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John Plumbe Jr.
The Daguerreotype Gallery of John Plumbe
Richard Smith Elliott Notes Taken in Sixty Years (St. Louis, MO.: R.P. Studley & Co., 1883), p.203-204
The Daguerreotype gallery of John Plumbe, near Brown's Hotel (now the Metropolitan), was a palace of wonders, not only to the Indians, but to many of our white fellow-mortals who had never yet been portrayed by the Daguerrean artist. It was only in 1839, six years before, that Monsieur Daguerre had brought his process into public use, and the French government (perhaps as enlightened in some things as our own) had purchased it for the general benefit; and making pictures by self-acting light was not by any means so universal as now, when we have the photograph and artotype; and poor old Daguerre, who no doubt thought himself famous, is almost gone into oblivion. The New York Herald, in November 1845, had a Washington letter which said:
"The greatest wonder of all to country folks are those who take other people off without touching them at all. Among them is the gentleman at Plumbe's Daguerrean gallery. He takes everybody off, from the President down to common folks. Here are John Tyler old, John Tyler young, and hundreds of others, all hanging up with their backs against the walls as natural and life-like as if they were living, breathing creatures. Pottawatamies were there too. I saw them the other day, and never saw them look better than they do in plates ; (they're pretty good along side of a plate, if full enough). Among them is Wah-bon-seh, the old brave of whom McKenny, in his 'North American Indians,' gives us a striking portrait and an interesting biography. This old fellow's name means literally Dawn of Day, and he gained it by an exploit of his youth. He went solus on an expedition against the Osages, to avenge the death of a friend; stole into their camp, tomahawked a dozen before the alarm was given, and then escaped just as the day was dawning. 'Wah-bon-seh!' he exclaimed, 'day a little!' and took that for his name. In the Black Hawk war he was very active on behalf of the whites. Shah-be-nay, another chief, is well portrayed. This man distinguished himself about the time the Black Hawk war broke out, by his expeditions to warn the inhabitants of Illinois of their danger. Half Day, the orator of the party, is a fine-looking Indian, and makes a capital picture. He is a jolly fellow, and says his picture would look much better with 'two white squaws,' one on each side. The Indians were much surprised at the magnetic telegraph, but more at the Daguerreotype process."
The young reader will hardly know what the Daguerreotype was a picture taken on a metalic plate, before the art came in of taking pictures on prepared paper. Miss Lilly has only known of what we call the Photograph, or its multiplier, the Artotype. But her greatest misfortune (and that of Adonis too) is that the advancement in Science and Art has in the last fifty years been so great, that there is nothing left to wonder at. Things which afforded us surprise and taxed our faculties in efforts to understand them, thus giving us the double pleasure of excited wonder and triumph over mystery, are now so common that Lilly and Adonis lose all the enjoyment we had in old times over strange things; and they can only go on telling each other the old, old story, which, they may thank their Creator, will ever be new to each generation. But as to the old Daguerreotype process, I might say that it made a better picture than the photographic art can show, judging by my own likeness, taken in 1845 at Plumbe's gallery; for I defy any Photographer to make as handsome a picture of me now!