Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Davidson Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), p. 166 (This material is protected by copyright)


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The “Davidson” Daguerreotype

Extremely little is known of this daguerreotype, which is named for its last identified owner, Thomas D. Davidson of Abingdon, Virginia. No clear reproductions of the daguerreotype have been located, although a heavily altered derivative of the image (fig. 35) was published as the frontispiece to Sara S. Rice's Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877). That likeness, the so-called “Memorial Portrait” of Poe, suggests Davidson's daguerreotype was a copy of the “Traylor” daguerreotype of 1849 (fig. 23).

The “Davidson” daguerreotype has come to light only once, in 1876, when its owner lent it to Dr. William Hand Browne of Baltimore for inclusion in the Poe Memorial Volume. Davidson, an official at Virginia's Stonewall Jackson Institute, forwarded the daguerreotype to Dr. Browne with a letter explaining:

I am very glad to have had it in my power to afford you ... some assistance in your efforts to obtain a correct likeness of Poe, and give you the use of the daguerreotype with great pleasure.

The likeness was taken in the city of Richmond, Va., but when, or under what circumstances, I am not able to say. It was presented to my brother-in-law, Mr. O. P. Haines, while a resident of Richmond. Mr. Haines is now a resident of your city [Baltimore], a member of the editorial staff of the Sun. He may be able to give you some additional information.(33)

Dr. Browne, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University who was then assisting Sara Rice compile the Memorial Volume, was delighted by the receipt of the daguerreotype and a short time later wrote Poe's English biographer, John Henry Ingram:

I have lighted on a trouvaille. I heard of an original daguerreotype of Poe in the possession of a Virginia gentleman, so I wrote to him, and he has kindly lent it to me to have copied. I propose to use it for the frontispiece to the memorial volume. ... This picture is incomparably superior to any of the poet that I have seen. It is not perceptibly faded, and gives the relief and solidity of the head, the texture and lines of the face, so that now for the first time I have a clear idea of Poe as a living man. The other pictures are like phantoms compared to it.(34)

In December 1876 the daguerreotype was reproduced in heavily retouched form in the Memorial Volume. The reproduction was accompanied by two notes, one acknowledging Davidson's loan of the daguerreotype, the other incorrectly describing the plate as having been taken from life by Daniel Bendann, formerly a photographer at the Whitehurst Galleries in Richmond. The daguerreotype itself was apparently returned to Davidson by mail later that month.(35) No further trace of the likeness has come to light.






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