Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Marcus Root Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 158-159 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 158:]

The Marcus Root Daguerreotype

Little is known of this daguerreotype’s early history, although the plate was probably made before 1860, when the popularity of daguerreotype portraits began to wane. The upper right corner of the daguerreotype bears a die-stamped hallmark, “N & W,” indicating the plate itself is the work of an unidentified plate manufacturer active about 1855.(26) The image (fig. 71) is a reversed copy of the “Stella” daguerreotype (fig. 21); it is preserved in a velvet-lined case bearing the stamp of Marcus A. Root, the well-known Philadelphia cameraman and photographic historian. This trademark, however, cannot be regarded as proof that Root made the copy himself, since daguerreotypists commonly bought and traded plates of prominent individuals with little heed paid to a picture’s authorship. This particular image is remarkably clear and precise for a copy, although the surface of the plate shows considerable traces of tarnishing and oxidation — an accident of time that, in a sense, enhances the image by giving it a peculiarly dramatic, almost painterly quality.

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 71)
The Marcus Root Daguerreotype
 
[Illustration on page 159]

Born in Ohio in 1811, Marcus Aurelius Root was a talented and successful daguerreotypist who is remembered today primarily for his The Camera and the Pencil, an early and indispensable history of photography in America. As a young man Root studied painting with the noted portraitist Thomas Sully (q.v.), and later supported himself as a teacher of drawing and penmanship in Philadelphia. About 1843, as America’s sudden fascination with the daguerreotype medium was reaching its peak, Root learned the daguerreotyping process from Robert Cornelius, the Philadelphia lampmaker who is credited with having taken several of the earliest photographic portraits produced in the United States. Six years later the energetic Root was operating not only his own handsomely appointed gallery in Philadelphia but a branch studio in New York City. He later went on to become a pioneer in the development of paper photography, and by 1850 was already producing “crystallotypes” — an early form of albumen photography that would soon add to the growing obsolescence of the daguerreotype.

When Root died in 1888, the daguerreotype of Poe passed to his son, A. P. Root, also of Philadelphia. The younger Root was at a loss to explain how his famous father acquired the copy plate, and in a letter to Poe scholar E. C. Stedman, he noted: “As to whether there are duplicates of the picture, I cannot say. When my father was in business he made a specialty of having in his gallery pictures of as many eminent men as he could get and probably may have taken two pictures at the same sitting giving one to the sitter for the privilege of exhibiting the other. . . . Taking into the account the fact Poe at the time this picture was taken was scarcely classed among the eminent men . . . it scarcely seems likely.”(27) In need of money, A. P. Root anxiously offered to sell the daguerreotype to Stedman for “anywhere from twenty-five to fifty dollars.”(28) Stedman refused the offer, and made only a passing reference to the daguerreotype in his 1894-95 edition of Poe’s Works. The daguerreotype seems to have remained in the Root family for the next sixty years. In August 1962 the plate was donated to the George Eastman House by Mrs. L. W. Tregillus of Rochester, New York, a descendant of Marcus Root. The daguerreotype presently forms part of the Eastman Houses’s International Museum of Photography.

 


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Notes:

None.


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