I bet this unidentified “Green Mountain Man” (written in a modern hand in the bottom of the whole leather case) could hit a fly on a tin can at 100 yards. Precise target shooting was very popular in New England prior to the Civil War. The muzzle loading, percussion rifle held by the marksman had an octagonal barrel and weighed 15 to to 32 pounds when it was outfitted with a telescopic sight, plainly visible above the wooden stock. This weapon closely resembles a heavy rifle manufactured by Morgan James of New York. The firm began production of the rifles and scopes in 1840. This sixth plate daguerreotype provides an exceptional glimpse into a sport that in have never seen portrayed before in a dag.
Upon very close inspection, I quickly realized that the daguerreotypist went to extraordinary measures to record this fellow’s image on the silvered plate. The maker actually constructed a studio OUTDOORS! He used a large, canvas sheet and wrapped it around the area where the man is standing upon a rough wooden plank, with dirt and glass underneath. To have total control over the light, another piece of canvas was positioned overhead to diffuse the sunlight in order to avoid overexposing. This is actually a very early use of a “light tent” which many fashion photographers use on location, to create completely diffused illumination.
Since the original, fancy scalloped mat hid much of the important information concerning the “on location” arrangements, I have resealed the plate with a very thin, wide opening, gold paper mat. There are small abrasions in the patina that mimic the original mat. The man’s cheeks and lips are lightly colored red. No matter how many times I look at him, he still returns a cold stare through unblinking , blue eyes. Hiram Burden, an amateur New York target shooter, first produced companies of specially selected sharpshooters in 1861, to be used by the North on special assignment during the Great Rebellion of the Civll War. I have wondered if the back woodsman in this plate enlisted for the cause. He would have been required to shoot 10 consecutive shots into a 10-inch bull’s eye from a distance of 200 yards. The killing power of these implements of death had abnormal effective range of 600 yards or greater. Stories abound about the incredible shots made. The best had Burden shooting at a life size paper target of Jeff Davis during a demonstration for President Lincoln and General George McClellan in the fall of 1861. An onlooker commented that if he, (Burden) was really good, why not shoot out Davis’ right eye, from 600 yards. Burden took careful aim and fired once: when the target was retrieved, old Jeff Davis was missing the pupil of his right eye! This piece was most likely made after 1855, and is more than a mere occupational: it represents a narrow, yet very important slice of Americana.
My dad originally sold this remarkable image from the fifth issue of The Daguerreian Forum in 1994, nearly thirty years ago. It was the cover image and the description is his. It has been in the same collection since then. If we can find a copy, we will include a catalogue with the sale. We have photographed my dad’s master copy for the listing. As you can see, it’s a wonderful image to finally be able to present in full-color.