I owned this remarkable conserved quarter plate daguerreotype for less then two hours in 1987 and traded it for a monumental half plate daguerreotype of a group of school girls surrounding their teacher. When Casey acquired the dag recently I knew I had to own it once again. I am certainly no expert at doing in depth research trying to unravel the mysteries of daguerreotypes, both portraits and amazing landscapes like this outstanding example, however I have spent several hours trying to find a second daguerreotype taken circa 1850+- that shows active coal mining. This is the ONLY image I have been able to locate. Talk about an extraordinarily rare plate. When the coal surveyors first visited this area, which probably was in eastern or central Pennsylvania, and determined a seam of anthracite coal ran horizontally along the ridge of the deep divide that separated both sides of this ravine, men were hired to clear cut the forest. Eventually this rural community, which was constructed from the felled timber, housed the miners. A crude rail system ran from left to right along the rim of the diggings and three or more mineshafts penetrated the earth. Massive amounts of debris were brought to the edge and dumped over the side. Small horse drawn carts were used to move the rocks and separated coal to the left where it was loaded onto larger cars and taken away. The visible details document the entire operation unlike any other scene. Shadowy figures both human and animal are scattered about and clothes were captured hanging on a line adjacent to the farthest large house on the left. This article on the net talks about coal mining if you are so inclined to learn more:
Because the unknown daguerreian had to travel to this place, he faced crude conditions and challenges that would not have been encounter in a studio. A landscape lens was used and proper attention to leveling the camera was done to perfection. Unfortunately, it appears that grit was on the dark slide and it caused deep horizontal gouges in the silver on the left side of the plate through the middle of the image. The obvious scratches, mostly in the sky were later aberrations. Along the right side next to the brass mat are some serious scrapes. You know folks, it just dawned upon me while I was looking at another scan I made showing even more detail that the buildings on the left were most likely a smelting operation. The hazy area was smoke or steam and that stone and brick tower was the ore furnace. I am rethinking the more substantial track system beyond the foundry. It might have been used to haul away iron. The contrast, detail, depth and changeable blue sky, caused by solarization, are all absolutely superlative. Casey has made a new leather spine on the case. Coal mining was never presented like this previously. Certainly there is much more research that might be done to identify the exact location. This is a very historically important daguerreotype!