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Daguerreotype by 'Beard's Photographic Institutions'

Daguerreotype by 'Beard's Photographic Institutions'

notes on the daguerreotype purchased from The Bookshop down the Lane, October 21, 2003, for £150

Richard Beard (c.1802-1885) purchased the rights under Daguerre's English patent and opened the first professional photographic portrait studio in Europe on March 23, 1841, on the roof of the Royal Polytechnic Institution, London. Beard was a coal merchant turned patent speculator, unskilled himself, who bought-into scientific knowledge and technical skill by purchasing inventions; by forming partnerships, e.g. with the American camera inventor Alexander Wolcott; and by employing able men, e.g. the science lecturer J. F. Goddard, who improved the chemistry for him and became one of the photographers in his studio. (One 2ndry source says that Jabez Hogg - famous science writer and lecturer - worked for Beard; I can't confirm this from sources to hand; Hogg certainly worked as a photographer, but in the protracted lawsuit Beard-v-Egerton Hogg supported Egerton.)

Photographic portraiture was an instant success, and within a year Beard had opened 2 more London studios (Parliament Street and King William Street) and a Liverpool branch. As owner of the patent, all other professional daguerreotype photographers in England needed to be licensed by him. He made a rapid fortune, but then squandered it in lawsuits attempting to enforce his patent (which did not expire until 1853); he was declared bankrupt on June 5, 1850. He continued to operate at a reduced level, but had vacated his Polytechnic premises by 1852. His process and the procedures in his studios are described in detail in Gernsheim's histories of photography.

His great rivalries were with Antoine Claudet, a much more accomplished scientist-photographer, who preceded him in making and promoting daguerreotypes in London (under direct licence from Daguerre) but opened his commercial studio a little later; and with John Egerton, the chief English supplier of photographic materials and agent for the French manufacturer Lerebours, hence his tenacity in fighting Beard's lawsuits for over 5 years.

Early Beard daguerreotypes are usually distinctively small and marked 'Beard Patentee' on the mount; later ones are of more conventional size and bear a fuller logo and addresses on the case. They are not significantly rarer than other signed daguerreotypes [which are all very rare], but for obvious reasons they carry a frisson for collectors (and curators). Damaged cases, deteriorated images, and pictorially uninteresting images, predominate, especially when compared with the higher pictorial qualities of Claudet, Mayall, and some others, or with the generally better condition of the daguerreotypes of the 1850s in their sturdier plastic cases.

This very good example therefore dates at the outsidest from 1842-52, and with reasonable certainty 1845-50. It was purchased (with others) from an auction in Chichester, from the property of a collector who in turn had bought them at auction, so there is no information as to its ultimate provenance or the identity of the sitter. The case is in good condition, and shows a bright example of Beard's later logo, with all 4 addresses. (Incidentally, Beard's use of the Royal Arms in this logo was presumptuous, deriving merely from his association with the Royal Polytechnic Institution; he never received Royal appointment or patronage.) The image is in good condition at the centre in spite of a wide margin of serious deterioration around the edge. This is caused by atmospheric sensitivity, not by light [I don't mean it's not light sensitive, it is of course], is irreversible, but is old and probably long stabilised. The photograph is happiest in its existing casing, but needs to be sealed to its glass cover with photographic-conservation-quality adhesive paper; I can do this. The cover glass should be washed first, but the photographic surface must not be touched.

The reason for the Museum acquiring this item is that a daguerreotype by Beard has long been considered a desideratum for its existing collection of daguerreotypes, which although small is recognised as particularly excellent and representative. As well as both unusual and typical specimens, the collection contains items associated with Egerton and Lerebours, several examples of Claudet's work, and daguerreotypes by Mayall and several other interesting names. Beard's is the only historically or technically significant name not represented. The Museum also has things from the Royal Polytechnic Institution.

Tony Simcock

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