The Miracle of Mr. Guppy

Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident.

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An unmarked 1860s albumen carte de visite of an 1850s daguerreotype of an unknown man. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

In July 2013, I purchased this carte de visite (CDV), which I recognized as an 1860s copy of an earlier daguerreotype. The subject reminded me of the English actor Burn Gorman in his role as Mr. Guppy in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. There was no inscription to identify the sitter, so in my Flickr photostream I titled the image “Mr. Guppy” and went on.

In January 2014, I stumbled across the auction of a 1/4-plate daguerreotype that left me gobsmacked. It was Mr. Guppy. The original image.

A conversation with the seller elucidated that the daguerreotype came from a Vermont estate, but there had been no accompanying CDV. The seller was equally surprised at the strange twist of fate.

Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident. I did not fail him; today, the daguerreotype and CDV are united in my care.

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The original 1/4th-plate daguerreotype of “Mr. Guppy.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The daguerreotype’s brass mat is stamped “Jaquith, 98 Broadway.” According to Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, this was the gallery of Nathaniel Jaquith, who was active from 1848 to 1857 at that address.

Nathaniel Crosby Jaquith was born 30 April, 1816, in Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and died 24 June, 1879, in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Jaquith was the brother-in-law Henry Earle Insley, also a daguerreian photographer, and he was the grandson of Nathan Jaquith, a private in Captain Timothy Walker’s Company, Colonel Greene’s Regiment, during the American Revolution, and the great-grandson of Benjamin Jaquith, who was also a private in that unit. Before taking up the new art of daguerrotyping in 1841, Jaquith operated a shop at 235 Greenwich Street, New York City, where he sold “Cheap and Fashionable Goods.”

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An advertisement for Jaquith’s from the 16 August, 1841, New-York Tribune.

When I received the daguerreotype, I found the image packet had old seals, but there were wipe marks on the plate. My supposition is that whoever wanted the daguerreotype duplicated handed it to the copyist, who broke the original seals and removed the metal plate from the packet, as the CDV shows the tarnish halo surrounding the sitter. The copyist may also have cleaned tarnish that had developed on the subject’s face during the two-plus decades since the portrait had been taken. I am likely to be only the second person to break the packet seals in some 140 years.

For an excellent description of the elements of a daguerreotype packet, visit the Library Company of Philadephia’s online exhibit, “Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia 1839-1860.” Ω