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Magyar nyelvű változat: Dagerrotip installációk és konzerválás

Last changes: 27. 04. 2013.

Daguerreotype Installations and the Conservation

Creative Commons License  Flesch Bálint, ARCHALTFOTOKONZERV, 1990-2007
The text in this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License


Daguerreotypes were first made in 1839 (1840 in Hungary). But the main type of deterioration (and the way of prevention) was well known a long time before the invention of this process, because it is the same in the case of any silver thing. It is the dark bluish purple iridescent layer created on the surface by gases (primary sulfuric) in the air. It appears first on the edges of the plate, although there are exceptions, and from there it spreads to the middle and makes the images invisible. Subsequent deterioration is also related to this problem. The causes lie partly in the application of incorrect conservation methods and partly in the deficiences of the protective packaging. Other damages caused i.e. when the picture was created or inner oxidation occur more rarely. This suggests immediately that the primary task of the conservator should be the elimination of deficiencies of the protective packaging and its due maintenance.

Though essential elements of the packaging (amongst which I include case, decoration or mount and I will use instead of these in this text a collective name "installation") have been known from 1839 (and can be seen on early pictures made and dedicated by Daguerre in exhibitions, collections at Budapest, Prague and Munich) and thanks to Jakab Zimmerman an Hungarian translation of the original description appeared as long as 167 years ago, but when I had been working with daguerreotypes of collections I couldn't see it too often. Although it is not very difficult to put the daguerreotype between the glass plate and the backing board and to seal it hermetically with a strip of paper the only - made in Hungary - picture of Kossuth (an outstanding Hungarian politician) and the only surviving landscape were both ruined due, in part, to the lack of such protection. The only existing photograph of Petofi (a great Hungarian poet and freedom fighter) fell victim to the combined process at first the broke glass made by oxidation and then the potassium cyanide used for "cleaning". The case of the Kossuth portrait is very instructive. When it was returned to Hungary in 1930 a huge ornate box covered with red velvet was made for both it and the accompanying copy in a fervour of patriotism. But no-one thought to replace the missing glass (until 1989). The result is visible: the picture has entirely disappeared. None of the daguerreotypes I have examined were free from the effects of oxidation and the purpose of this lecture is to ensure that, in the future, there will be fewer unfortunate tales and more surviving daguerreotypes.

First some general observations.

dagerrotip installációk

It is important that as much of the installation is kept as possible since it is both an integral part of the whole as well as the bearer of certain information. It means that we must not discard heartlessly, or rigidly, that which might be judged to be Utopian or out of accord with the general principles of conservation. In most cases it will be sufficient to dismantle the packaging in such a way that it is possible to put each part back in its original place. To this end it can be useful to know about different types of structure, especially when it is necessary to construct missing parts in a professional and sympathetic way.
Every medicine can have side effects that is also true for protective enclosures. Unsuitable materials or methods of construction can damage the photographic plate. Problems are both specific and general, for example if the sheet with the image is in contact with glass, paper, adhesive or metal which cause oxidization - especially if the decomposition of glass has already started. If it is not caught in time it will spread and increasingly eat through the silver layer. Damage is also caused by the harmful evaporation of substances in the air-space surrounding the sheet.

bomló üveg
If the decomposition of glass has already started. If it is not caught in time it will spread and increasingly eat through the silver layer.

The function of the daguerreotype installation can be divided into two groups. The sealed part ensures the stability of the micro-climate round the sheet and the ornamental part covers the whole.

The main types of installation what I  found :

1. Early (and German) type

korai Kawalky
  The left picture made by Kawalky Lajos plate size: 66x83 mm-es  reproduction from a drawing portrait  of
  Mrs. Röck Istvánné born: Amelie Müller [1820-1843] . Property of the Magyar Nemzeti
Múz eum . The right is from the page:
 made by Mr Wilhelm Severin.
This type was probably dominanl throughout Europe in the first half of the 1840s and remained in use in Germany, mostly in the east, longest of all. Typically it had a board at the back, then the sheet which was frequently suitable for the round Petzval Voigtländer camera, then the mount made of white paper usually with an octagonal window. The frame was usually outlined for decoration and the German versions were frequently more elaborate. The signature of the photographer and the exposure time are often visible on the lower part of two (askew) sides. The plate is held by the black cover and the mount is stuck to it. Very often a separate raised edge was prepared for the internal fixture. Then came the glass plate. The back cover and the sealing tape around it is made of glazed black paper and in the case of Hungarian versions is finished with a little cardboard strip stuck to the mount and the glass which improves the seal. If it remains intact it provides good security. The weak points are tbe back covering which is too thin, and tbe adhesives used on it which oxidise the copper. Undamaged examples are rare and it is usually the glass ar the adhesive tape which are damaged.

korai dag. inst.
Early (German) type. 1. Gold coloured decoration strips (optional). 2. Paper strips for sticking around. 3. Glass plate.
4. Passepartout. 5. Daguerrotype plate. 1. Back cardboard. 7. Back covering paper.

2. The (Central-) Eastern European type

mondag foto   mondagins foto
The left picture is the property of the Hungarian Museum of Photography.  The right picture is a reproduction, Lajos Batthyány
 (1807-1849 prime minister of the 1848-49 Hungarian freedom fighting, killed by the Austrian occupators), from the Barabás Miklós
(1810-1898)  lithography  (owned by the Hungarian National Museum).

dag. mon. instrajz
The (Central) Eastern European type. 1. Velvet cover for passepartout. 2. Cardboard holder for
passepartout. 3. Cardboard strips for holding the glass plate. 4. Glass plate. 5. Daguerrotype plate. 6.
Silk hanger. 7. Combined back  covering paper and cardboard for propping the picture up. 8. Case.

monarchiai dag. installáció részei

This is the most complicated type. The majority of Hungarian daguerreotypes and those found in Hungarian collections which were made in the second part of the 1840s are in this type of installation. The part containing the plate is in a case made of wood, some times embossed and covered with dark brown, rough paper which simulates leather. The upper part of the interior is mostly lined with a white silk pad. The opening is restricted to aboat 100 degrees by a smalt silk tab sticking out at the top and can be held in place by a cardboard support on the back at an angle of about 45 degrees. The lower part of the cardboards and the boz are, in rnost cases, covered with the same glazed or embossed paper (which is susceptible to water damage). The paper sheet used as backing for the part containing the plate is usually the same as the material of the decorative cover ie.not  cardboard.  This  is  followed eitber by some more cardboard stuck to the back of the plate (ocassionnlly of different thicknesses) or just the plate. The cardboard frame round it äzes the plate and the glass in front of it. Right at the froat there in a mount  of velvet stretched over the cardboard, except for an octagonal  window.  On the outside the (wine) red, blue or green velvet entirely covers the sides of  the casiag and stretches over the back to a depth of  approximately 1 cm. The ornate back paper was stuck to this. The velvet is usually decorated with pressed patterns and/or a  gold  coloured  embossed cardboard strip. The repeated pattern is mainly of circles, lines or flowers. Gilding  is normally glossy. A typical defect of this protective case is that air and dirt always
penetrate under  the glass.  Frequently there is nothing tween the glass plate and the daguerreotype to prevent them touching each other. In practice near all the pieces need repair. The plate should be stuck, if possible, in between two pieces of glass so that there is a small piece of paper between the first glass and the plate to prevent contact. Then a thin paper should be stuck on to both side,  the back glass plate to prevent breakage. If the thickness of the glasses is too great and there  is insufficient room in the mount then cardboard should be used. Sealing with paper tape will make airtight. This tape can be double-sided and it is recommended to separate pieces should be stuck on to the cornecs. If the original glass is too small, or deteriorating (obvious from the small drop-like spots on its surface or fine crazing  should be changed. There are further reasons why a thorough examination of the installation is important. It can happen that the photographers card or that of an unknown photographer is hidden beneath the cover of the case; it can also be that the earlier restorer has completely changed the nature of the original. The latter is more properly subject of another lecture.

3. French or Western European type

  The picture is from the page: made by S. Fraenkel Junior.

daginst francia
West European type. 1. Paper for sticking around. 2. Glass plate with painted  "passepartout". 3. 4. 5. Passepartouts gold, silver
and black coloured from cardboard (silver and black are optional). 6. Daguerreotype Plate. 7. Back cardboard with "door". 8. Hanger (usually metal). 9. Back  covering paper.

Nyugateurópai tipusu
Elements of the West European type (a simpler version, with less decoration parts).
Daguerreotype plate, back cardboard with "door", passepartout (mat) gold coloured from
, back side of the glass plate with painted  "passepartout" 

This method was mostly used in France, in the western part of Germany and in Switzerland. (It was also used occasionoally in Hungary as in the case of the picture of Lajos Kawalky). It has cardboard under the black plate, covered with brown paper. (In earlyer e~camples glue was used as an adhesive but here it is likely that starch, which is not easy to dissolve  will  have  been used.) In the middle of the cardboard there is a small flap the same size as the plate; the latter was  inserted through this before being fixed in  place by gummed paper usually blue. The flap was then closed and stuck  down  with  the back cover paper. This is also the best way to dismantle the case, the parts  being  found in reverse order. First the cardboard with the flap, then the plate stuck on thin  paper, and finally the cardboard parts of the  mount in several layers. The shape of the window  is  rectangular with round corners or, more rarely, oval. First there is the black plate with the smallest opening followed by a white or silver one, followed by a thick, gold coloured plate with a bigger opening and edges cut in an angle and finally a further silver one. The glass plate follows, The major part of the mount is painted on the inner side of it. Most frequently there is a decorative stripe of gold-coloured metal foil on a black or brown base which follows the main shape of the window painted on the glass and is often in tbe form of a "}" or sometimes only the ornate strip is of this design. Other ornaments also appear. If the whole is intact it provides good protection for the picture but the glass plate is frequently broken since it usually lays on an uneven surface. In this case another has to be painted or the original has to be mended with Canada balsam. An alternative which is quite acceptable is to place another glass plate underneath it. The adhesive tape round the edge is almost always damaged. The original paper, which has a characteristic colour is always one piece, smoothed over the corners with careful folds. This is characteristic of this type of packaging.

Barcella, Caroline. "Conservation Project of the Manila Daguerreotypes.",_Caroline._%22Conservation_Project_of_the_Manila_Daguerreotypes.%22

4.  American ie English type

Amerikai típ. inst. foto

(owned by the Hungarian National Museum)

daginst amer. rajz
American - English type.  1, Copper frame. 2. Glass plate (thick). 3. Copper passepartout. 4. Paper strips for sticking around.
5. Daguerreotype plate. 6. Velvet covered cardboard frame. 7. Case.

amerikai dagerotip oxidációi
The shape of an oxidized frame appears on the surface of the dag plate where the copper mount touches the
plate. (Usually a complicated form of the copper mat window and the more decoration  meaning a later product.)

This type is a case or box simi1ar to the Eastern-European one, the only difference being that the hinge is on the longer side and its top is made of ornate velvet. The picture part cannot be folded out of it but the bottom of the box surrounds it as a fratne. It can be removed from this very easily. At the very back, on the part taken out, the back plate of the sheet can be seen and sometimes there is also another metal plate behind it. On its edges the edge of the frame pressed of copper plate can be seen and this is folded on. The plate is followed by the copper mount with pressed decoration. The opening is oval or rectangular with sides of "}" form. The glass and the above embossed copper frame can then be seen together with the adhesive tape underneath. This type of frame is shown in the diagrams of every technical book on "How to treat daguerreotypes". The disintegration of the adhesive tape used and the decomposition of the glass are most common problems, as well as the loss of the protective case. Typically the shape of an oxidized frame appears on the surface of the dag plate where the copper mount touches the plate. Further deterioration can be prevented by lining the copper mount with paper. Thus the side opposite the plate is covered with paper. It is very important to remove the adhesive tape stuck cound it. If there is enough room it is advisable to place an additional glass plate behind the daguerreotype plate (for more isolation) or at least a cardboard. A thicker than usual (3-4.5 mm) front glass plate was used since adhesive paper stuck round would show under the thin copper fcame; it is therefore only present on the edge of glass. The copper parts of the mount are also subject to corrosion and their treatment is the task of the metal conservator. There is also the question of what damage the remains of cleaning agents might cause to the picture over a longer period since these might get into the microclimate.

Preservation of the Daguerreotype Collection
The Cased Photographs Project of The Bancroft Library, University of California,
De beschadigingen die men bij de daguerreotypie

A comment for 1.-4.: The type of installation doesn't determine the place of origin of  the daguerreotypes since they are not neccessarily found where they were made nor is there always any definitive evidence.

5. Atypical occurrences

Rules are usually strengthened by exceptions and there are plenty of exceptions in this subject. Naturally, in addition to the types mentioned above, a wide variety of frames were made. Most are deviations from or varieties of those noted but there are some which are quite different.

Link: THE DAGUERREIAN ERA The Birth of an Industry
The Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg  The Presentation

6. Stereo-daguerreotypes

The mounts made for stereo-daguerreotypes usually differ from the normal types made at the same time (and in the same place). The difference lies not only in the fact that there are two pictures and often a stereo-sighting slot as well. The structure and appearance are also different, but I have not had sufficient experience to be able to present them here. The mount made on the French material is similar to other, Western European, normal types but the structure is much simpler. Those made in this Hungarian region show great variety. Most of them, however are similar to the types already  mentioned, regarding one or two characteristics.


7. Frame made afterwards

utókori / later type  atcsomagolt atcsom
(The left pic owned by the Hungarian National Museum and other two by the  Hungarian Museum of Photography )

Those frames into which daguerreotypes were fitted after they were made should not be forgotten. Most of such frames were made not for daguerreotypes but mainly for normal paper prints and at the time at which they were re-used the special requirements for daguerreotypes had been forgotten. It is best if the plate is put in place with part of the old mount but it is rare and usually the unsuitable mount causes serious damage. Frequently there is a copper inlay in the mount window with small plates sticking out from back and folded onto the back of the plate pressed on to the front glass. This method lets in air and the glass and the daguerreotype can cause each other damage. In some cases glass is not used at all in which case it is important to try to create a micro-climate and place it in the original installation..

8. Plate only

Unfortunately it is very often only the plate which survives. If, from remaining traces (some evidence of the mount, shreds of paper etc.), the existing data or older reproductions, it is clear what type of mount it might have had a similar one can be made. If it is unclear or impossible to create a simple, undecorated protective packing will also do. (The plate should be between two sheets of glass, behind the mount with small pieces of cardboard to make distance between them, an adhesive tape around and be covered with a backing sheet.)

The storage, cilmatical conditions, or light effect results.

Information is lacking about the effects of environmental conditions and light on daguerreotypes either in storage or on exhibition. (It must be remembered that the white parts of the picture are made from a mercury-silver amalgam and that when heated the mercury evaporates. Care must be taken about warm as a result.) Indirect effects are known. Unfavourable conditions cause damage to the protective packaging, for example the result of frequent and substantial changes in temperature is the disintegration of the installation due to differing rates of thermal expansion; a poor climate can damage the paper and textile parts of the casing and cause the corrosion of the copper parts.

For permanent exhibition, or if the appropriate conditions cannot be ensured it is advisable to use good quality facsimiles as in other photographic media.  In this way reconstruction facsimiles can also be made of pictures such as those now invisible as a result of oxidation and can be presented near as they were originally. By facsimile the same picture can be displayed at several exhibitions. If there are those who really must see the original it is possible to announce that it will be exhibited for a few days only which will greatly reduce the risk. It must be remembered that the opportunity to see even a mediocre popstar in the original is infrequent as well.

( Text based on the translation of Magda Milkovics and Helen Forde, for the postprint of the Conference on the Book and Paper Conservation Budapest 1990 - with continous modification by me...)

1.early  2.monarch  3.french   4.amer  5.  6.  7.after   8.