Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Lewin Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 148-149 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 148:]

The “Lewin” Daguerreotype

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 65)
The Lewin Daguerreotype
[Illustration on page 148]

The earliest known mention of this daguerreotype (fig. 65) — one of five located copies of the original “Ultima Thule” plate — is found in a letter from Sarah Helen Whitman to John Henry Ingram. In several earlier letters to Ingram, Mrs. Whitman explained that the original “Ultima Thule” plate had disappeared from the daguerreotypist Edwin Manchester's possession about 1860, and had since that time remained unlocated. But in her letter of November 20, 1876, Mrs. Whitman exuberantly noted: “A daguerreotype taken years ago from the original daguerreotype has recently been recovered by Mr. [James M.] Lewin, now of Boston, an artist of fine genius, after having been lent & lost or withheld for twelve years! Knowing that I had been making enquiries for this portrait, Mrs. Lewin brought the daguerreotype to me on a recent visit to Providence & at my request took it to Manchester and allowed him to take a negative from it. Mr. Lewin would not consent to have a daguerreotype taken from it.”(1) Exactly what Mrs. Whitman meant by the daguerreotype's having been “lost or withheld for twelve years” is not clear, but a recent physical examination of the “Lewin” daguerreotype tends to confirm her statement that the plate is a copy of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype — not the original itself.

How James M. Lewin, a Boston still-life painter, came to acquire the daguerreotype is unknown. Decades after her visit to Mrs. Whitman's home, Mrs. Lewin would assert that the plate had been obtained from Sarah Whitman — a statement which seems to be contradicted by the letter quoted above.(2) Following ­[page 149:] James Lewin's death in 1877, the daguerreotype passed to his widow, Mary S. Lewin, who in 1904 sold it to Charles T. Tatman, an attorney residing in Worcester, Massachusetts. The plate remained in Tatman's possession until his death, and in 1946 his widow, Mrs. Anna Tatman, presented it to the American Antiquarian Society as a gift in memory of her husband.(3)



In addition to the “Lewin” daguerreotype, the American Antiquarian Society has in its collections an envelope, written in Poe's hand and addressed to Sarah Helen Whitman. It is postmarked June 15 [1848], and according to a handwritten note on its face, once contained an original manuscript of the poem, “To Helen.” Like the daguerreotype, this envelope previously belonged to the artist James M. Lewin, who evidently received it as a gift directly from Mrs. Whitman.

The envelope's provenance gives credence to Mrs. Lewin's original assertion that the daguerreotype was indeed given to her husband by Sarah Helen Whitman herself. But Mrs. Whitman's own remark about the daguerreotype — that it was “taken years ago from the original” — makes it clear that the plate now at the American Antiquarian Society is a copy of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype, not the lost original itself. — MJD (01/25/2011)






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