This daguerreotype had been previously opened and cleaned, perhaps more than 50 years ago; and knocked about quite a lot. Consequently, the quality of the plate is much compromised. The mat was above the glass cover rather than between the plate and glass cover! To judge by the build-up of dirt, it was in that position for a long time.
The plate is slightly smaller than the mat. Once the binding tape was no longer attached, the plate moved around against the mat, causing significant abrasions.
I judge all elements to be original.
In early 1895 Churchill graduated from Sandhurst, and soon thereafter received, from Queen Victoria, his commission as a second Lieutenant in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. Later that year, having a few months of free time before his anticipated assignment in India, he, together with his friend, Reggie Barnes, later General Sir Reginald Barnes, arrived in New York in early November, 1895, remaining approximately a week, house guests of William Bourke Cockran, a close friend of Churchill’s Mother. The two young British officers were on their way to Cuba, to be attached to the Spanish army, then fighting rebels. Winston and Reggie continued on their journey, arriving in Havana on November 20th. Having been born on November 30, 1874, Churchill passed his 21th birthday in Cuba, and coincidentally on this day he came under rebel fire.
1895 is late for a daguerreotype, and late for Alexander Beckers, one of the pioneers of early photography, and a master of the craft. Examples of his work are rare, and of supreme quality. Here is a photographic image of this gentleman and his family.
In 1895 Mr. Beckers was long retired as a daguerreian. However, he must have kept daguerreotype cases with his inscribed name, and used them on those special occasions when he would be persuaded to make a daguerreotype. He could not refuse William Bourke Cockran, a noted orator, and one of the leading political personalities in the the United States.
Or, put another way, Alexander Beckers, one of the great names of early photography, came out of retirement to take this daguerreotype of young Winston Churchill, the 20-year-old son of Lord Randolph Churchill.
It is unlikely that Churchill ever saw this daguerreotype. He was in New York for only a few days, perhaps a week, and this daguerreotype was likely made toward the end of his visit. William Bourke Cockran would have treasured this daguerreotype of his young friend. Surely, during Cockran’s lifetime, this daguerreotype was very carefully preserved, as is fitting a precious memento. However, upon a person’s death, relatives, staff, governmental personnel, and the like, enter the domain of the deceased, and begin to realign personal effects. It is normal, and must occur.
How did the daguerreotype of young Abraham Lincoln end up at Witkin Art Gallery in New York? How did the daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson end up in an Illinois flea market? And, how did this daguerreotype of young Winston Churchill end up, 118 years later, in a rural Maine antiques fair? We will never know the answer to these questions.
|Kaplan Collection||Known Images|
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Post-Script Thoughts–October 28, 2017
From what I have seen, (four images), and from what I understand, the greatest daguerreian, (meaning the maker of the highest quality images), was Alexander Beckers, who was asked, in 1895, to make a daguerreotype of the son of Lord Randolph Churchill then spending a few days in New York. It seems remarkable that the daguerreian was Alexander Beckers.
As the viewer can see, it was a masterpiece. I cannot imagine that it could now be called a masterpiece. It has been very roughed up over the years. I am thinking how great it must have been, truly a masterpiece. Few have seen a Beckers daguerreotype. They are extraordinary.
Post-Script Thoughts–August 29, 2019
The Leonardo di Vinci/Michelangelo of early photography was, hands down, Alexander Beckers, whose daguerreotype of Winston Churchill is remarkable for more than the usual reasons accompanying Beckers’ productions, one of which is the unlikelihood of there being a daguerreotype of Winston Churchill or anybody else as late as 1895! The daguerreian age was long past. Beckers, in 1895, was a retired or semi-retired manufacturer of precision optical/photography-related equipment.
Churchill’s host in New York City was William Bourke Cockran, a leading candidate for the presidency. Wall Street lawyer, former member of Congress, and one of the most accomplished public speakers of the century. His opulent residence on the corner of 59th Street and 5th Avenue, then as now the most expensive residential location on this planet was …magnificent. Winston Churchill was 20 years old, and in New York City in the year 1895. His host, an extraordinary personality who had a profound effect on young Churchill, was also a suitor of the young man’s widowed mother.
Cockran simply had to have known Beckers personally. I am sure they were friends. Both men were living close-by and were famous, so surely,
they knew each other. Cockran recognized the magnitude of the moment. He also knew of the uniqueness of the daguerreotype portrait, and its importance. He knew the Leonardo of photography personally.
If the reader will view the Becker’s family photograph, so very fortunately discovered, he can see this gentleman, in profile, and his distinguished family.