Unique antebellum daguerreotype of enslaved workers with cotton

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

A. Roy

Corporal
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
The History Blog just reported ( http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/57154 ) that the only known antebellum image of slaves with cotton recently sold at auction for a hammer price of $260k. This daguerreotype was purchased for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Here's their announcement of the acquisition: https://nelson-atkins.org/rare-daguerreotype-purchased-hall-family-foundation-nelson-atkins-s/

Here's the image (posted with permission from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art):

Gentry-daguerreotype.jpg


The History Blog says that the image was discovered in 2012 and had to undergo conservation. The blog explains why this image is significant:

"Images of enslaved people working on the cotton plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas are extant, but they were captured by photographers who traveled south with the Union Army. They were taken at the large coastal planters owned by the wealthiest elites and worked by hundreds of slaves. This daguerreotype depicts slavery at a rural holding, the type of small-scale operation that was typical for the vast majority of slaveholders."

Roy B. -- 25 Nov 2019
 

Boonslick

Sergeant
Joined
Mar 25, 2014
Location
The Boonslick area of Central Missouri
Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the Nelson-Atkins Museum contains perhaps the best collection of 19th. century
daguerreotypes in the United States.

I have been to many of the finest art museums in this country and I feel that the Nelson ranks among the highest and approaches the Chicago Art Institute in its breath and scope. The collection of miniature colonial rooms is unsurpassed and its collection of American Art, including Thomas Hart Benton's and George Caleb Bingham's is outstanding. The museum is also the home of one of Monet's large watercolor triptychs.

Make the Nelson a must-stop on your next trip through Kansas City.
 

A. Roy

Corporal
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the Nelson-Atkins Museum contains perhaps the best collection of 19th. century
daguerreotypes in the United States. I have been to many of the finest art museums in this country and I feel that the Nelson ranks among the highest and approaches the Chicago Art Institute in its breath and scope. Make the Nelson a must-stop on your next trip through Kansas City.
Great suggestion -- sounds like a wonderful place to visit!

Roy B.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

JPChurch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 30, 2016
Location
Manassas VA
When you say "conservation," what does that mean? The reason why I ask is because I have similar type image of my GG Grandfather's parents. It has faded over the years and you need to tilt it to see the image clearly. My GGG grandma's cheeks are hi-lighted in a rose tint. She was a very beautiful woman.
 
Last edited:

lupaglupa

Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Interesting that they think this portrays a more typical setting for enslaved labor. The picture appears to have about 12 people of African descent, most of them adults. Presumably they are all all enslaved persons. That seems to be a larger plantation than many for the time.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

A. Roy

Corporal
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
When you say "conservation," what does that mean? The reason why I ask is because I have similar type image of my GG Grandfather's parents. It has faded over the years and you need to tilt it to see the image clearly. My GGG grandma's cheeks are hi-lighted in a rose tint. She was a very beautiful woman.
The History Blog doesn't go into great detail about the conservation process, but they do say this:

"The daguerreotype was discovered in estate of Charles Gentry, Jr., after his death in Austin, Texas, in 2012. It was in good condition, but needed conservation to remove tape residue and dirt and to re-glaze and rebind the plate. The hinges of the case were also repaired."

Checking around, I find that there are some businesses that do restoration, and some of them discuss the processes they use. One of them ( https://www.finedags.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=restoration.dagrestoration ) says this:

"Roughly 80% of all daguerreotypes have had their original seals broken. Those images have been resealed with paper tape, or left unsealed. Many times the glass was changed. Underneath that glass about 95% of the time is a layer of hazy film that both diminishes the contrast and softens the appearance of the image. Often, it can't be seen until the old piece of glass has been removed. If moisture is also present, very detrimental problems can occur on the actual silvered surface...

"One other issue that needs to be discussed is out gassing. Both my dad and I have seen various types of haze and sometimes even white dots appear on the under side of glass in as little time as six months after new glass was added and the package was taped with Filmoplast P-90. We have discussed this phenomenon with other archivists. None of us have conclusively decided or perfectly understand the problem. However, we have noticed that out gassing does not appear on all dags, but more commonly on those that have been improperly cleaned. It can occur on images with paper seals, no seals and archival seals."

There's more to learn if you do a Google search on something like "how are dagguereotypes restored."

Roy B.
 

A. Roy

Corporal
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
That is a whole lot of money!
Sure is! I guess it was the age and uniqueness of the image. I don't understand everything about auctions, but apparently it cost the buyer even more than the $260k hammer price. I'm not 100% clear on what the "buyer's premium" means, but here's what History Blog said:

"[The sale price] blew past the pre-sale estimate of $100,000 – $150,000 for a hammer price of $260,000 ($324,500 including buyer’s premium)."

Roy B.
 

Mike Serpa

Major
Joined
Jan 24, 2013
Auction houses usually charge both the buyer and the seller a premium for selling the item. Make money on both ends!

The photo was sold at 25% buyer's premium.
$260,000 x 1.25 = $325,000. $65,000 to the auction house. Don't know if the seller paid a commission. If a 25% seller's premium was charged the auction house gets 50% of the final sale price.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

JPChurch

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 30, 2016
Location
Manassas VA
The History Blog doesn't go into great detail about the conservation process, but they do say this:

"The daguerreotype was discovered in estate of Charles Gentry, Jr., after his death in Austin, Texas, in 2012. It was in good condition, but needed conservation to remove tape residue and dirt and to re-glaze and rebind the plate. The hinges of the case were also repaired."

Checking around, I find that there are some businesses that do restoration, and some of them discuss the processes they use. One of them ( https://www.finedags.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=restoration.dagrestoration ) says this:

"Roughly 80% of all daguerreotypes have had their original seals broken. Those images have been resealed with paper tape, or left unsealed. Many times the glass was changed. Underneath that glass about 95% of the time is a layer of hazy film that both diminishes the contrast and softens the appearance of the image. Often, it can't be seen until the old piece of glass has been removed. If moisture is also present, very detrimental problems can occur on the actual silvered surface...

"One other issue that needs to be discussed is out gassing. Both my dad and I have seen various types of haze and sometimes even white dots appear on the under side of glass in as little time as six months after new glass was added and the package was taped with Filmoplast P-90. We have discussed this phenomenon with other archivists. None of us have conclusively decided or perfectly understand the problem. However, we have noticed that out gassing does not appear on all dags, but more commonly on those that have been improperly cleaned. It can occur on images with paper seals, no seals and archival seals."

There's more to learn if you do a Google search on something like "how are dagguereotypes restored."

Roy B.
Thanks so much for this info!!
 

lelliott19

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
on the cotton plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas
Thanks for sharing this post. It's a very interesting image. I noticed that they mentioned GA and Carolina plantations. It got me wondering if that means they think this image is of a GA/Carolina plantation?
discovered in estate of Charles Gentry, Jr., after his death in Austin, Texas, in 2012.
Luckily, they provided the source of the image so maybe we can find out - that is, if it's a family image and not one acquired later from some source outside the family. According to this obituary the Charles Gentry Jr who died 1/11/2012 at Ennis TX was Charles Edward Gentry (b. 1/3/1924.) His parents were Ernest Leamon and Mary Alice Tallant Gentry.

According to Find A Grave Ernest Leamon Gentry was born 1896. According to the 1940 US Census, Ernest and his wife Mary Alice Tallent Gentry were both born in Hardeman TX - Ernest in about 1896 and Mary in about 1901.
1574886174006.png


Here, according to the 1910 US Census we find Ernest L Gentry (age 14; born about 1896) whose parents are David L Gentry and Georgia Gentry. David L was born about 1874 in Texas and his wife, Georgia, was born about 1875 in Alabama. Both of David's parents were born in TX and both of Georgia's parents were born in AL.
1574886841233.png

To be continued....
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Thanks for posting this, @A. Roy

The brick chimney coming out of the house suggest a very prosperous place (those were expensive). There's also an African American woman standing on the right side of the picture who looks resolute, quite confident in her posture and demeanor. That is very interesting.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

lelliott19

Brigadier General
Moderator
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 15, 2013
Oh shoot. I had started a reply; never finished it; and didn't post it. Now it's gone. :nah disagree: So I'll try to recreate it.

I found David L Gentry and his wife Georgia listed in the Huckabay Cemetery, Erath County, Texas
Gentry, David L. 1874 - 1941​
Gentry, Georgia Lee 1875- 1919​
Georgia's middle or maiden name was "Lee." I'll take a look and see if I can find her in the 1880 or 1890 census with her parents - prior to her marriage. Im still not sure who David L.'s parents are.

brick chimney coming out of the house
Drew thanks for calling attention to the architecture. The brick chimney seems to be square? This house appears to be a three-bay, one and a half story, vernacular with a central square brick chimney and no dormers. The old 1 1/2 story vernacular houses Ive seen were generally symmetrical - the windows on the half story matched up with the windows/door on the first floor. But this one has no window on the right lower level (nearest the camera) and there's that odd door on the end. The windows seem odd too - it looks like there are no muntins - just two large sheets of glass on each window? One on top and one on bottom? The windows of most antebellum homes I've seen had six, eight, or even nine smaller panes divided by muntins.

I also dont recall ever seeing one that had a front and rear porch that extended all the way across the house, where the lean-to roofs were attached at the upper roofline. Some 1 1/2 story antebellum vernacular houses didnt have porches at all. Most of the ones I've seen that did, had the shed/lean-to roof attached at the top of the first story and the ends of the lean-to roof were open - not covered over with siding. Maybe it's a Texas thing? @diane @Nathanb1 do you guys know? Fancier plantation homes had porches that went all the way across, but they usually had decorative columns supporting the roof. This one seems to have square posts like a 4" x 4"
 
Last edited:

Drew

Major
Joined
Oct 22, 2012
Fancier plantation homes had porches that went all the way across, but they usually had decorative columns supporting the roof. This one seems to have square posts like a 4" x 4"
It's just a wild guess, but I think fancy plantation homes were built over time and not just built out of thin air - money had to be made to get them "just right."

Glass panes had to be carried over many miles, were fragile and expensive. I kinda think it may have been done a little at a time, but what do I know.
 

Nathanb1

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Joined
Dec 31, 2009
Location
Smack dab in the heart of Texas
It's just a wild guess, but I think fancy plantation homes were built over time and not just built out of thin air - money had to be made to get them "just right."

Glass panes had to be carried over many miles, were fragile and expensive. I kinda think it may have been done a little at a time, but what do I know.
In some cases you are absolutely correct. In others, the father might build it as a gift to a child upon their marriage, or an older one burned down, so it would be done at once...I know of some in Louisiana that were built at one time just because they had oodles of money, too...so there's that.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Nathanb1

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Retired Moderator
Joined
Dec 31, 2009
Location
Smack dab in the heart of Texas
Oh shoot. I had started a reply; never finished it; and didn't post it. Now it's gone. :nah disagree: So I'll try to recreate it.

I found David L Gentry and his wife Georgia listed in the Huckabay Cemetery, Erath County, Texas
Gentry, David L. 1874 - 1941​
Gentry, Georgia Lee 1875- 1919​
Georgia's middle or maiden name was "Lee." I'll take a look and see if I can find her in the 1880 or 1890 census with her parents - prior to her marriage. Im still not sure who David L.'s parents are.


Drew thanks for calling attention to the architecture. The brick chimney seems to be square? This house appears to be a three-bay, one and a half story, vernacular with a central square brick chimney and no dormers. The old 1 1/2 story vernacular houses Ive seen were generally symmetrical - the windows on the half story matched up with the windows/door on the first floor. But this one has no window on the right lower level (nearest the camera) and there's that odd door on the end. The windows seem odd too - it looks like there are no muntins - just two large sheets of glass on each window? One on top and one on bottom? The windows of most antebellum homes I've seen had six, eight, or even nine smaller panes divided by muntins.

I also dont recall ever seeing one that had a front and rear porch that extended all the way across the house, where the lean-to roofs were attached at the upper roofline. Some 1 1/2 story antebellum vernacular houses didnt have porches at all. Most of the ones I've seen that did, had the shed/lean-to roof attached at the top of the first story and the ends of the lean-to roof were open - not covered over with siding. Maybe it's a Texas thing? @diane @Nathanb1 do you guys know? Fancier plantation homes had porches that went all the way across, but they usually had decorative columns supporting the roof. This one seems to have square posts like a 4" x 4"
I suspect it's a Texas thing. I looked and found several with the porches like that. Shade was at a premium in Texas, so it doesn't surprise me--the lack of symmetry in the windows/doors in the front does. One thing I thought of was that the plantation office was in the right front downstairs and they didn't have windows for security purposes. That's something I have seen, just not in the house. Or, LOL, they were putting it together one piece at a time like Johnny Cash's song....
It's a strange world...I went to high school in Huckabay and grew up near there. I might check with a friend to see if we didn't go to school with a Gentry (for some reason it sounds very familiar--but I'm old).
 
Last edited:

archieclement

Captain
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
Thanks for posting this, @A. Roy

The brick chimney coming out of the house suggest a very prosperous place (those were expensive). There's also an African American woman standing on the right side of the picture who looks resolute, quite confident in her posture and demeanor. That is very interesting.
I would have guessed the house and image a rare postwar personally.

it seems a bit unusual to me, not sure if we are looking at the main-house or overseers house if prewar. If its the overseers house, and seems least 9 blacks evident, not sure if it would be a small rural plantation. Porches didnt really generally come into vogue with smaller frame houses till later.
 
Last edited:
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top