The Boston Athenæum has a small but significant collection of approximately 350 daguerreotypes. The collection specializes in New England portraiture and the work of Boston photographers. As such, it provides an important record of the art of the daguerreotype in one major American city from 1840 through the 1860s. Boston was a particularly vibrant environment for daguerreotypists and was home to such luminaries of the art as Southworth & Hawes, Whipple & Black, and Lorenzo Chase. The Athenæum’s collection includes identified portraits of ordinary New Englanders as well as prominent Bostonians such as Daniel Webster, John Pierpont, George Barrell Emerson, and the abolitionist Maria Weston Chapman. The identified portrait, of course, is a rarity and the Athenaeum’s collection includes many sitters whose names remain unknown. Nonetheless, these unidentified portraits can often be exquisitely beautiful or provide additional information about the output of a particular Boston daguerreotypist.
Curator of Prints & Photographs