British photographic history

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Vintage camera auctioned for world-record 898,000 dollars

As reported in the blog earlier this year, the world's first commercially produced camera, a daguerreotype, dating from 1839 and bearing the rare signature of its French inventor, sold at auction in Vienna today for a record 732,000 euros (898,000 dollars). It broke the previous record of 576,000 euros, fetched during a Westlicht auction in 2007 for a similar daguerreotype camera made by the Paris company Susse Freres.

The wooden sliding box camera was privately owned by a family of opticians from Braunschweig in northern Germany for generations who had kept the camera in their living room as a decorative object. The 170-year-old apparatus was built in Paris in limited numbers from Jacques Daguerre's original plans by his brother-in-law, Alphonse Giroux.

The daguerreotype, one of only a dozen in the world, all in museums, was put up for sale by the WestLicht auction house in Vienna today (29/5/10), and said that was the highest bid ever for a camera. The winning bid for the historic camera was 610,000 euros, to which was added a 20-percent tax levy, bringing the total price to 732,000 euros. The starting price for the apparatus was 200,000 euros.

The new owner, who requested anonymity, is a collector from the Asian mainland who bid by telephone, said Ema Kaiser, a spokeswoman for the auction house that specializes in vintage photographic equipment.

'Wow, that was cheap,' she quoted him as saying after he had trumped another collector and a museum that were also trying to obtain the Paris-made wooden box camera.

"It is the first time in the world that a daguerreotype bearing Daguerre's signature and made in the Giroux workshop has been offered for sale," WestLicht gallery director Peter Coeln told AFP. The owner who gave the daguerreotype up for auction "had received it as a gift in the 1970s
from his father after receiving his diploma as an optician," Coeln said. Every detail of the daguerreotype including the lens, the plaque signed by Daguerre himself, the black velvet interior and the ground-glass screen are in their original state, WestLicht said.

The Giroux-made daguerreotype is known for having a golden plaque on it
stating that "no apparatus is guaranteed unless it has the signature of
M. Daguerre and the stamp of M. Giroux." The pioneering camera also came
with a user's manual, written in German and edited in 1839 by the
publishing house Georg Gropius in Berlin.

Daguerre never had exclusive rights to the process he invented, instead receiving a pension for himself and the heir of his former partner Nicephore Niepce from the French state, which declared
photography a gift to the world. But businessman Daguerre figured out a way to make money from his fame by signing contracts with the two French workshops giving them exclusive rights to make and sell the equipment.

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