Two partners in Boston–Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes–are today widely considered to be the first great masters of photography in America. Their partnership lasted from 1843 to 1862.
Southworth & Hawes were technical and creative innovators who sought to be recognized as artists. They produced their masterpieces using the daguerreotype process. Daguerreotypes are made on polished metal plates without a negative; each image must be exposed individually in a camera. The finished pictures are brilliant, mirror-like, and finely-detailed.
Josiah Hawes lived until 1901, continuing to operate a studio and carefully protecting both the reputation of his old firm and the precious archive of daguerreotypes that was the source of that reputation. The daguerreotypes were finally dispersed during the Great Depression. Most made their way into three museums; a few select examples landed in private collections where they are highly prized.
In the Spring of 1999, a previously-unknown hoard of 240 Southworth & Hawes daguerreotypes appeared at auction. Collectors, curators, and historians flocked to Sotheby’s in New York to view this treasure-trove from the estate of David Feigenbaum. The daguerreotypes eventually sold for more than three million dollars.