Last week I asked about the earliest known photograph taken in the U.S., and its connection to numismatics. -Editor
Pete Smith writes:
Above is a photograph of Philadelphia's Central High School and the adjacent Armory. The photo is a primitive daguerreotype made
with a lens and a cigar box. It was taken from a window in the second Philadelphia Mint by Joseph Saxton in October, 1839. Saxton was a
prolific inventor of his time. One of his inventions used parallel lines to produce images of medals. This is probably not the first
photograph produced in America. It may be the oldest surviving photograph.
Kay Olson Freeman writes:
America’s oldest photograph was taken in October 1839 from the Philadelphia Mint building. The photo was taken by Joseph Saxton
(b.1799, PA – d. 1873, Wash. DC) who worked at the Philadelphia Mint in weights and measures since 1837.
Since the Daguerre process needs a highly polished silver surface, the Encyclopedia of Photography says Saxton used a silver
plate from which coin blanks were usually cut. There is an historic marker at Chestnut & Juniper Streets, Philadelphia, (site of the Mint
then) commemorating the photo event.
The Saxton photo is kept at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was shown on Philadelphia TV on World Photo Day, Aug. 19,
Saxton started as a clock and watchmaker.
The earliest American human portrait photograph was a self-portrait taken by Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), also of Philadelphia.
Cornelius started as a silversmith and, later, became a very well-known lamp and chandelier manufacturer.
I am very impressed by these two men’s versatility – and the fact that the photos survived.
Correct! Joseph Saxton is a largely forgotten figure today, but his engineering contributions to the U.S. Mint and the world at large are
huge. As Pete notes, Saxton was a prolific inventor in his day, and his curiosity for new technology is seen in this photo. Can we even
imagine a world without photography today? What would Saxton think of our megapixel smartphone cameras, or my son's new GoPro?
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
THE EARLIEST KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v19n34a20.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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