AIC 43rd Annual Meeting – A Glimpse from the Dawn of Photography: Investigation and Stabilization of an Early Daguerreotype from 1839 at the Peabody Essex Museum. Elena Bulat and Kathryn Carey

For this presentation Kathryn Carey, paper conservator at the Peabody Essex Museum (Massachusetts), introduced the project and the museum. The Peabody Essex received an early daguerreotype dated 1839 from a donor in 1858. The image is of Pont Neuf in Paris, and the plate is tentatively attributed to Vincent Chevalier, or Daguerre himself. The daguerreotype was “rediscovered” in 2008 and Elena Bulat, photograph conservator at Harvard University’s Weissman Preservation Center, was contracted to perform analysis and treatment. The daguerreotype was housed in the European style with a paper passe-partout and framed. Elena’s work consisted of opening the package, digitally imaging the plate, performing XRF on the plate and FTIR on the glues, fiber analysis of the papers, observation and imaging under UV radiation, removal of superficial dust from the plate with a manual air blower, replacement of the old passe-partout  and cover glass with new but similar materials, and rebinding. XRF revealed low levels of Hg and no Au. S was found in tarnish areas, and no Cl was found. These results in conjunction with observation under UV confirm the identification of this plate as an early 19th century daguerreotype that was cleaned. FTIR revealed beeswax, and fiber analysis found bast and cotton fibers in the paper components. The new housing for the plate consisted of a backing piece of borosilicate glass, a window mat of borosilicate glass, and a new cover glass (also borosilicate). The plate was secured between these layers with a mylar Z-tray. Elena recommended the plate not be exhibited as it was not stabilized by gold toning.
Elena described her experience speaking with a reporter from the Boston Globe regarding this project, and how he had difficulty grasping the concept that “treatment” does not necessarily mean intervention. This rang true for me, and I imagine for many other conservators in the audience. You can read the article here: