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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • Collector finds Clemens photos

  • Two pictures the collector believes to be Samuel Langhorne Clemens at age 26 or 27 are in a double ambrotype owned by collector Albert Kaplan of Las Vegas.
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  • Two pictures the collector believes to be Samuel Langhorne Clemens at age 26 or 27 are in a double ambrotype owned by collector Albert Kaplan of Las Vegas.
    Kaplan contacted the Courier-Post to share them with Hannibalians. The ambrotype is among Kaplan’s 17 daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
    All but his latest acquisition are posted on his website, www.kaplancollection.com. They are called the Kaplan Collection, Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes of Illustrious 19th Century Personalities
    During a telephone interview from his home, Kaplan explained he believes the pictures were taken in around 1861 in Nevada, because Sam Clemens and his brother, Orion, arrived in Nevada in 1861.
    “At first I thought that one of the images was Orion, Samuel’s older brother,” Kaplan said. “However, evidence began to build that both images were of the same person.
    “I acquired the ambrotype from a fellow collector in Utah,” Kaplan continued. “He told me that he acquired it from somebody in Nevada.
    I keep thinking that it was likely made in 1861 in Nevada on the occasion of Orion‘s swearing-in ceremony as the secretary of the Nevada Territory, so appointed by President Abraham Lincoln.”
    The clothing worn in the pictures also influenced his belief of the year being 1861. Clemens is wearing formal clothing, he said, and “that is not the way the people dressed in Nevada in 1861. Maybe it was a special occasion. I think if this is the case, the occasion would have been Orion’s inauguration - Orion taking the oath of office to be the secretary of the Nevada Territory.”
    Nevada was not yet a state, he added, and in those days being secretary of the territory was like being governor of a state.
    “There is something else very interesting,” Kaplan added. “In one of those images he is wearing what appeared to be a little photograph on his chest. It looks like it is a photographic image of somebody, and maybe of President Lincoln.”
    Kaplan explained why he believes the pictures are Sam Clemens. “In comparing these images to the known 1851 Samuel Clemens image, I especially draw attention to the eyebrows and head hair. The eyebrows are identical, and the head hair is essentially identical. Also, notice the discreet hairs in the glabellar region (between the eyebrows, above the nose). The nose is good. The moustache is very good; the bone structure very good; the small portion of the upper lip that is visible, is very good. The bow tie is good. We cannot tell whether the lobule of the ear is attached or free hanging. Samuel’s lobule was attached.”
    Kaplan is confident Sam Clemens had a beard during this time period, because he wrote in a letter to his sister, Pamela, “Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, he would come here and look sadly around awhile, and then get homesick and go back to hell again. Why, I have had my whiskers and mustaches so full of alkali dust that you’d have thought I worked in a starch factory and boarded in a flour barrel.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Kaplan would be glad to hear from anyone who would like to comment on the Clemens pictures or his collection. His email address is albertkaplan@cox.net.
    Making his first purchase
    was ‘life-changing moment’
    When Kaplan made his first purchase of a daguerreotype in 1977, he had no idea he would become a collector. However, “It was a life-changing moment,” he said.
    Abraham Lincoln was his first and also most exciting purchase, he said. “It never occurred me that I would have another daguerreotype of an illustrious person. I thought it was once in a lifetime. ... I was surprised when the second one and the third one showed up. And before I realized it I had a collection.”
    He continued his profession as a stock broker, until his retirement seven years ago gave him more time to devote to collecting.
    Describing his discovery of daguerreotypes, Kaplan said he was in the Witkin Art Gallery in New York and asked for permission to look at some cased images kept in a glass showcase. That day he purchased a small daguerreotype, and reported the “distinguished young man reminded me of Abraham Lincoln.
    “It seemed to me that my acquisition of the Lincoln daguerreotype was the pure chance of a serendipitous moment,” Kaplan said. “After each acquisition I was, literally, astounded. During the last 36 years I have acquired 17 cased image plates of illustrious 19th Century personalities. .... It’s a pure delight.
    “I have all of these in a safety deposit box at a bank here in Las Vegas. They are all copyrighted.”
    His latest acquisitions are Jefferson Davis, and 18-year-old Thomas Edison.
    “My daguerreotypes and ambrotypes keep me so busy, it is almost a full-time job,” Kaplan said. “I am in touch with collectors and dealers all over the United States and the world.”
     Photography terms
    Ambrotype is described on Wikipedia as a photograph that creates a positive image on a sheet of glass, using the wet plate collodion process. In the United States, ambrotypes first came into use in the early 1850s.
    The Daguerreotype process, according to Wikipedia, was the first publicly-announced photographic process. The image is formed on a silvered metal plate (historically this was usually copper but brass was also used). In subdued light the plate was exposed to halogen fumes (primarily iodine but also bromine and chlorine were used) and transported to a camera via a light-tight plate holder.
    Exposed in camera, the latent image could be developed in the darkroom in two ways: either by exposing the plate to fumes of heated mercury, or in the case of iodine-only sensitization, by exposing the plate to solar rays through a red filter. The light sensitivity of the plate was then arrested by washing the plate in a common salt solution or one of sodium thiosulphate. To warm the image tone and to preserve the image particles the plate was heated with a gold chloride solution on its surface. Even after gilding the image surface was very delicate and the plates needed to be stored in glazed air-tight enclosures.
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