Antebellum Cased Images, ca. 1850
Appraised Value: $5,200 - $5,300
IMAGE: 1 of 5
Appraisal Video: (3:28)
C. Wesley Cowan
Arms & Militaria, Books & Manuscripts, Decorative Arts, Folk Art, Photographs
Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
GUEST: These are some daguerreotypes that I inherited probably about 30 or so years ago from my aunt. And she gave them to me because I'm the family historian, and she thought I should have them and take care of them.
APPRAISER: And these photographs are all from folks who were living around Vicksburg, is that correct?
GUEST: That area. Actually, from Claiborne County, which is just south of Vicksburg, and these people lived on a plantation called Buckhorn Plantation.
APPRAISER: So, Buckhorn Plantation no longer exists, correct?
GUEST: No, unfortunately, when the federal troops came through on their way to siege Vicksburg, they marched along the road that went past Buckhorn and they burned it, according to family legend.
APPRAISER: Sure. It's a really interesting group of pictures. You don't see in the scheme of things a lot of antebellum photographs from the South from this period. These photographs were taken in the 1850s. And they're not all daguerreotypes.
APPRAISER: This is a daguerreotype. You see that it's a sort of a shiny, almost a mirror-like surface. A daguerreotype is an image taken on a silver-covered copper plate. This, on the other hand, is an ambrotype.
APPRAISER: Which is on glass. And the daguerreotype is earlier than the ambrotype. This is probably also an ambrotype, and boy, is it badly corroded. The South is not often good on these sort of period photographs. This picture, though, is the keeper. What do you know about him?
GUEST: My great-great-grandmother wrote a little note that his name was Stephen Armstrong and that he was the cook, and he was much loved. So it was kept among the family photographs and daguerreotypes.
APPRAISER: Well, and in fact, this is a daguerreotype. There were a lot of photographs taken of African Americans during the antebellum period, but to find a slave that's identified by name and can be attached to a plantation is very rare. Not only can you tell that he was a well-loved member of the household-- because they spent a little extra money tinting the buttons, tinting the tablecloth-- but he's also holding a book. It's either a studio prop or he really did know how to read. And if he was a valued servant who was a cook, it may have been required for him to read. But it's unusual to see a slave holding a book when we know that in most states, it was illegal to teach slaves to read. You add to that this tremendous, striking pose that he has taken there, and that, to me, makes the rest of the bunch. These photographs here are relatively common. Collectively, the three photographs there may be worth $200 or $300. The daguerreotype of the African-American slave, however, is a really great image. And I think in an auction setting of 19th-century photography, I would not be surprised to see that photograph sell for maybe as much as $5,000.
GUEST: Oh, my heavens.
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