Posts Tagged ‘Oldest photo of New York City’

Is this 1840 portrait New York’s oldest photo?

April 29, 2013

Dorothycatherinedraper18402Meet Dorothy Catherine Draper. This image of the young woman’s face, her dark hair framed by a light bonnet, was created in 1840.

Made by Dorothy’s brother, John William Draper, a professor of chemistry at New York University, it might be the oldest known portrait photo of a New Yorker.

John William Draper’s specialty was photochemistry. Impressed by the advancements in photography by Louis Daguerre, he tried to improve Daguerre’s process.

Collaborating with Samuel Morse, also an NYU professor and inventor of the telegraph, he set up a studio on the roof of NYU’s main building (below) in the late 1830s.

“Draper produced the first photograph of the moon, taken from the roof of University Building in March 1840,” writes Thomas J. Frusciano, author of New York University in the City.


“That spring or summer he produced one of the earliest daguerreotype portraits of his devoted sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper.”

It wasn’t the first daguerreotype portrait in the country; that was taken a year earlier in Philadelphia.

But it just might be the first portrait photo created in New York City—an image that helped usher in the Daguerreotype craze of the 1840s and 1850s, thanks in part to one of Draper’s students, Mathew Brady.

This 1848 photo of an Upper West Side estate had been considered New York’s oldest outdoor daguerreotype. Dorothy Draper’s image appears to predate it.

[Photo of NYU building, demolished in 1894:]

The oldest photo ever taken of New York City

November 16, 2012

It looks more like a Southern plantation mansion than a house in Manhattan.

But historians believe this daguerreotype shows a private home and country-like white sloping fence on Bloomingdale Road, once a main thoroughfare extending from Broadway on today’s Upper West Side.

The daguerreotype is thought to date to October 1848 or earlier (that’s just a few generations before the Dakota came along!), making it the oldest known photographic image of New York City.

Found in New England, the image was traced to Manhattan with the help of a curiously written note tucked behind the daguerreotype plate, wrote Jennifer 8. Lee in a 2009 New York Times article:

“This view, was taken at too great a distance, & from ground 60 or 70 feet lower than the building; rendering the lower Story of the House, & the front Portico entirely invisible. (the handsomest part of the House.) The main road, passes between the two Post & rail fences. (called, a continuation of Broadway 60 feet wide.) It requires a maganifying glass, to clearly distinguish the Evergreens, within the circular enclosure, taken the last of October, when nearly half of the leaves were off the trees.
—May 1849. L. B.”

It was sold by Sotheby’s for $62,500 in 2009—a fascinating glimpse of a pre-urbanized Upper West Side.