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Collector's Guide to Early Photographs (Collectors Guide Series)

Author: O. Henry Mace

Description: Wallace-Homestead Book Co. 1990. Paperback.

One of the best overviews of photographic formats to be had anywhere. This book is an excellent introduction to nineteenth-century photographs for the beginner and a good quick reference for the researcher or collector. The coverage of cased images is comprehensive. This book covers topics such as the general history of each kind of photograph and relates facts missed even in some history of photography books. Mace picks up where other collector's guides fall short.

This book covers the entire range of processes and formats popular in the nineteenth-century and gives a good account of the growth of amateur photography late in the century. Cased images are given a thorough coverage, from Daguerreotype to Ambrotype showing many kinds of mats, decorations, employed. Wooden cases and early thermoplastic Union Cases are discussed. The history of the tintype is complete and treated well. And a chapter on documentation and restoration of cased images will prove useful to those with family photographs or collections to conserve. A collector of civil war images said Mace "covers a full spectrum of Nineteenth-century photographs as well as cases, mats and formats, both as history and as a basis for determining value, identifying, and the like"---Glenna Jo Christen.

A history of the wet-plate and albumen print is given. Then each format of card photograph is discussed in turn, the carte de visite, cabinet cards, and stereographs. The affect of dry plates and gelatin prints on late nineteenth-century practice is examined. Finally, a special chapter is set aside for American Civil War images. Additional material includes biographies of nineteenth-century photographers of note, an illustrated listing of manufacturers and their marks, a glossary, bibliography and index.

Mace invites all who collect early photographs to become well-informed on the subject. He welcomes the historian who wants to hold history in their hands, the collector with an artistic eye and the investor who must eventually part with his images. I would think the genealogist and the biographer would be two good additions to his list of interested parties.

The nineteenth-century was an era when people were still willing to stop what they were doing (such as piloting a steamer) to pose for the photographer. The historical record is enriched by image that likely could not be obtained today---imagine asking the pilot of an airliner to stop and pose with his plane and all the crew standing on the wings. They may lack the immediacy of the snapshot but the nineteenth-century view makes up for it in novelty of being photographed---people and places were being seen for the first time by the camera.

In 1864, a writer for Godey's Lady's Book observed that "'photograph albums' have become not only a luxury for the rich, but a necessity for the people. The American family would be poor indeed who could not afford a photograph album. This demand has introduced new manufactures, elegant inventions of form and finish, and artistic designs..." The ordered pages of the album became a metaphor for a well-ordered family and society. The world expanded for the young as they gathered around the table to share the stereoscope's unique perspective on art, architecture and the world's many peoples. The photograph was changing the way people saw the world and themselves. As Mace states so eloquently,

The Victorians were the first, and the best, photograph collectors...they have bequeathed to us the history of their era and the history of photography in its purest form.

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