Lot 147
  • 147

Philip Haas

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Philip Haas
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Daguerreotype
half-plate daguerreotype, in a mid-to-late 19th century ebonized wood wall frame, signed 'J. Q. Adams' and inscribed 'Hon Horace Everett / Windsor / Vermont' by Adams in ink on address leaf, an Everett family crest bookplate, inscribed 'Presented by J. Q. A. to his Kinsman H. E. 1843' and annotated in an unidentified hand in ink, and with other labels and inscriptions on the reverse of the frame, 1843


John Quincy Adams to Horace Everett, 1843

By descent to the present owners


The copy plate by Southworth & Hawes in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 282-5

The Life Portraits of John Quincy Adams (Washington, D. C.: The National Portrait Gallery, 1970), pl. 41

Richard Rudisill, Mirror Image: The Influence of the Daguerreotype on American Society, (Albuquerque, 1971), pl. 146

William and Estelle Marder with Sally Pierce, 'Philip Haas: Lithographer, Print Publisher, and Daguerreotypist,' The Daguerreian Annual, 1995, fig. 4

Grant B. Romer and Brian Wallis, eds., Young America: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth & Hawes (New York: George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, 2005), no. 82, p. 13, fig. 12


This impressive half-plate daguerreotype conveys an exceptional level of detail about its famous subject. The features of John Quincy Adams’s commanding face and the textures of his clothing, socks, and shoes are all brilliantly rendered. The slight blur of Adams’s clasped hands hints at the sitter’s movement during exposure. Remarkable care has been taken in arranging the tableau, and the finely carved chair and table, the lamp and stack of books, and the mantle with poker are depicted with stunning clarity. When examined closely and in raking light, some faint long scuffs can be seen in the right portion of the plate. A fine ¼-inch diagonal scratch in the area of the sitter’s jacket can be seen upon close inspection. Some fine incidental lines in the lower portion of the image and a scattering of tiny pitting in the central portion are only visible upon close inspection in raking light. The mild uneven tarnish near the edges of the plate does not intrude upon the image. Scattered pin-point-sized dark spots overall are visible when examining the plate but are not distracting. While the aforementioned bear mentioning, they do not detract in any way from this dramatic and important early daguerreotype. The ebonized wood frame is in generally very good, stable condition. The address leaf affixed on the reverse is boldly signed and inscribed in ink by John Quincy Adams. It appears to be age-darkened and soiled. There is a ½-inch crescent-shaped tear in the right portion of the address leaf, not impacting the inscription or signature. As is visible in the catalogue illustration, in addition to the address leaf, there are various generations of paper, adhesive, and tape on the reverse of the frame. The Everett family crest bookplate is inscribed in an unidentified hand in ink: ‘Present by J. Q. A. to his kinsman H. E. 1843’ and ‘[E]xpert … Turner says this is one of the earliest daguerreotypes.’ Notations on other paper fragments include ‘… obscure[a] … callida, que …’ and the erroneous date ‘Feb. 1843.’ The frame backing is currently sealed with two small circular labels in the right corners.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This early commanding daguerreotype of President, Secretary of State, Senator, Congressman, and diplomat John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) is a landmark in both photographic and American history.  The son of John Adams, the second President of the United States, and Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams’s impact upon his country’s history is hard to overstate and has been widely explored in numerous biographies, as well as the Steven Spielberg film Amistad.  Taken in the spring of 1843 when photography was still in its infancy, and held privately until now for nearly 175 years, this is believed to be one of only a very limited number of surviving daguerreotypes of Adams and the earliest photograph of an American president to appear at auction.

Adams’s steadfast gaze – at once piercing and wary – lends this daguerreotype a humanity and vibrancy unmatched by contemporary traditional portraiture.  While he sat throughout his storied life for more than 60 portraits, no other likeness – whether painted in oil, engraved, silhouetted, drawn, or carved in marble – comes as close as this daguerreotype to capturing the essence of ‘Old Man Eloquent.’

When he posed for this portrait, Adams was 76 years old and had completed his term as the sixth President of the United States (1825–29) but was still serving his country as a congressman from Massachusetts. A devoted lifelong diarist, Adams documented in entries for 8 and 16 March 1843 visiting the Washington, D.C. studio of daguerreotypist and lithographer Philip Haas, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets.  In his first entry, Adams described in pure fascination the process of having one’s photograph made: ‘The operation is performed in half a minute; but is yet altogether incomprehensible to me. . . It would seem as easy to stamp a fixed portrait from the reflection of a mirror; but how wonderful would that reflection itself be, if we were not familiarized to it from childhood’ (quoted in Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, p. 282).

An often-reproduced variant daguerreotype of Adams in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art was long attributed wrongly to the studio of Southworth & Hawes.  In 1970, however, the pioneering curator and historian Beaumont Newhall repositioned that daguerreotype as a later copy by Southworth & Hawes made after a lost original by the little-known Philip Haas. 

In his day, Haas was an accomplished lithographer and one of the earliest resident daguerreotypists in Washington, D.C.  Other notable figures represented in Haas’s lithographs and daguerreotypes include John C. Calhoun, Leverett Saltonstall, Henry Clay, and James Knox Polk.  The present daguerreotype or another by Haas from the March 1843 sittings served as the basis for an impressive lithograph made that same year. 

The daguerreotype offered here has remarkable provenance, having remained in the same collection for nearly 175 years.  It is believed to have been given by Adams to Horace Everett (1779-1851), a colleague who served with Adams in the House of Representatives as a congressman from Vermont from 1829 to 1843.  As detailed in Adams’s diary entry for 16 March, Everett was present during the second sitting at Haas’s studio. ‘Found Horace Everett there for the same purpose of being facsimileed [sic].  Haas took him once, and then with his consent took me three times – the second of which he said was very good – for the operation is delicate: subject to many imperceptible accidents and fails at least twice out of three times’ (quoted in Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, p. 282).

A profusion of fascinating and important information appears on the reverse of the framed daguerreotype.  An address leaf is inscribed to Everett and signed by Adams with characteristic flourish.  A bookplate with the Everett family crest is annotated ‘Presented by J. Q. A. to his Kinsman H. E. 1843.’ 

At the time of this writing, the daguerreotype offered here is believed to be the earliest extant photograph of Adams to appear at auction.  The recovery of this captivating daguerreotype places it among a short list of the few known daguerreian images of Adams.  The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, has in its collection a sixth-plate daguerreotype made in the summer of 1843 by Bishop & Gray Studio (NPG.70.78).  The National Museum of American History has a plate by John Plumbe, Jr., from an 1846 sitting (EXH.DG.01).  In addition to the aforementioned copy by Southworth & Hawes at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a sixth-plate made by Thomas Martin Easterly in the 1850s, a copy of an undated daguerreotype by an unknown artist, is in the collection of the Missouri History Museum (N17575).