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February 6, 2010

The Minnesota Poe Daguerreotype: Nevermore to be found?

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 1:22 pm

Edgar Allan Poe, ca. 1847

How did Edgar Allan Poe arrive in the far-western parts of the country, in Minnesota Territory, two years after his death?  In 1851, Mary Elizabeth Bronson LeDuc brought her daguerreotype of the famed poet to St. Paul where her husband, William Gates LeDuc, had established his law practice and a stationery store.

The photograph of Edgar Allan Poe pictured here is part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s photograph collection. It is an 1850’s salted paper print with a pen and ink wash. A number of sources indicate that this photograph is a copy of that daguerreotype Mrs. LeDuc brought to Minnesota Territory in 1851.

Four years earlier, an 1847 public notice in a New York newspaper announced the severe consumption being suffered by Edgar Allan Poe and his young wife, Virginia, and it prompted the assistance of friends and callers. Among the callers was Rev. Cotesworth P. Bronson, an Episcopalian minister.  Bronson visited Poe at his cottage, north of New York City in Fordham, New York, in June 1847, shortly after Virginia’s death.  The Reverend’s young daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was also spending that summer in New York City.  In a remembrance written thirteen years later, now married, Mrs. LeDuc recalled:

“Looking over a collection of daguerreotypes and photographs of old friends and acquaintances, a short time since, the face of Edgar A. Poe wakened many recollections of my acquaintance with him, and others connected with him.  Although thirteen years ago it seems but a very short time since I left school, and with my father made a summer visit to the city. It so happened that I had opportunity during my visit to form the acquaintance of many of our first authors and artists then in town: and among others, that of Mr. Poe, which occurred in this way.  I was talking to a new acquaintance one day, (with, perhaps, something of school girl enthusiasm of the pleasures of city life, and of my enjoyment at meeting so many famous people.) who smilingly said, “I will take you to Fordham next week to see Mr. Poe, if you would like to go.”  Upon being assured that the visit would not be considered an intrusion on my part, I eagerly accepted the invitation, and impatiently waited the appointed day.  We left the city by an early morning train, (the distance is only fourteen miles, I believe) and it was quite early in the forenoon when we reached the depot, from which we walked up a pleasant winding road with branching trees another mile, to Mr. Poe’s cottage…We saw Mr. Poe walking in his yard, and most agreeably was I surprised to see a very handsome and elegant appearing gentleman, who welcomed us with a quiet, cordial, and graceful politeness.”

Shortly after this visit, Poe returned the favor by calling on the Bronson’s in New York City.  Of that visit, Mrs. LeDuc wrote:

“At another time, speaking of engravings, and the unsatisfactory idea usually obtained of the appearance of authors from their portraits, as usually prefixed to their works, it occurred to me that I might make a small private collection of daguerreotypes, and Mr. Poe good naturedly consented to make the beginning of my collection. He went with my father at once to the daguerreian’s and on their return brought me the likeness, a copy of which I have enclosed you with these recollections, remarking that “it was the most natural-looking he had ever seen of himself.”

This rare – and now missing – 1847 daguerreotype came to be identified as the ‘Daly’ daguerreotype. Charles Deas, in The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe, speculates that the likeness acquired by Mrs. LeDuc is one of the lost daguerreotypes of Poe. The history of the ‘Daly’ daguerreotype began with its being reproduced in the form of a carte de visite copy photograph by New York cameraman, Napoleon Sarony in 1878.  The same daguerreotype surfaced as part of the estate auction of Augustin Daly in 1900 (for which it is named). It was sold again in a 1903 auction, and its whereabouts have since been unknown.   A note written by Mrs. LeDuc dated Hastings, Minnesota, November 1888, states that her daguerreotype of Poe remained in her possession, forty-one years after the sitting.  Likewise, its whereabouts have since been unknown.  If Mrs. LeDuc’s daguerreotype of Poe was acquired by Augustin Daly, it was between 1888 and 1899.

William Gates LeDuc was one of the first members of the Minnesota Historical Society after its founding in 1849.  Over the years, his family deposited, withdrew and gifted many items to the Society’s collection.  Records indicate that Mrs. LeDuc’s daughter, Alice, gave the salted paper print to the Society on Dec. 8, 1960. There is a note taped to the back of it, in nineteenth century script, stating that this is ‘presumably an enlargement from an old daguerreotype – given by the author to his friend Charles Coatsworth Pinkney Bronson’.  Alice LeDuc noted that were it to again hang in the family house in Hastings, Minnesota, that it be re-hung on the west wall of the library, just left of the bay window.  It hangs there today, in the restored home of William Gates and Mary Elizabeth LeDuc where it is on loan as part of the story presented by the Dakota County Historical Society.

Many intriguing questions remain.  If the ‘Daly’ daguerreotype and Mrs. LeDuc’s are one and the same, how did it come to be copied as a carte de visite in New York in 1878? And what of the original LeDuc/Daly daguerreotype?  Its whereabouts remain unknown. Perhaps, one day, it will reappear to shed light on this fascinating story of Edgar Allan Poe’s connection to Minnesota.

Diane Adams-Graf, Curator, Sound and Visual Collections

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3 Responses to “The Minnesota Poe Daguerreotype: Nevermore to be found?”

  1. Undine Says:

    Very strange, isn’t it, how practically all of the “original” Poe daguerreotypes have vanished?

    There have been rumors for years that there had been at least one daguerreotype of Virginia Poe, but if it ever existed, no one has any idea where that might be, either.

  2. Jodi Larson Says:

    History is a subjective thing…but there is a correct way to spell Mr. Poe’s name. Just because Minnesota was the outer reaches of the frontier during his lifetime does not mean that we should take such loosey-goosey poetic license when name dropping about him!

    Diane Adams-Graf reply on February 21st, 2010:

    Indeed, there is a correct way to spell Mr. Poe’s name. Thank you, Jodi!

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