145 Main Street

On this day (October 10) in the year 1851, William Pratt submitted the following letter to “The Photographic Art-Journal” (New York) Vol. 2,

No. 4 (October 1851) pp. 235-236. The article is accompanied by a wood

engraving of the exterior of Pratt’s “Virginia Sky-Light Daguerrean


– – – – – – – –


RICHMOND, October 10th, 1851

MR. H. H. SNELLING:–Dear Sir:–

I at length have found a few moments to devote to you, and I assure you

that it is at the earliest period, as you may be sure the cares of so

extensive an establishment as ours, after three months absence,

preclude the possibility of giving much time to any other purpose.

You already have published a description of the interior of our

establishment, and I will now give the best I can of its outside, but

the illustration itself affords almost all that could be desired. The

object was to obtain as much beauty as possible, consistent with

utility, and to make the alterations without disturbing the original

building more than I could avoid. The immense bay window which forms

the principal ornament in front, is eight feet wide by about 16 feet in

height, and in combination with the gothic screen work above, also

filled with glass, forms our operating light, which is about thirty

feet from the floor of the room and runs back about ten feet. This

window projects two feet into the street, and forms a conspicuous

object in connection with the parapet above from nearly every part of

the city. The entire front has been remodelled and painted so as to

present the hall-like appearance which the illustration portrays, and

as it forms the centre of the finest row of buildings in Richmond, we

think that we have obtained the objects most to be desired in a

Daguerrean establishment, viz.: Publicity, an immense northern window

in combination with a sky-light, a fine operating room in the third-

story, surrounded with the necessary offices for cleaning, buffing,

&c., and a show room, which in all my travels I have not yet seen

surpassed except in point of size.

I would take the opportunity here to mention that no attention has

been paid to either convenience or beauty of arrangement in the

European galleries. I visited nearly all in England and in Paris, and

found them, generally speaking, below mediocrity. Their pictures, too,

were so inferior to those of American, with two exceptions, (Thomson

and Mayall, both formerly of Philadelphia,) as to occasion no surprise

at the great want of popularity of the daguerreotype in England. Their

great object seems to be to disguise it by colors, varnished, &c, and

to produce instead an inferior specimen of miniature painting; true,

some of the French have, by the exquisite pencil of their finest

artists, produced pictures which both astonish and delight, but these

alas! are, from their very nature, (viz.: being worked up with gum

colors,) liable to turn of a rusty hue, which destroys their beauty,

and leaves them with the aspect of a faded engraving after being

exposed in a shop window. Mr. Beard claims to have discovered a method

by which these difficulties are obviated, but unless I am much

deceived, it is the same as that practised by me, and of which I have

specimens four years old. For the information of your readers will

detail it.

After your picture is gilded and dry, pour over it quickly and

steadily, a thin solution of bright copal varnish, and let it drain off

either in the sun or before a gentle fire–a stove is best; when

perfectly hard, which it will be in the course of a day, color it as

usual with dry colors. An exposure to the gentle heat of a spirit lamp

will cause them to sink in and become permanent, thus giving all the

effect of enamel. After this is completed you may coat it over with

varnish, until you get sufficient to rub down, and you will obtain an

imperishable enamelled daguerreotype.

This has probably been tried by more than one besides Mr. Beard, and

only proves that “there is nothing new under the sun,” in coloring

daguerreotypes, at least, for where such a host of operators are

engaged, the probability is, that nearly everything has been attempted

of this kind that afforded any chance of success.

Very respectfully yours,



Posted for your enjoyment. Gary W. Ewer




1 Response to “145 Main Street”

  1. 1 O3
    March 11, 2009 at 11:24 am

    This photo is wrong, Jeff R. fom the VHS told me they changed the steet address’s and the 100 block was in the bottom way back when. I’m still looking for image of Pratt Studio….

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1984 Computer portrait from State Fair

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