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Scope

Daguerreotypes at Harvard provides access to over 3,500 daguerreotypes in libraries, museums, and archives across the University. The collection continues to grow as images are uncovered and new daguerreotypes are accessioned. The first publicly announced photographic medium, the daguerreotype process produced an image exquisite in its detail and tonal fidelity, and daguerreotypes remained popular throughout the 1840s and 50s.

Together, Harvard holdings represent a collection of international significance and illustrate early uses of photography as a tool for artistic expression and scientific research in mid-19th-century America. The work of many noted daguerreotypists resides in the collections, and scholars can follow the medium from an experimental technique used by a handful of pioneers to its emergence as a thriving industry. Portraits, which constitute the majority of the plates, include images of people associated with Harvard and those who distinguished themselves in particular areas of the University’s collecting interests. A number of daguerreotypists established alliances with Harvard scientists and physicians, and the intriguing images resulting from these experimental partnerships can be found in numerous repositories within the University.

The Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography

Through Daguerreotypes at Harvard, Internet users can access 3,106 images from the Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography, which is housed in Houghton Library. In addition to daguerreotypes, the Horblit Collection includes 1,700 albumen silver prints, 1,000 salted paper prints, 360 books and albums illustrated with photographs, 350 paper negatives, 120 ambrotypes, and much more.

Exclusions

This online collection includes records, which in rare cases may not be accompanied by digital images.

Related Archival Materials

Harvard holds a wealth of archival materials relating to its daguerreotype collections. Houghton Library’s collection of illustrated books, for example, includes Excursions Daguerriennes, the travel series published by N. M. P. Lerebours from 1840 to 1844, featuring illustrations based on daguerreotypes. Researchers can find early cameras at the Historical Scientific Instruments Collection and photographic periodicals at the Fine Arts Library. Additional supporting material accompanying daguerreotype collections, including letters, papers, diaries, and journals, further illuminates the circumstances under which the images were created and used.

Bibliography

Harvard’s daguerreotypes have been featured in a number of exhibitions and books, and these related publications can be found in the Bibliography.

Preservation and Digitization of the Collection

In 1995, the Harvard University Library received a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to preserve and enhance access to Harvard’s daguerreotypes. For information about the grant and subsequent digitization and preservation of the collections, please consult the articles "Digitizing Daguerreotypes," "Preserving Photography's Past: Daguerreotypes at Harvard," and "Preserving Rare Daguerreotypes."

The Photograph Conservation Program at Harvard

Harvard’s Weissman Preservation Center offers a range of preservation services for photographic materials—prints, film-based negatives, glass-plate negatives, lantern slides, daguerreotypes and other cased photographs, and photograph albums, among others. A comprehensive five-year plan, funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, provides for the following services: