On January 7 it had been 177 years since the Frenchman Louis Daguerre stood in front of the French Academy of Sciences and demonstrated an invention he had worked on for years.
The invention consisted of impressively sharp and richly detailed photographic images on a shiny metal plate. Daguerre had developed the process with Nicéphore Niépce, who had died six years earlier.
The world now had the invention it was waiting for, a relatively simple and direct way of getting an exact portrayal of a person's surroundings. On August 19 the same year Daguerre gave a detailed account of the invention; this date is considered photography's birthday. Daguerre and Niépce were scarcely the only ones tinkering with the idea that light could paint pictures, and the process would undergo many alterations and simplifications, each with its peculiarities, advantages, and limitations. It is surely true that the world would have looked quite different without photography!
We don't know very much about this daguerreotype photograph. Perhaps the girls are sisters. The photograph is hand-colored—that is, color has been painted onto lips, skin, and clothes. Many people were disappointed that the new, fantastic photography could not reproduce colors.
The daguerreotype is probably American. We can see that because European daguerreotypes were often intended to be hung on the wall, while American versions usually were in cases, like this one. There is only one copy of each image. They were often mounted in handsome cases that protected the pictures from oxidization and damage, and gave the small objects even more beauty and prestige.