Daguerrotype is a gift ‘free to the world’ - On this day in history


18 August 2016
19-August-Louis_Daguerre_2-38969.jpg Louis Daguerre
The French government proclaims the Daguerrotype a gift ‘free to the world’ on 19 August 1839

On this day in history, 1839: The French government proclaims the Daguerrotype a gift ‘free to the world’.

Protection of intellectual property rights over new inventions is nothing new, so we might have expected Louis Daguerre’s photographic process - rather than being a ‘free gift’ - to remain a carefully guarded treasure. The French government acquired rights to the invention, however, and in return provided Daguerre with a lifetime pension. Unfortunately the ‘free gift’ did not extend to Britain – as Daguerre’s agent had applied for a British patent just before the French government’s generous accouncement. This meant that photographers in Britain had to pay a licence. Still, the age of photography was looming, and it is thanks to Daguerre’s invention that we might be lucky enough to have such an early image of an ancestor, from right near the start of the history of photography.

Daguerreotypes became extremely popular, and millions were created. If you do have such an early photo of your ancestor, you can spot that it might be a daguerreotype by its mount: it’s likely to be framed in a hinged case with a glass internal cover – to protect the image from light and air and preserve it from tarnishing. Dating of the clothing of the people depicted will also help to clarify the era the picture was taken.

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Daguerrotypes had an exposure time of 10 minutes (quite a while to say cheese), so early images tend to depict landscapes rather than people.

Pictured: A photograph of Louis Daguerre, 1844, just a few years after the invention of his photograph process.

Find out more about photo dating with Q&As with dress historian Jayne Shrimpton in every issue of Family Tree - get the latest edition here!