Another wet day. In company with friend Hubbard, had my daguerreotype taken this afternoon by McClees & Germon. They gave me very correct pictures, but they were not flattered in the least.
Went to the Walnut this evening with friend Morgan. Miss Cushman’s benefit-play of the “Stranger.” To judge from the manifestations of the audience, this affecting tragedy was most effectively performed. Saw several persons from Norristown.
The daguerreotype, an early photographic process created by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) based on work by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833) in 1839, spread quickly around the world and was all the rage in the United States in 1849. Philadelphia, along with New York and Boston, was a world renowned center for fine daguerreotypes. The New York Tribune, in December 1848, claimed Philadelphia, not New York, had brought the daguerrotype art to “as high a state here as any other place. . ..” Some of the best practitioners of the art, including Marcus Root, Montgomery Simon, and the Collins brothers, were working in Nathan’s city at that time. Between 1846 and 1856 the number of daguerreotype parlors in Philadelphia grew from fewer than twenty to more than one hundred, with most of them located on Chestnut and Market Streets east of Broad Street.
James E. McClees (1821–1887) was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania and as late as 1842 was living in West Nantmeal. It is possible Nathan knew McClees or at least the families had some contact. McClees is reported to have begun his photographic career in Philadelphia in 1844, working for Montgomery P. Simons (1816–1877). In 1847, McClees was listed as a daguerrian at 80-1/2 Walnut St. in partnership with Washington L. Germon (ca. 1821–1877) as McClees and Germon. The business arrangement lasted until March 1855 when a fire caused considerable damage to their studio at 160 Chestnut Street. After a sojourn to Europe, McClees, by 1858, was listed as a daguerrian at 626 Chestnut Street. In 1860, he was in business as McClees & Co., the “Philadelphia Photographic Emporium.” By this time, photographic processes had evolved and McClees was working in other mediums. He is credited with making the first collodion negative in the United States. Later in life, McClees was a “dealer in pictures” and an art dealer. He died from cancer in Philadelphia in 1887.
Washington L. Germon is more of a mystery. When he died from bronchitis in 1877, his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned he had been a celebrated photographer and one of the best in the city, but as much of the article is concerned with Germon’s fishing exploits.
In 1849, McClees and Germon were located on the southeast corner of 8th and Chestnut. The prices of daguerreotypes had dropped dramatically since 1839. Depending on the size of the portrait, Nathan probably spent $2 to $3 for the portrait, equivalent, perhaps to a week’s worth of theatre tickets.
For more on Charlotte Cushman, see the entry for October 30.
“History.” McClees Galleries http://www.mccleesgalleries.com/history/. Accessed November 7, 1849.
“James E. McClees Dead.” Philadelphia Inquirer. May 3, 1887, 2.
“Obituary.” Philadelphia Inquirer. December 4, 1877, 7.
Weatherwax, Sarah, curator. “Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839–1860.” Library Company of Philadelphia http://www.librarycompany.org/catchingashadow/intro.htm. Accessed November 7, 2011.