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Photographic Finds:

Undocumented Portrait of Governor, ca. 1820,
Discovered in Daguerreotype

by Beth Bilderback

The library has been fortunate in acquiring several impressive cased images for its collection over the last several months. Of particular note is a daguerreotype of a painting of Thomas Bennett (1781-1865). The painting shows a young Bennett, probably done when he was Governor of South Carolina, 1820-1822. As far as can be determined at this point, although there is a painting of Bennett later in life by William H. Scarborough, there
Gov. Thomas Bennett (1781-1865)

Daguerreotype, ca. mid-19th century,

documenting painting

completed ca. 1820.

Gov. Thomas Bennett ca. 1822 - 17.0 K

is no record of this early painting of Bennett. It is known that Samuel F.B. Morse painted Bennett’s mother while Morse was in Charleston in 1818. Although Morse’s papers make no mention of painting Governor Bennett, Morse made several visits to Charleston, with the last being in 1821. Therefore it is possible that Morse made the painting captured in the daguerreotype.

Photography experiements of

Prof. William Ellet

of South Carolina College

resulted in some of the earliest

daguerreotypes yet


It is also possible that Morse made the daguerreotype. Morse was in France when Daguerre revealed his photographic process and had a private interview with him and viewing of Daguerre’s work. Morse brought the news of the invention of photography and the process itself back to America before the newspapers could publish accounts of the process. It is believed that South Carolina College Professor William Ellet saw Morse demonstrate the process in New York and began experiments of his own, being one of the earliest to make a documented photograph using Daguerre’s process.

Regarding the Wellman daguerreotype of Hazzard and Sisson discussed in the previous newsletter, the date listed was incorrect. That daguerreotype was made in 1852 not 1862. Photographers stopped using the daguerreian process about 1856, making instead the much simpler ambrotype. Although the ambrotype did not have the pristine clarity found in daguerreotypes, it was a safer process for the photographer. Like a hatter, a daguerreotypist used mercury which affects both mental and physical capacities over time. Surprisingly enough, there are few stories of mad shutter-bugs!

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