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Remarkable School Class, Outdoors


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“PETERSHAM SCHOOL . . . The notation on a scrap of paper included with this remarkable odd-sized quarter plate daguerreotype, taken circa 1850 on a medium-weight hand cut plate, reads “PETERSHAM SCHOOL In Miss Laura’s day.” Petersham Massachusetts is situated south of Gardner, Athol and Orange in Worcester County. At the time these students gathered outdoors (there were three wooden steps underneath the mat on the left, with a door obscured by that huge piece of cloth hung to isolate most of the pupils and their teachers) 13 school districts were in the town. While it might be possible to determine which district schoolhouse was the setting for one of the most amazing childhood portraits ever constructed in the daguerreian era, I will leave it to the next owner to do the proper research. Once Casey does a new spine on the leather case, the daguerreotype will be nearly as perfect as the day it was taken. The curious mat scrapes across the bottom were done many years ago, since the paper seals were old but I don’t think they were original. A different shape might have been on the surface initially. The masterwork was an extraordinary testimonial to the operator and those who would have assisted him in the arrangement of the students and adults. The tiered formation would have been first layered at the top and each row put in place until the front line was completed. Studying each person?s posture and the clothes they wore is very fascinating. But the kids? expressions added such humanity to the composition that we can feel their joy or shyness or excitement or casualness in this epic achievement! The question I keep asking myself is, ?Who was the daguerreotypist?? I don’t think anyone was working in this rather rural region that was capable of making the image. So either a gifted itinerant or a professional from a larger city was hired. Because the exposure was very tricky, and the piece is so luminous, it is virtually impossible to make an accurate reproduction! I should say that the marks on the gal?s face standing in the lower right corner were blemishes on her and are not flaws on the incredibly clean and beautiful reflective mirror. Casey just handed me the ornately stamped and completed leather case and he said, ?I just noticed a name on the cover, ?Gaskill and Copper??. John Craig misidentified the second diesinker as ?Cooper? in his ?Daguerreian Registry?. He did not know the location of their business.