Fine Daguerreotypes is produced by Dennis A. Waters, a professional photographer for 22 years, who retired from the daily rigors of commercial, aerial, industrial and corporate assignments in 1996. Waters has concentrated full time studying the history, beauty and mysteries of daguerreotypes. Their importance as objects of art, recorders of events and experimental wonders in the mid-19th century can not be overstated or ever fully understood today. The daguerreotype’s place in photo history has languished for many years and one of Waters’ goals is to educate the public and promote the significance of these incredible “silver sunbeams.”
When Waters began collecting in the summer of 1985, buying his first sixth plate image of two frightened sisters, he was already “hooked”. As he began seriously acquiring a collection he realized that the vast majority of the images he saw in the first couple years were wonderful and almost universally unappreciated by antique dealers. Even the few photo dealers he met placed little value in portraits. They spoke of architectural scenes, occupationals, larger plates, maker marked (and then only half a dozen daguerreotypists commanded a premium) or oddities. Waters was stunned at their lack of understanding and reveled in the idea that the remaining 90% of all daguerreotypes made, were in his collecting category.
For several years he accumulated every portrait he could find; but they had to meet a very rigid criteria. Each plate had to display quality (the maker’s technical ability), content (when each case was opened, the image had be interesting) and condition. When Waters would find a “great” dag (as defined by the marketplace at the time), he either sold it or traded for more wonderful portraits. One segment of the daguerreotype arena continued to confuse him. Most photo dealers placed very little emphasis on condition. They would offer many exciting plates that were distressed in some manner for the same money as if the piece had no problems. And even more astounding, the market quickly absorbed every object.
As Waters began to mature as a collector, he realized that the only way he could afford more expensive daguerreotypes was to sell or trade from his collection. By the fall of 1992, he and a partner (who left the business later) published the premier issue of “The Daguerreian Forum”. It was a milestone in catalogue sales of daguerreotypes. Every piece was clearly reproduced and had an informative description. It was a fixed price sale, so that buyers could call with confidence, knowing the prices in advance.
“The Forum” filled an extremely important niche in the daguerreian emporium. Along with the “higher end” daguerreotypes, outstanding portraits were now available from $100 to $1,000. They all had similarities of strong quality, content and condition. Additionally, most of the plates had been reglassed and archivally resealed by Waters to allow the full range of tones and the beauty of the pieces to be clearly seen. While some of the prices seemed outlandish at first, sales were brisk and soon, other dealers quickly began to imitate the ideas that were presented in the catalogue. Waters ended publication of The Forum after the last issue, September, 1999, to concentrate fully on the web site.
The philosophy for pricing daguerreotypes according to Waters is based on the quality, content and condition of the plate; with these additional factors: Size of the piece, tinting (since the daguerreian process was black and white any colors seen in likenesses was usually applied by hand), maker, subject and historical importance. All these ingredients are taken into consideration when a price is calculated, plus the most important element, “how much does he like the daguerreotype!”
Since the market for fine daguerreotypes has risen consistently for the past five years, Waters is eager to share his thoughts about buying plates. “If you love the daguerreotype and can afford to buy it, make the purchase!”
Fast-forwarding to the present, Waters feels that there is a definite necessity for a professionally managed web site where dealers, collectors and investors can view daguerreotypes at fixed prices and buy with confidence. He will also share his expertise in the field, within the context of each description of the images that are for sale. Also, when there is time, short papers on daguerreian subjects will be posted.
Waters and his wife Carol, a pediatric nurse, live in Exeter, NH. After graduating from NYU with a Masters in Museum Studies, their daughter Erin moved to Lancaster, PA to start her own business as an antique photograph dealer. Casey, their son, who has been performing all the archival restoration work for fine daguerreotypes has widened his scope of work to include clients’ daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes.