[Cabinet card photo of Henry David Thoreau, after 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham.]. Alfred W. Hosmer, photographer.
[Cabinet card photo of Henry David Thoreau, after 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham.]

[Cabinet card photo of Henry David Thoreau, after 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham.]

Concord, Mass., [ca. 1880]. Albumen print, 5.5” x 3.25”, mounted on cabinet card, with photographer’s stamp on verso reading, somewhat obscurely, “A. W. Hosmer Landscape Photographer Concord.”.

A scarce copy photograph of one of three Benjamin D. Maxham daguerreotype portaits of Thoreau dating from the same sitting in 1856, taken by Concord photographer and early Thoreauvian, Fred Hosmer.

In 1856 Thoreau admirer Calvin R. Greene of Rochester, Michigan sent five dollars to Thoreau requesting a copy of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and a daguerreotype of the author. Thoreau wrote back: “You may rely on it that you have the best of me in my books, and that I am not worth seeing personally – the stuttering, blundering, clodhopper that I am.” Nevertheless, when he was in Worcester several months later to see his friends H. G. O. Blake and Theophilus Brown, Thoreau visited the studio of daguerreotypist Benjamin Maxham, who made three nearly identical ninth-plate daguerreotypes of him. Thoreau gave one of these to Blake, another to Brown, and sent the third to Greene, telling him, “While in Worcester this week I obtained the accompanying daguerreotype – which my friends think is pretty good – though better looking than I,” noting that it cost fifty cents, and returning to him $1.70 in change.

Photographer A. W. Hosmer (1851–1903), who specialized in views of Concord and the haunts of Thoreau, but also took studio portraits, was an ardent collector and promoter of Thoreau’s writings. Hosmer photographed the landscapes, plants, and animals that Thoreau wrote about and corresponded with other early admirers of his work. According to Raymond Adams, Hosmer, along with Henry Salt and Dr. Samuel Arthur Jones, laid “the foundation for Thoreau’s modern reputation" (Oehlschlaeger & Henrick, Towards the Making of Thoreau’s Modern Reputation, 1979). The circumstances under which Hosmer was able to make the photograph offered here are unclear.

Daguerreotypist Benjamin D. Maxham is first listed as a daguerreian in Dover, New Hampshire in 1848. He appears in the Worcester directories from 1854 to 1858.

There are just just five known photographs of Thoreau taken from life, all of them unique: Maxham’s three daguereotypes and two ambrotypes by E. S. Dunshee of New Bedford. Today, the Greene daguerreotype is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, the Blake is in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, and the Brown is in the Thoreau Society archives at the Concord Free Public Library. One of Dunshee’s ambrotypes is owned by the Concord Museum and the other, which was stolen from the Concord Antiquarian Society (the Concord Museum’s predecessor) in 1910, is lost.

As these first generation photographs of Thoreau are now unobtainable, the photograph offered here is about as close as one can get, in terms of association and significance, to an image of the author from life.

REFERENCES: Daguerreotype Portrait of Henry David Thoreau at digitalcollections.nypl.org; Blanding, Thomas and Walter Harding. “A Thoreau Iconography” in Studies in the American Renaissance (1980), pp. 11-23; Alfred W. Hosmer Collection Of Glass Plate Negative Images Primarily of Concord, Mass. at concordlibrary.org.

CONDITION: Image somewhat faded, oval-shaped toning to previously matted area, lower edge of mount soiled.

Item #6888

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