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December 8, 2009

Daguerreotype of St. Anthony Falls

Filed under: What's New — Lori Williamson @ 9:46 pm

Daguerreotype of St. Anthony Falls

The Minnesota Historical Society recently acquired a rare and historic quarter plate daguerreotype of the Falls of St. Anthony in Minnesota Territory, present day Minneapolis. The village of St. Anthony stood on the east side of the river and was a bustling area of settlement and industry by the mid-1850s when John W. Monell created this daguerreotype.

Daguerreotypes were mirror-like, one-of-a-kind photographs that first appeared in 1839 and peaked in popularity by 1856. These extremely fragile images on silvered copper plates were protected behind glass in attractive cases. This view of the waterfall is housed in its original case with a raised imprint on its velvet pad identifying the artist and location.

John W. Monell established his studio in St. Anthony in April 1854. The following year he won first prize at the Territorial Fair for his exhibit case of daguerreotype portraits and views of St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Falls, the Suspension Bridge, and other local sites. The view in this daguerreotype shows St. Anthony Falls from Hennepin Island. It is a variant of two similar views in the Society’s collections, taken by unidentified daguerreotypists. This perspective is from a position further back and shows a raised conveyance made of lumber, across the foreground. ┬áIt is likely a chute used for facilitating the handling of lumber, shingles, and other wood products as they were sent downstream well below the falls.

Funds from the Virginia Moe Endowment for Historic Photographs and Lila Goff Acquisitions Endowment made it possible to make this important purchase. It is a significant addition to the Minnesota Historical Society’s nationally-recognized collection of daguerreotypes of St. Anthony Falls and contributes to our earliest photographic history.

Diane Adams-Graf
Sound & Visual Curator
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