From the moment the Romantic painter, showman, and entrepreneur Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre revealed the details of his invention—photography—in August 1839, a craze was born. “Daguerreotypomania” spread around the world like wildfire. Daguerreotypes—magically precise one-of-a-kind images made directly in the camera on highly polished silver-plated sheets of copper sensitized in iodine and developed over mercury fumes—were soon being produced by talented artists in lavishly appointed, big-city portrait studios and by traveling artisans plying their trade from one small town to another.
In America, daguerreotypes remained popular through-out the 1840s and 1850s, sought equally by members of high society and by those who had never dreamt of leaving their likenesses to posterity. Although his identity is now lost, this gentleman must have been a man of means to afford a whole-plate portrait (the largest standard size of daguerreotype) and so ornate a presentation.