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Jul 7, 2012 Isenburg collection of early photography sells for $15 million 
 
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Hadlyme, CT, July 6, 2012: Just released information discloses that the Matthew R. Isenburg Collection of early photography has sold to the Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC) for a record $15 million, and has now been moved to its new home in Toronto, Canada where a new museum facility is being designed for its future display. This is the most significant, and historically important, sale of photographic material of the last 50 years; a deal that was conceived and brokered by vintage photography dealer, Greg French, of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.
 
In the quiet town of Hadlyme, Connecticut, the largest single private purchase of vintage photographs, and early photographic equipment and ephemera, was consummated with the simple shake of the hand this past April. No paperwork, no written agreement, no lawyers present - just a handshake between like-minded people who understood the importance of keeping a historical collection together, and not splitting it up. They met for the first time at two o'clock in the afternoon, and by 2 a.m. the next morning "they had a deal," Isenburg said. "There was an instant trust between all of us." Weeks later, papers were officially signed to legalize the deal, but it was the handshake that sealed the deal for Isenburg, and what he put his trust in.
 
$15 million is the largest amount ever paid for a single 19th century photographic collection, and far surpasses the combined total of $8 million paid in 1994 and 2007 for two separate photographic collections assembled by the late, Jack Naylor, of Chestnut Hill, MA. Even the $250,000.00 paid in 1963 by the Harry Ransom Center in Texas for Helmut Gernsheim's historically important photography collection (it contained the world's first photograph), would only translate into less than $2 million in today's dollars, although the collection is undoubtedly worth much more in today’s market.
 
Isenburg's collection is significant to the history of photography because it contains so many early and important daguerreotypes (the first practical photographic process), created by the earliest and best photographers in America - when photography was in its infancy in the 1840s and 1850s. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, 1787-1851, the inventor of the daguerreotype, announced his new process to the world on August 19, 1839 in France.
 
The collection also contains the largest number of early American daguerreian cameras (more than two dozen) ever assembled by anyone. The George Eastman House in Rochester, NY has only eight American daguerreian cameras in their collection.
 
To characterize Isenburg's collection in a few words, it's the best of the best; an unparalleled assemblage of over 20,000 individual items, focused mainly on the early years, that together chronicle photography's humble beginnings - through not only important images and cameras, but through all the various accoutrements of the trade - also including advertisements, diaries, books, journals and all manner of photographic ephemera imaginable. Isenburg has often said, "I paid premium prices for best of breed, best in class.”
 
The 85-year-old Isenburg has owned numerous Ford auto dealerships in the past, whose success afforded him the opportunity to collect. He isn't just a collector though; he's a photo historian who's always been more interested in piecing together the story behind an object or image, than he is about just owning something. He's a photographic compendium who's spent the last fifty years seeking out history through photography.
 
In the third floor museum (now empty) in his home, a priceless daguerreotype would be displayed next to a tattered receipt and a handwritten letter or diary because they relate to one another and tell a compelling story. He owned the posing chair from America's premier daguerreotypists, Southworth and Hawes of Boston, in addition to the largest collection of Southworth and Hawes full-plate daguerreotypes (over 40) in private hands. Along with the chair, many other Southworth and Hawes items - from family photos and letters, to paintings, bills of sale, a partnership agreement, advertisements and ephemera, help to reveal the story of what it was like to be a photographer in the 1850s.
 
Highlights of Isenburg's vast collection include one of the earliest surviving daguerreotypes (there are only two others known) showing the US Capitol in 1846, by daguerreotypist John Plumbe Jr., along with the two earliest daguerreotypes depicting New York City. He also owned the earliest extant, and complete, example of an American daguerreotype camera outfit - built by William H. Butler in 1841, and containing its original sensitizing and developing equipment, all housed together in a single wooden box. His collection of California Gold Rush daguerreotypes, with related letters and ephemera, is unparalleled, and his photographic library was probably the most comprehensive in private hands. Another unique item was Isenburg's one-of-a-kind c. 1855 exquisitely hand-carved-and-painted American eagle with a greater than eight-foot wing span which is sitting atop the carving's framed centerpiece - a full-plate outdoor daguerreotype depicting a Massachusetts military company in full dress uniforms. The daguerreotype is surrounded by additional military-themed-carvings depicting an American flag, sword, cannon, cannon balls and a drum.
 
The packing and shipping of the collection took a crew of anywhere from five to nine people - five full weeks to complete over the past two months (all paid for by AMC), and a cherry picker had to be rented in order to remove the over eight-foot-wide carved American eagle and other objects from the third floor museum.
 
The task of unpacking, cataloging and photographing every item has begun in Toronto, and is being carried out by AMC's newly-appointed curators of the collection, Jill Offenbeck and Amanda Shear, both of Toronto. The AMC’s chief photography buyer in North America, Neil MacDonald, also from Toronto, was instrumental in convincing AMC that the Isenburg Collection was essential to their vision. Toronto native and Daguerreian Society President Mike Robinson has been recently appointed as AMC's Director of Education and Research Programs and will oversee the organization and cataloging of the collection.
 
With offices in both London, England and Toronto, AMC's collection of well over three million images contains primarily vernacular photographs that tell mankind's forgotten stories through the personal photographic albums and images created and preserved by the common man; an un-bandaged reality, rarely seen, and too often discarded by ensuing generations. Images of 20th century conflict, war, political unrest, social revolution, cultural traditions, etc. were AMC's primary focus when they began collecting in the 1990s, but that soon expanded to include 19th century images as well as manuscripts and objects. The addition of the Isenburg Collection, adds a formidable dimension to AMC's holdings, much as the Gernsheim Collection added early photo-history to the Harry Ransom Center in Texas.
 
Story courtesy of Rob McElroy, Buffalo, NY.
 


 
A more complete synopsis of Isenburg's collection, in his own words.
 
"The Isenburg Collection covers the first four decades of photo-history in a unique way. As much ephemera and three-dimensional objects are shown concerning the culture of that period - as on its photo-history. Though mostly American, there are some Canadian highlights as well as English, French and German. The collection is very strong in images that show the history of photography. Only three half-plate daguerreotypes of the U. S. Capitol are known: one at the Library of Congress and the other at the Getty Museum with the third now at AMC, as well as the only know daguerreotype of the south face of the White House. Hundreds of letters written in California during the Gold Rush and diaries written by those who travelled by wagon - accompany the largest collection of Gold Rush daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and paper prints formerly in private hands including an 1851 panoramic daguerreotype of San Francisco showing the deserted ships in the harbor as well as a stereo daguerreotype of Portsmouth Square by Robert Vance. The ephemera collection of that time and place is large beyond imagination. The runs of 19th century trade magazines and assorted newspapers are fabulous. Clipper ship cards, gold rush jewelry, stereoviews, diaries, letter sheets, rare lithographs and even rarer paintings depicting life in California abound. Even late-19th-century California cabinet cards make their presence felt.
 
The Southworth and Hawes collection has rare letters that give us a true glimpse beyond the common perception surrounding the two partners as well as their partnership agreement. Even the posing chair so prominent in many Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes as well as Nancy Southworth Hawes oil painting in its original frame, and her daguerreotype taken next to the painting still exist. The only four full-plate stereo pairs (in private hands) as viewed in The Grand Parlor Stereoscope are part of this section of the collection which ends with a daguerreotype of J. J. Hawes as a very old man pulling the string on a drop shutter to take his own final self portrait.
 
The library of early photography books and periodicals is one of the best in the country. Beside trade catalogues, "how to" books, weekly or twice monthly trade magazines, It includes illustrated weeklies with woodcuts galore from daguerreotypes. And let's not forget the Eagle. Almost an eight and a half foot wingspan polychrome Eagle clutching a whole plate daguerreotype of the Warren Light Guard of Worcester, Massachusetts which lost four soldiers trying to quell the Baltimore riots in the first official engagement of the American Civil War. Also now in Toronto are the two documented earliest daguerreotypes taken in New York City, one of City Hall and the other showing the 1849 paving of Broadway, and they are in 3D!
 
The CDV (carte-de-visite) collection is one of the finest ever assembled, much of it emphasizing the history of photography. Tintypes on photo history abound, as well as an amazing collection of stereoviews concerning photo history. The largest display of broadsides from 1841 to the 1860s is another major specialty. Early photos of famous photographers and famous photographers’ business cards are also part of the History of Photography collection. The rarest thermoplastic and MOP (mother of pearl) cases accompany an over three-hundred-piece case collection including both versions of the Henry Clay case and the obverse steel mold used to make one of them.
 
There is no other early American camera collection that has the depth that the hardware collection exhibits, from the earliest complete American outfit (featured in an article in Antiques Magazine, September 1932, and displayed at the 1933 and 1939 World’s Fairs), accompanied by more than two dozen daguerreotype cameras and more than thirty wet-plate cameras. Over a dozen of these early cameras are complete outfits including the developing equipment - plus all the equipment, chemicals and labeled bottles and original boxes in which many of these items shipped from the supplier, and last but not least, dozens of invoices describing and itemizing their cost at that time.
 
The collection of items directly related to Daguerre include: a 19th century bronze bust of Daguerre by Kaan, the four 19th century first generation copy-portraits of Daguerre including the crystalotype by Whipple, the CDV by Meade, the woodburytype in the 1881 Yearbook of Photography and the heliograph by Dujardin. There are many original 1839 Daguerre manuals in both French and English, and Daguerre’s image on everything from a cigar band to postage stamps, cigarette cards and dozens of advertisements that used his image and story as a hook to get attention, and finally letters written and signed by Daguerre himself.”

 

A personal note - Alan Griffiths
 
When I started Luminous-lint in December 2005 I had little knowledge of Daguerreotypes and I was introduced to Matt Isenburg through the recommendation of John Wood. Matt would regularly phone me in the middle of the night to explain the significance of the Henry Clay case, an unusual CDV or the intricacies of Daguerreotype manufacture and we spent, and I hope will continue to do so, many happy hours discussing common interests and having a friendly exchange of enthusiasms. Matt has shared his knowledge with all those with a question and Luminous-Lint has many themes that benefit from this. I had the pleasure of staying with Matt, as have many photo-historians, and stayed up late into the night discussing the treasures of this remarkable collection. It is a rare case that a private collection of such international significance can be preserved as a single entity. So I will raise a glass to Matt, our future conversations and the secure future of an outstanding resource for photo-history - the Matthew R Isenburg Collection of photography at AMC. 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Daguerreotypes: Occupationals 
  
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Jun 10, 2012 Newsletter 6.05 - June 10, 2012 has been emailed 
 
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The Luminous-Lint Newsletter 6.05 - June 10, 2012 has been emailed to all those on our mailing list and you can subscribe to these free newsletters if you haven't already done so.
 
Past issues of the newsletter are in the library on the Luminous-Lint website. Best, Alan 
  
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Jun 9, 2012 Children in 19th Century Photography 
 
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This is a part of a series of online exhibitions on Children:
 
Children in 19th Century Photography
Children in Pictorialism
Children in Humanistic Photography 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Children in 19th Century Photography 
  
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Jun 9, 2012 Documentary: 20th Century The FSA (Farm Security Administration) 
 
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The PhotoHistory group on Yahoo had a recent posting (6 June 2012) on the collection of FSA - Farm Security Administration prints held at New York Public Library. Roy Stryker had the foresight to send boxes of over 41,000 prints to the library and over 1000 of these are not included in the extensive collections at the Library of Congress .
 
This new online source has prompted me to update an existing online exhibition on Luminous-lint and expand the examples. 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Documentary: 20th Century The FSA (Farm Security Administration) 
  
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Jun 3, 2012 Photobooks: Reference Books on Photobooks 
 
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As the variety of photobooks has expanded so has the number of reference works providing a selection of them and background to them. These books vary in quality but they each provide insights into books that few of us will ever see. They are recommended for the shelves of anybody with an interest in photo-history. 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Photobooks: Reference Books on Photobooks 
  
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Jun 2, 2012 Smoking, cigarettes and cigars 
 
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Tobacco! which from east to west,
Cheers the tar's labour or the Turkman's rest;
Which on the Moslem's ottoman divides
His hours, and rivals opium and his brides;
Magnificent in Stamboul, but less grand,
Though not less loved, in Wapping or the Strand:
Divine in hookas, glorious in a pipe,
When tipp'd with amber, mellow, rich, and ripe;
Like other charmers wooing the caress,
More dazzlingly when daring in full dress;
Yet thy true lovers more admire by far
Thy naked beauties—Give me a cigar!
 
Lord Byron, The Island, Canto II, Stanza 19.
 
Standard
Krijn van Noordwijk 
Zon
Color print 
Provided by the artist - Krijn van Noordwijk 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Smoking, cigarettes and cigars 
  
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Jun 2, 2012 Alcohol 
 
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A temperance song...
 
The Price of Drink
 
"Five cents a glass!"
Does anyone think that that is really the price of a drink?
The price of a drink?
Let him decide who has lost his courage and lost his pride,
His honor and virtue, the wreath of fame
All high endeavor and noble name.
For these are the treasures thrown away
As the price of a drink from day to day.
 
"Five cents a glass!"
Does anyone think that that is really the price of a drink?
 
"Five cents a glass!" How Satan laughed,
as over the bar the young man quaffed
The fiery liquor, for the demon knew
The terrible work that drink would do,
And ere the morning the victim lay
With his life blood ebbing swiftly away
And that was the price he paid, alas!
For the pleasure of taking a social glass.
 
"Five cents a glass!"
Does anyone think that that is really the price of a drink?
 
The price of a drink! If you want to know
What some are willing to pay for it, go
To that wretched tenement over there
With dingy windows and broken stair,
Where foul disease like a vampire crawls
With outstretched wings on the mouldy walls,
Where poverty dwells with her hungry brood,
All wild-eyed as demons for lack of food,
Where shame in a corner crouches low
Where violence deals its cruel blow
And innocent ones are kicked and cursed
To pay the price of this dreadful thirst.
 
"Five cents a glass!" "Five cents a glass!"
Does anyone think that that is really the price of a drink?
That that is really the price of a drink? 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Alcohol 
  
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May 27, 2012  Banner girls and ladies 
 
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Additional examples of banner girls and ladies are requested to make this section as complete as possible.
 
I would like to hear from anybody who has come across contemporary accounts of banner ladies in newspaper reports or diaries. 
  
View exhibition 
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Exhibition: Banner girls and banner ladies 
  
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May 26, 2012 Children in Pictorialism 
 
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An examination of how children were portrayed in Pictorialist photography. 
  
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Exhibition: Children in Pictorialism 
  
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May 25, 2012 Cliché verre 
 
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Cliché-verre [Fr.] literally translated means "glass picture' and is a technique that combines art and photography and was used mainly by French artists including Jean Baptiste Corot, Jean François Millet, and Charles François Daubigny. It was normally done by using a smoking candle to coat a glass plate with soot. The desired picture was then drawn with a sharp instrument directly into the blackened surface and the resulting plate was used as a photographic negative and contact printed. Although mainly used in the 1860s the cliché verre technique has also be used by György Kepes and Abelardo Morell.
 
Related exhibitions on the "prehistory" of photography...
 
1Drawing and optical devices          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
2Camera Obscura          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
3Camera Lucida          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
4Cliché verre          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
5Silhouettes          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
6Physionotrace          
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
 
  
View exhibition 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist 
Exhibition: Cliché verre 
  
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