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America’s First Masters of Photography: Southworth & Hawes

America’s First Masters of Photography: Southworth & Hawes


Excerpt from an article by the noted Philadelphia daguerreotypist

Marcus A. Root

August 1855


For the Photographic and Fine Art Journal.


A_ T R I P __T O _B O S T O N. — B O S T O N _A R T I S T S.



The Boston Daguerreotypists and Photographers, as a body, probably

occupy a higher place of intelligence, energy and personal reputation,

than those of any other city in the United States. Already they have

done, and they are now doing much for the elevation of Heliography and

its professors, in the public esteem. Even the “twenty-five,” “fifty

cents,” and “one dollar” operators are more skilful, and produce better

results than many of the “first class” elsewhere.

But the profession, even here, is degraded by some of the same

class, who have wrought so much mischief in other sections of our

country. To such narrow-minded “Rats” in the vocation, (to borrow an

epithet from the printers,) we say, “Shame–shame,”–for thus debasing

in the public estimation an Art at once so beautiful and so rich in

valuable uses!

One of the oldest practitioners in the United States, and probably

the very oldest in Boston, is Albert Southworth, now, and for several

years past of the firm of Southworth & Hawes, Tremont Row. To their

honor be it said, they have never lowered the dignity of their Art or

their profession by reducing their prices, but their fixed aim and

undeviating rule has been to produce the finest specimens, of which

they were capable,–the finest in every respect, artistic, mechanical,

and chemical; graceful, pleasing in posture and arrangement, and exact

in portraiture. Their style, indeed, is peculiar to themselves;

presenting beautiful effects of light and shade, and giving depth and

roundness together with a wonderful softness or mellowness. These

traits have achieved for them a high reputation with all true artists

and connoisseurs.

Their plates, too, have an exquisitely pure, fine, level surface,

being resilvered and polished on their “patent swinging plate vice;”

and are entirely free from waves, bends and dents,–in short, as nearly

perfect, as is perhaps possible. And yet, strange to say, their

pictures seem to me to be fully appreciated neither by the majority of

Heliographers nor by the public.

This firm have devoted their time chiefly to daguerreotypes, and

have paid but little attention to photography on paper.

I noticed, however, in their Gallery, a photographic copy of Gilbert

Stuart’s original portrait of Washington, full size, and decidedly the

best photographic copy of that celebrated portrait I have ever seen.

Saving the color, it is as perfect as one could wish.

They have also invented and patented a beautiful instrument, by

which 24 or 48, or even more (stereoscopic) pictures–taken either upon

plate, or paper, or glass,–are exhibited stereoscopically; and so

perfect is the illusion, as to impress the beholder with the belief,

that the picture is nature itself!

Mr. Southworth explained the wonders of the stereoscope very

clearly, and he takes his pictures of this class without distortion or

exaggeration. I think his principle correct, for his specimens were

stereoscopically beautiful, and exempt from the many faults witnessed

in those of others. I hope his theory, with instructions for its use,

may be published.

Portraits of Women by Southworth & Hawes

Click to View Exhibition

The Feigenbaum Auction of Southworth & Hawes

Click to Read a Report

Research and Transcription Courtesy Gary W. Ewer