Istvánné, born Amelie Müller [1820-1843])
photographer: Lajos Kawalky
Measure of the
normal French one sixth
The size of the standard French one sixth plate is 72-75x81-85
mm; the 80-84 mm of the longer sides of the three known
plates (Petőfi and the two Egressy portraits) meet this
standard. The shorter sides were cut to 65 to 68 mm.
The shorter sides of the two boys’ pictures were cut to 65-67 mm
All plates the G.R.B. can be found and with the exemption of one
they all have the quality designation of 40 (on the missing one
it may have been cut off the designation usually found in the
corner). Wherever the original installation survived it is
the Monarchy type and all subjects rest their hands on the back
of a chair.
Other plates with G.R.B. hall mark do not exist among the 96
remaining pictures. That means that if we sort out the
existing material according to the size, hall mark and method of
Only these five plates, the Petőfi picture, the two Egressy self
portraits and the two portraits of the unknown boys
remain. The sixth one is a much smaller portrait of
a woman where the subject does not lean on the back of the chair
(although this plate was more than likely also cut out of a
one-sixth plate, its 58 mm width is greater than the width of
the one-eighth plates known by me). Its original
installation did not survive.
The seventh plate by Kawalky shows the hallmark “G.R.B.
Garantie” and is a reproduction of a painting.
This is a
58x76 mm portrait of a woman (in its pre-conservational
condition). On the right side is a reproduction on a 66x83
mm plate signed by Kawalky Lajos (at the bottom right corner of
the passé partout). (Made from a drawing from Mrs Röck
Istvánné, born Amelie Müller [1820-1843] .) This picture,
however, is from an other G.R.B. series, as on the plate there
is an other hall mark, a hand written “garantie” annotation.. (Both are the property of the
Hungarian National Museum)
The question can be asked: Why did Egressy always cut some
off the shorter side of the plate? More than likely,
because his equipment or some part of it was one eighth size
while the plates he purchased were on sixth size. This
mistake is conceivable with an amateur ordering in a foreign
tongue especially if we observe that the longer side of the two
plate sizes is identical and difference exists only in the
of the one-sixth (81x72 mm) and the one-eighth (81x54 mm)
If, for example, his sensitizer or mercury box was smaller, he
did not have to cut the plates all the way back to the one
eighth size (as he has left all of them a bit larger,
too). With a bit of work by a good cabinet maker even the
camera could be altered to this size (but it is also possible
that the “raw” picture size was this big anyhow).
boxes: used for a Daguerre type iodine, and later,
iodine bromide sensitization
camera from 1841
simple mercury "developing" box
Complete daguerreotype equipment. Thierry 1847.
All this could, of course, be accidental, too. Although at
this time the question can not be settled with 100% certainty,
this data cannot be ignored in the future. Naturally the
result would be statistically more valuable if one could work
with a data base composed of data from more plates..
It is obvious from the preceding how valuable would be the data
collection in some interactive form from those pieces currently
all ready on hand. As the instrument of this could be the
Internet, for the beginning I started a daguerreotype hallmark
collection page on my Homepage in case there
are data providers.