Thursday, February 09, 2006

Duplicating Dromedary Daguerreotype** Development!

As seen in my previous post...

.... responding to a post a LAOBSERVED, the unique image of camel in Wilmington - as opposed to the mislabeled San Pedro - have all come from one original image which may - may - now be about to be in the hands of the Drum Barracks Museum in Wilmington:

A camel is returning to Wilmington museum

Director spends $4,569 on e-Bay for Civil War-era photograph showing the beast of burden outside the Drum Barracks.

Josh Grossberg Daily Breeze

Where it's been the past 143 years, nobody knows. But a rare Civil War picture that proves camels once served in the U.S. Army is finally heading home to the place it was first photographed: the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington.

"I found out about it the minute it went on eBay," Ogle said. "I got six phone calls the first day. 'Have you seen? Have you seen?' "

The picture didn't come cheap. Competition was stiff and late bidding pushed the selling price to $4,569.63. But Ogle said it was worth it.

The image itself is well known around town. A copy already resides in the Drum Barracks, and versions of it also exist at USC, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Huntington Library. But the one Ogle bought may be the one all the others were copied from, making it both historically and aesthetically important.

"If you've ever looked at these old pictures, they have a unique quality to them," Ogle said. "There is a depth and richness to the print. It's like looking at a print of the Mona Lisa and then at the original. It's two different things."

Ogle, who has a master's degree in art history with a concentration in photography, won't know for sure until she examines the photo. But she said the seller is reputable and she has three days to return the photograph if it turns out to be a copy.

"I won't know until I get my hands on it," she said. "But from what I've seen (all the others) look retouched. The eBay one doesn't look retouched. We have to compare the images and try to see what came from where. All these little strings will pull together."

The grainy, splotched, black-and-white image measures a scant 4 ¼ by 2½ inches. But when museum director Susan Ogle heard it was being sold on an Internet auction site, she knew she had to have it.


After moving around a bit, three dozen wound up at the Drum Barracks in early 1862. They left a little more than a year later and were auctioned off to private parties.

The back of the photo incorrectly identifies the location as "quartermaster department, San Pedro." And it was once in a collection owned by photographer C.C. Pierce, who claimed to have taken it, but he didn't arrive in Southern California until years after the camels left.

"He would copy negatives and would publish them," said Jennifer Watts, curator of photographs at the Huntington Library.

Ogle believes the image was probably not taken by a professional.

"I'm thinking it's a good possibility it was taken by a military photographer, but we don't have any information anywhere that nails the photographer down."

As far as spending thousands of dollars for the image, Watts said it was money well spent.

"Given what it is and in terms of the unusual subject matter and the early date of the image, that's quite reasonable," she said. "You get to see if someone made alterations to the negative at the time or if things have been cropped out over the years."

Los Angeles historian Brady Westwater did his own research on the image. He said that even though he has books with the picture in it, he'd love to have the original.

"If it's the only Civil War camel photo around, you want to own that," he said. "If I had the money, I would have bought it."

The great news is that if the photo is THE original - it is now in a local museum. And this will give local historians a chance to compare all the various images - now that we all know who has all the various versions - to see which is the original and also how the image has been retouched over the years.

As for the article saying that Pierce claimed to have taken the photo, I suspect that came from a library saying it is from the Pierce collection as I doubt Pierce would have claimed to have taken a photo that was taken over twenty years before he arrived in Los Angeles.

Hopefully, though, now that too can be corrected when the photo arrives in Wilmington and it can be verified if it is the original and if all the other prints have been made from it

The article also clarifies that the photo might not have been taken in 1865 as was stated in Robinson's TICOR book - Panorama - that I quoted from as the camels were only in Wilmington from 1862 - 1863 unless of course - one camel remained behind. And I have read stories about what people who bought the camels later did with them so that would seem to preclude any of them being left behind in Wilmington. But as just one camel was in photo, that possibility can not be totally foreclosed upon.

** Read the comments section to find out what kind of photograph this really is....


David Hoag said...


I'm the person who originally alerted Kevin Roderick to the eBay auction. A couple of notes:

1) First, this image is not a daguerreotype. I don't know if you were just using that word in your headline to be cheeky, but it is clearly not a daguerreotype nor a copy of a daguerreotype.

2) Second, it's correctly referred to as a carte-de-viste or CDV. While it may seem small, this was the commonly found size of albumen photographs in the early 1860s. Finding anything larger would make it suspect, although very rare larger albumen photographs exist from that era. Most CDVs were portraits; most Civil War soldier/officer portraits are CDVs.

3) This is clearly an original image. That's what makes it so special. The other similar images linked at various sources are clearly copies. The eBay CDV is not a copy or second-generation reproduction. The albumen CDV was the first widely used form of photography from a negative. (Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and ferrotypes had no negatives -- the image was the negative.) That's what makes this particular CDV so rare. Exterior CDVs are scarce to begin with, but one with this many bells and whistles is almost unheard of.

Best regards,
David Hoag
Shadow Hills, CA

Brady Westwater said...

Yes, I did know it was not a daguerreotype and just went for the the cheap and cheeky alliteration.

However, I did not know exactly what it was - so thanks for telling us! Hopefully, once it arrives in Wilmington you and they can give us the final and definitive story on this and all the copies.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for breaking in with this bit of off-topic news:

To all Getty Staff:

I wanted to let you know before we send out our news release that the Board of Trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust will announce today that Dr. Barry Munitz, president and CEO for the past eight years, has decided to resign, effective immediately. He indicated that he made this decision after lengthy consideration so both the Getty and he can move forward.


(I feel like singing a round of "Ding dong the witch is dead...")

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