On Saturday, April 8, 1977 I was visiting New York, and went to the Witkin Art Gallery on East 57th Street in order to view, as I understood, unpublished photographs of Jews, made in Poland shortly before the war, by Roman Vishnic. Among the objects offered for sale were around 100 cased images kept in a glass showcase. I now know they were daguerreotypes. At the time I had never seen a daguerreotype, nor read or heard the name, and had no knowledge whatsoever of early photography.
I asked for permission to look them over. One of their staff kindly brought me a chair and unlocked the glass showcase.
The daguerreotypes were priced according to size. The smallest offered were Sixth plate priced at $25, the Quarter plate were $50, and the Half or Whole plate were $100. I purchased one Sixth plate daguerreotype. The image of the distinguished young man reminded me of Abraham Lincoln.
As I reflect on the daguerreotypes that I examined that day, there was another one that I should also have purchased. Wearing a beautifully tailored checkered suit, he was movie-star handsome. I remember having had the idea that this beautiful and distinguished young man was, literally, full of fun. I suppose that Witkin Art Gallery sold it to somebody else. If that somebody else is reading this, please let me hear from you. I am sure this young man is Joshua Speed.
My interest in early photography thus began. It greatly interested me to view photographic portraits of 19th Century personalities.
It seemed to me that my acquisition of the Lincoln daguerreotype was the pure chance of a serendipitous moment. It never occurred to me that I might acquire other cased images of illustrious personalities. And yet, it occurred. The advent of the internet made the Kaplan Collection possible. 20-years after acquiring the Lincoln daguerreotype, I acquired the daguerreotype of Judah P. Benjamin via the internet. Then there was another illustrious 19th Century personality, then a further one, etc. After each acquisition I was, literally, astounded. Since that fateful day in 1977 I have acquired many cased images of illustrious 19th Century personalities; and each time I was astounded*.
By virtue of the significance of the personalities photographed, and the number of such portraits, this collection of 19th Century cased images, (to the best of my knowledge), eclipses all known comparable collections, including, collectively, those of the National Portrait Gallery, The George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film, The Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress.
* The Collection was reduced by four pieces, essentially gifts. They are, Judah P. Benjamin, Oscar Wilde, Jane Slidell Perry, and P.T. Barnum.
NON-PROFIT & COMMERCIAL USAGE
For purposes of criticism, comments, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classrooms, for instance) scholarship or research, or by libraries, churches, orphanages, old age homes, hospitals and the like, Mr. Kaplan waives all copyright restrictions. The use of the Kaplan Collection images for commercial purposes will require a fee. Prospective license holders should provide full details in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AN INVITATION TO THE FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMUNITY
Daguerreotypes are the highest quality photographs known, so much so, viewing a daguerreotype portrait can be an emotionally moving experience, the viewer feeling as though he is in the very room in which the subject is sitting.
Sometimes daguerreotypes reveal details that cannot be seen on any reproduction of the plate. Accordingly, I want the forensic science community to know that I will be pleased to take interested forensic scientists to the bank vault where the collection is kept, and where they can examine the entire collection.
I cordially invite forensic scientists to examine the collection, and to freely report their findings.
Signed: Albert Kaplan
Our dear colleague, Bob Schmitt, has died. Here is a link to his obituary.
THE MONETARY VALUE OF THE KAPLAN COLLECTION
First a few words about the Lincoln daguerreian. He was very likely a gentleman named, “Moore” of the itinerant daguerreian team of “Moore and Ward”. He was also a physician. And … he was … an artist. A unique moment in human history occurred. Young Abraham Lincoln sat before a great artist.
Masterpiece daguerreotypes are very rare. A masterpiece daguerreotype of 31-year-old Abraham Lincoln has no parallel in the art or history world.
What is this daguerreotype worth? I distinctly remember, and have often repeated, what Grant Romer’s friend, and supreme dealer in photographia, Joe Buburger, declared, “Your daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln is worth more to the American people than a carload of Van Goghs”.
Around two or so years ago, a painting attributed to Leonardo sold at Christie’s for $400 million. Should the Lincoln daguerreotype have a lesser value?
There are other notable monetary value daguerreotypes in the collection. Consider young Richard Wagner. It exists! Hard to believe. It is the purest truth. I am stunned by it.
Germans are terrified of Wagner. It will take many years before the German people are ready for Wagner, their greatest son. Wagner’s music, echoing of the very blood of this people, reminds the German people of that very dark period in their history and world history. No matter. For better for worse, Wagner is the German people.
The three British-related daguerreotypes—Prince Albert, Benjamin Disraeli, and Winston Churchill—are also in that lofty monetary value area.
I have no doubt this daguerreotype of 20-year-old Winston Churchill was a masterpiece, and a great masterpiece. Was.
Today it is in very rough condition.
It is staggering to me that the daguerreian was Alexander Beckers, the Michelangelo of that world. There are very few extant Alexander Beckers daguerreotypes. This is the first and only Alexander Beckers daguerreotype I have personally seen and held. Previously I had seen several photographs of daguerreotypes attributed to him.
I believe there are three masterpieces in the collection:
Abraham Lincoln #1
Judah Touro #1
Washington Irving #1
Thus, to answer the question, “What is the monetary value of the collection?” I would say, somewhere north of one billion dollars as of March, 2019. $1 billion would be the reserve price if the collection was now ready to go to auction – which it is not. The hammer price could be significantly higher than the reserve price.