William Henry Herndon Daguerreotype

©Albert Kaplan 2010

Please note a deep vertical crease in the lapel of one of the known photographic images of Herndon, and in the lapel of the man in my daguerreotype. Consider this:

The coat hanger is a relatively recent invention. The first coat hanger patent was granted in 1897; it was in 1906 that the first retailer displayed his wares on hangers.

Accordingly, prior to the 1900s men’s suit coats, in retail stores, were laid flat on tables, and were so folded that there would be no creases in the lapels, some of which were satin. Pants were folded at the knees and piled one on top of the other, each pile another waist size. The last time I visited the clothing department of Brooks Brothers in New York, on one of their upper floors, they piled suitcoats and pants in exactly this way on around perhaps 40 heavy wood tables.

In the evening, the 19th century suit coat wearer would seek a flat surface on which to lay his folded suit coat. After weeks or months, even years, of folding one’s suitcoat in the same way, creases develop.

Lincoln also folded his suit coat in the same way day after day, night after night. In the Kaplan daguerreotype you will see a small crease at the top of his left lapel. That exact crease is seen is several known Lincoln images.

Hitherto, there were only four known photographic images of Herndon, three of which are shown here. To the best of my knowledge this daguerreotype is his only extant original photographic image. Camera shy all his life, there was likely a special occasion that warranted his sitting for this photograph.

Kaplan Collection Known Images

William Henry Herndon’s Hands

Kaplan Collection Known Image Known Image


The recognized world authority of early photography is my friend for the past 35 years, Grant Romer, recently retired from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York. Grant examined and archivally treated most of the cased images in the collection. He and Michael Hager of Museum Photographics, also of Rochester, recognizing the historic importance of the Herndon daguerreotype, decided to photograph its disassembled pieces, shown below.

In his November 22, 1888 letter to Jesse Weik, Herndon wrote of Lincoln,


“He was the King ruler of men by divine right.”



Post-Script Thoughts–October 28, 2017


William Henry Herndon

Of the five known photographic images of Herndon, this is, by far, the best. And, it is a daguerreotype!

Its importance is etched in granite. If you would have walked into the Lincoln/Herndon law office, and met William Henry Herndon, this is the man you would meet. When Herndon looked at you, you were looked at! And, if his partner, Lincoln, would meet you as well, you stood utterly naked before them, these two men of extraordinarily good understanding of their fellow humans.

Lincoln loved him, was close to the Herndon family all his life. I think that this photograph was likely made on the occasion of one of his post-assassination lectures about Lincoln.