Daguerreotypes are small metal photographs with reflective surfaces. Invented by Frenchman Louis Daguerre in 1839, daguerreotypes were more affordable than painted portraits. The earliest daguerreotypes were still-life subjects – it took as much as 5 minutes to capture an image. As the sensitivity of the plates plates increased the majority of daguerreotypes were portraits.
Notice how most of the people in old photographs look stiff and uncomfortable – well it could be from a of the seriousness of the sitting or from the brasses used to hold them still.
Despite their quality issues ,daguerreotypes were very popular. Between 1840 and 1844, daguerreotypists in the United States took more than three million images. Within a year of the daguerreotype’s invention, studios operated in all of the major cities in the United States.
The two basic mechanisms by which these images deteriorate are sulfideing and oxidative-reductive deterioration. There is no way to stop the deterioration. The only way to preserve these images is to make high resolution scans and print new copies. The original daguerreotype should be placed in a glassine envolope and stored in a acid free box.