An Early Daguerreotype by Henry Fitz. JR.
Hanako Murata, Assistant Conservator of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hanako’s excellent, well illustrated, and comprehensive presentation addressed her work funded by the IMLS and the discoveries she made relating to the history and analysis of a Fitz daguerreotype – dated to 1840. Interesting points included:
The copper support of the plate was split which is quite unusual and rarely seen.
Uncertain how the plate was made. Investigation of the corrosion products required to further assess cause. There were breaks in the plates and UV examination in long and short wave undertaken. Plate may have been previously cleaned.
Owing to physical deformation a modified Z-tray designed for storage. Primary package was much deeper which required a replica case to be prepared with deeper tray. Fitz famous for his self portrait in NMAH Smithsonian. (This plate could not be analyzed because it was framed but it too may be on a brass support and certainly requires further study.) NMAH hold another 22 plates. Plus his workshop materials (including tools that demonstrate his frugal ways) which offer wonderful opportunities for learning and teaching. His studio established in Baltimore in 1840 – he continued taking images until 1842. In 1845 he moved to NYC. He made a telescope designed for astrophotography. His plates were roll welded.
Analysis included XRF at the Metropolitan which demonstrated only copper and zinc with traces of lead – 90% CU/10% ZN. Not gilded. Made on brass and not copper… questions relating to how unique this substrate was and why Fitz used brass and did he make this on his own? XRD on corrosion products in interlayer cleavage of the plate suggested that the plate may have been exposed to a pickling bath prior to joining. Clad welding may have been used in the manufacture which explains the lower Zn%. His background as telescope maker is important here but correlation between the metals used in scopes were not clear.
!9th century brass buttons were analyzed with XRF but there was not a strong link to the plate %.
Fitz plates – 22 at NMAH could be analyzed with portable XRF. Nine were made on brass! Zn% varied. These plates vary and visual differentiation based on color was not possible. Perhaps these were experiments? Brass only used for 1/9th plates. Deterioration did not vary considerably from brass or copper plates. Records of cleaning from NMAH do not exist. Additional delamination of plates observed where multiple layers are visible. Brass susceptible to stress cracking especially when in contact with ammonia.
These plates by Fitz are only known images on brass. May have been experimentation. Others may exist. Many discussions on who took the first image of a leading figure in the US. His self portrait is dated 1839… and it may be one of the earliest known self portraits. This is very significant. During the discussion Dr. Susan Barger notes that this may be roll clad plates that have failed. See her dissertation for more details on manufacture process. Correspondence about how to use materials – and debate about earliest plates. Cornelius made his own plates but that was his business.