Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Painter Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 156-157 (This material is protected by copyright)


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The “Painter” Daguerreotype

This daguerreotype (fig. 70) is a copy of the so-called “Annie” daguerreotype, taken in Lowell, Massachusetts, probably in 1849. The upper right corner of the daguerreotype bears a die-stamped hallmark, “SCOVILL MFG. CO. EXTRA,” a trade device which indicates the plate was manufactured sometime between 1850 and 1854.(21)

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 70)
The Painter Daguerreotype
[Illustration on page 157]

The daguerreotype originally belonged to Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm. Following Poe’s death in 1849, Mrs. Clemm was left homeless, and the remaining years of her life were spent drifting through various cities as she sought lodging with those who had once known and admired her son-in-law. Between 1850 and 1852 she was a guest of Mrs. Annie L. Richmond of Lowell, Massachusetts. Mrs. Richmond, the owner of the original “Annie” daguerreotype (fig. 20), was a benevolent woman who is said to have treated Mrs. Clemm with considerable kindness and sympathy. Since Mrs. Clemm’s daguerreotype is a smaller but otherwise identical copy of the “Annie” daguerreotype, it seems likely the “Painter” daguerreotype was produced for Mrs. Clemm during her stay in Lowell, probably as a gift from Mrs. Richmond.

In 1856 the “Annie” daguerreotype disappeared in an apparent theft, and Mrs. Richmond wrote to Mrs. Clemm frantically urging her to place her copy “under lock & key & keep it always safe. . . . promise that if I outlive you, yours shall be mine — I promise you, to keep that safely for I will not allow it to be seen even.”(22) Mrs. Richmond evidently recovered her daguerreotype at some point, and Mrs. Clemm was never obliged to grant her benefactress’ wish.

In 1868 Mrs. Clemm presented the daguerreotype to William Painter, a Baltimore businessman, inventor, and philanthropist who had befriended her during the late 1860s. Still preserved in the daguerreotype’s leather case is a slightly erroneous inscription in pencil written by Painter’s son, Orrin Chalfant Painter: “Edgar A. Poe. Taken from Life. Presented to W. Painter by Mrs. Maria Clemm (His Mother-in-law) 1868. She believed this to be the last picture he ever had taken.” The daguerreotype passed from William Painter to his son Orrin, and from Orrin Painter to his son-in-law, John Hood. Eventually the plate was acquired by Mrs. John Henry Lewin, a descendant of William Painter, of Ruxton, Maryland, who in 1981 presented it to the Maryland Historical Society.(23)

Although the daguerreotype had remained in the Painter family for more than a century, its whereabouts were long a mystery to Poe scholars. The picture’s existence was known solely through a photographic reproduction in the files of the University of Virginia; the daguerreotype itself was presumed lost.(24) Because the plate remained inaccessible to historians for several decades, a large amount of faulty speculation has arisen concerning its origins — and the 1849 sitting that produced the “Annie” and “Stella” daguerreotypes (fig. 20, fig. 21). The source of at least some of the confusion seems to have been J. H. Whitty, who advanced the theory that a total of three, not two, original daguerreotypes had been taken from life at the 1849 sitting in Lowell.(25) These three supposed originals were the “Annie,” “Stella,” and “Painter” daguerreotypes. Whitty’s theory was adopted in Amanda Schulte’s Facts about Poe (1926), and went uncontested for the next five decades. When the “Painter” daguerreotype finally came to light in 1981, however, it proved nothing more than a duplicate of the “Annie” daguerreotype; the two images are identical in detail, and the die-stamped hallmark on the copy confirms that the plate was produced at least a year after Poe’s death. Although rumors of a mythical third variant still persist, there is no evidence that more than two original daguerreotypes were produced at the 1849 sitting in Lowell.






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The Painter Daguerreotype)