Daguerreotypes are an early type of photograph, developed by Louis Daguerre, in which the image is exposed directly onto a mirror-polished surface of silver bearing a coating of silver halide particles deposited by iodine vapor. In later developments bromine and chlorine vapors were also used, resulting in shorter exposure times. The daguerreotype is a negative image, but the mirrored surface of the metal plate reflects the image and makes it appear positive in the proper light. Thus, daguerreotype is a direct photographic process without the capacity for duplication.
While daguerreotypes were not the first photographic process to be invented, earlier processes required hours for successful exposure, which made daguerreotype the first commercially viable photographic process and the first to permanently record and fix an image with exposure time compatible with portrait photography.
Daguerreotypes are named after one of its inventors, French artist and chemist Louis J.M. Daguerre, who announced its perfection in 1839 after years of research and collaboration with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, applying and extending a discovery by Johann Heinrich Schultz (1724): a silver and chalk mixture darkens when exposed to light. The French Academy of Sciences announced the daguerreotype process on January 9 of that year.
Daguerre’s French patent was acquired by the French government. In Britain, Miles Berry, acting on Daguerre’s behalf, obtained a patent for the daguerreotype process on August 14, 1839. Almost simultaneously, on August 19, 1839, the French government announced the invention a gift “Free to the World”.
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