April 15, 1840 – One of the first cameras sold in the U.S.

Posted by on Apr 15 2013 | Photography, Technology

BemisReceipt

Receipt of one of the first cameras to be sold in the U.S.

Samuel A. Bemis (1793–1881), a Boston dentist and amateur daguerreotypist, bought one of the first cameras ever sold in the United States on April 15, 1840. Fortunately, he and his heirs saved not only the camera but also its receipt. While it is likely too late to return the camera, the receipt is useful as evidence of what is probably the earliest documented sale of an American daguerrean outfit.

Thanks to the dentist’s pack rat ways, we know that on April 15, 1840, he paid $76 to François Gouraud, Giroux’s agent in the U.S., for a “daguerreotype apparatus,” twelve whole plates at $2 each, and a freight charge of $1.

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Full-plate daguerreotype camera (owned by S. A. Bemis)

The apparatus, which Gouraud advertised as consisting of sixty-two items, included the camera, lens, plate holder, iodine box for sensitizing plates, mercury box for developing plates, holding box for unused plates, and a large wooden trunk to house the entire system. Quite large, the camera weighs about thirteen pounds and can produce full-plate images, 6½ x 8½ inches in size.

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Full-plate daguerreotype camera outfit

Bemis made his first daguerreotype on April 19, 1840, from the window of his Boston office, and during the next several years went on to expose more than three hundred images, most of them in his beloved White Mountains of New Hampshire. The George Eastman House collection also contains a second Bemis camera and nineteen of his images.

First Bemis Daguerreotype

First  S.A. Bemis Daguerreotype

bemis 1936 inventory 1
Bemis’ Inventory in 1936 discussing the camera purchase in 1840.

 

 

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    Todd Gustavson is the curator of technology at George Eastman House, working with the collection for more than 20 years.. He is also the co-owner of Walbokat, an 18 foot 1954 Chris Craft Riviera Runabout, shown at dusk at the main dock in Chautauqua, NY.

    1 comment for now

    One Response to “April 15, 1840 – One of the first cameras sold in the U.S.”

    1. Steve Hasenauer

      The Daguerreotype seems to show the Charles Street Jail in the right foreground. This building still stands today next to the famed Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. This seems possible as it was, and still is the general vicinity of Massachusetts General Hospital, and is quite close to the location of Mr. Bemis’s home on School Street.

      15 Apr 2013 at 12:20 pm