Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

July 14, 1997

Earliest American Photographic Portrait Is Featured in "Treasures" Exhibition at the Library of Congress

The earliest surviving American photographic portrait is featured in the "American Treasures of the Library of Congress" exhibition, which opened May 1.

The slightly off-center self-portrait is by Robert Cornelius, who took it in 1839 while standing in the yard behind his family's store in Philadelphia. The daguerreotype image is now on view with several other important photographic works dating from the birth of photography to the 20th century.

Introduced in 1839, the daguerreotype, or copper-plate photograph, was the first commercially available photographic process in the United States. It provided the middle class with an opportunity to attain affordable portraits. By May 1840, Cornelius and his partner, Dr. Paul Beck Goddard, had opened a daguerreotype studio in Philadelphia. Their improvements to the daguerreotype process enabled them to make portraits in a matter of seconds.

Also on view in the exhibition are the earliest-known photographic portraits of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Photographer Nicholas Shepherd reportedly made the daguerreotypes in Springfield, Illinois, in 1846 or 1847, soon after Lincoln won a seat in the House of Representatives.

Examples of more modern photographic materials in the exhibition include the photographs of Dorothea Lange. An advocate for improved living conditions for migrant laborers, Lange documented the causes of their problems, incorporating their own words, when she captioned her photographs in field notebooks.

Between 1935 and 1943, Lange and other important photographers such as Gordon Parks, Walker Evans, and Jack Delano produced the well-known photographic survey for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The collection came to the Library as an Office of War Information transfer in the 1940s.

These and other important American photographic images are now being exhibited in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," the first permanent exhibition of the rarest and most significant American items in the history of the world's largest library.

Other highlights in the rotating exhibition include the earliest surviving book printed in North America, early baseball cards, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination and Susan B. Anthony's personal copy of the transcript of the trial resulting from her arrest in 1872 for voting.

The exhibition, made possible by a grant of $1.1 million from the Xerox Foundation, is the centerpiece of a yearlong celebration marking the official reopening during its 100th anniversary of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building, after a 12-year, $81.5 million restoration.

Exhibition hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free, same-day, timed-entry tickets are available from 10 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Visitors' Information Desk in the Jefferson Building at 10 First St. S.E. Advance tickets are available only from Ticketmaster for $2.75 plus a $1.25 handling fee per order by calling (202) 432-SEAT in Washington, (410) 481-SEAT in Baltimore and (703) 573-SEAT in Virginia. Out-of-state callers may dial (800) 551-SEAT toll-free. For a recorded announcement about the exhibition, call (202) 707-3834. A selection of items from the exhibition is also available on the Internet at

A list of images in the exhibition follows; duplicates of some images are available by calling (202) 707-9191.

Photographs in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress"

  • The first extant American photographic portrait, by Robert Cornelius, 1839 daguerreotype, Self- portrait
  • Dorothea Lange gelatin silver prints of migrant workers from her California Field Books, 1935 (two notebooks with captions)
  • Ansel Adams gelatin silver print, Manzanar Street Scene, 1943
  • Toni Frissell gelatin silver print of the Bouvier-Kennedy wedding, Sept. 12, 1953
  • George Lawrence gelatin silver print, Panorama of San Francisco After the Fire and Earthquake, 1906
  • Albumen print of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1870s
  • Danny Lyon photo from the "March on Washington" in the "Southern Civil Rights Movement Portfolio," 1962-1964
  • Nicholas H. Shepherd quarter-plate daguerreotypes of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, circa 1846
  • Alexander Gardner albumen silver print, President Lincoln on Battlefield of Antietam, 1862
  • Anonymous daguerreotypes of a traveling salesman and railway workers
  • Photograph of the band of the 3rd New Hampshire Infantry at Hilton Head, South Carolina, February 28, 1862
  • Lewis Hine photograph of child laborers in Report on Elk Cotton Mills, 1910, National Child Labor Committee Collection
  • A page from George Patton's personal photographic album and bound World War II diary
  • Rembrandt Peale daguerreotype, South West Gate Leading into Independence Square, Philadelphia, circa 1845
  • Carl Van Vechten photograph of Bessie Smith
  • William P. Gottlieb gelatin silver print, Duke Ellington, circa 1947 (signed photograph taken in dressing room)

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PR 97-118
ISSN 0731-3527

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