Silver 2 Sensor : Episode 6 – Rise and Fall of Daguerreotypes

In the last episode, we saw how Louis Daguerre took pain to invent world’s first commercial black and white processing technique how it’s been given to the public for free. In this episode we will see the developments in the Daguerreotype era, and how this paved way for future of film photography.

August 1839, Daguerreotype process was released to the public by Louis Daguerre in exchange for a life time pension from the government. But the government told that people should get a license to use the process in order to use the process. Seeing the potential of the process and the revenue it can generate, many people from across the world came forward to buy the license to set up their own daguerreotype studio. Some people even bought the patent from Daguerre and started selling licenses in their own country. For the next 20 years daguerreotype was the most used photographic process.

In 1840, Daguerreotype entered US. Samuel Morse, the inventor of telegraph was on a trip to Europe to demonstrate his invention. During his visit, he came to know about the experiments of Daguerre and he was very much interested in taking home the process with him. But it happened a few years later when daguerreotypes were made public. Morse, who designed his own camera apparatus for obtaining daguerreotypes, also started courses in his newly started National academy of Design.

It is been said that nearly 30 million daguerreotypes where sold in 1840. People are very much excited to see their own image captured on a metallic film. Many started giving daguerreotypes for their loved ones as gift. This led to the beginning of photography industry all over the world.


In spite of having so many advantages, daguerreotypes faces a major threat due to its use of hazardous mercury compounds. Many photographers have fallen ill and dead due to the inhalation of mercury vapors. Also the inability of daguerreotypes to produce a negative to create many positive prints had put the process in the verge of extinction. Moreover the film and paper based photographic technique like calotype and tintype invented in the late 19th century involved use of less harmful chemicals and also produced negatives to make multiple copies of the same image took over daguerreotypes completely.

But even after the takeover of several photographic processes, photographers have used daguerreotype as a specialty photography technique for their clients, in order to give a vintage feel. It has been said that Daguerreotypes were used for 150 years even after its extinction in the early 1860’s

While discussing about daguerreotype we saw the introduction of negative based film processes which were introduced during that time. In the next episode , we will see what are calotypes and tintypes and what made them precursors for modern day film photography.

You can read the complete notes on Daguerreotype and how the process was carried out in the following link

Hill (1850) A Treatise on the Daguerreoptype.pdf (3.5 MB)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

To be continued….

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