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John Werge, "Rambles among the Studios of America"
from The Evolution of Photography, 1890


On landing in New York I only knew one individual, and not knowing how far I should have to go to find him I put up at an hotel on Broadway, but soon found that too expensive for my means, and went to a private boarding house as soon as I could.

Visiting all the leading Daguerreotypists on Broadway, I was somewhat astonished at their splendid reception rooms, and the vast number of large and excellent specimens exhibited. Their plain Daguerreotypes were all of fine quality, and free from the "buff lines" so noticeable in English work at that period; but all their attempts at colouring were miserable failures, and when I showed one of my coloured specimens to Mr. Gurney, he said, "Well, if you can colour one of my pictures like that I'll believe you;" which I soon did, and very much to his astonishment. In those days I prepared my own colours, and Mr. Gurney bought a box immediately. The principal Daguerreotypists in New York at that time were Messrs. Brady, Gurney, Kent, Lawrence, Mead Brothers, and Samuel Root, and I called upon them all before I entered into any business arrangements, finally engaging myself to Messrs. Mead Brothers as a colourist and teacher of colouring for six months, and while fulfilling that engagement I gave lessons to several "Daguerreans," and made the acquaintance of men from all parts of the Union, for I soon obtained some notoriety throughout the States in consequence of a man named Humphrey attacking me and my colouring process in a photographic journal which bore his name, as well as in the New York Tribune. I replied to his attack in the columns of the Tribune, but I saw that he had a friend on the staff, and I did not feel inclined to continue the controversy. Mr. Humphrey knew nothing about my process, but began and continued the discussion on his knowledge of what was known as the "Isinglass Process," which was not mine. After completing my engagements with Messrs. Mead Brothers, I made arrangements to supply the stock dealers with my prepared colours, and travel the States myself to introduce them to all the Daguerreans residing in the towns and cities I should visit.…

What a wonderful place New York is for photographic galleries! Their number is legion, and their size is mammoth. Everything is "mammoth." Their "saloons" are mammoth. Their "skylights" are mammoth. Their "tubes," or lenses, are mammoth. Their "boxes," or cameras, are mammoth; and mammoth is the amount of business that is done in some of those "galleries." The "stores" of the dealers in photographic "stock" are mammoth; and the most mammoth of all is the "store" of Messrs. E. & H.T. Anthony, on Broadway. This establishment is one of the many palaces of commerce on that splendid thoroughfare. The building is of iron, tall and graceful, of the Corinthian order, with Corinthian pilasters, pillars, and capitals. It is five storeys high, with a frontage of about thirty feet, and a depth of two hundred feet, running right through the "block" from Broadway to the next street on the west side of it. This is the largest store of the kind in New York; I think I may safely say, in either of the two continents, east or west, containing a stock of all sorts of photographic goods, from "sixpenny slides" to "mammoth tubes," varying in aggregate value from one-hundred-and-fifty thousand to two hundred thousand dollars. The heads of the firm are most enterprising, one taking the direction of the commercial department, and the other the scientific and experimental. Nearly all novelties in apparatus and photographic requisites pass through this house into the hands of our American confreres of the camera, and not unfrequently find their way to the realms of Queen Victoria on both sides of the Atlantic.

There was a "portrait factory" on Broadway, where likenesses were turned out as fast as coining, for the small charge of twenty-five cents a head. The arrangements for such rapid work were very complete. I had a dollar's worth of these "factory" portraits. At the desk I paid my money, and received four tickets, which entitled me to as many sittings when my turn came. I was shown into a waiting room crowded with people. The customers were seated on forms placed round the room, sidling their way to the entrance of the operating room, and answering the cry of "the next" in much the same manner that people do at our public baths. I being "the next," at last went into the operating room, where I found the operator stationed at the camera, which he never left all day long, except occasionally to adjust a stupid sitter. He told the next to "Sit down" and "Look thar," focussed, and, putting his hand into a hole in the wall which communicated with the "coating room," he found a dark slide ready filled with a sensitised plate, and putting it into the camera, "exposed," and saying "That will dew," took the dark slide out of the camera, and shoved it through another hole in the wall communicating with the mercury or developing room. This was repeated as many times as I wanted sittings, which he knew by the number of tickets I had given to a boy in the room, whose duty it was to look out for "the next," and collect the tickets. The operator had nothing to do with the preparation of the plates, developing, fixing, or finishing of the picture. He was responsible only for the "pose" and "time," the "developer," checking and correcting the latter occasionally by crying out "Short" or "Long" as the case might be. Having had my number of "sittings," I was requested to leave the operating room by another door which opened into a passage that led me to the "delivery desk," where, in a few minutes, I got all my four portraits fitted up in "matt, glass, and preserver,"—the pictures having been passed from the developing room to the "gilding" room, thence to the "fitting room" and the "delivery desk," where I received them. Thus they were all finished and carried away without the camera operator ever having seen them. Three of the four portraits were as fine Daguerreotypes as could be produced anywhere.


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