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Early Maine Photography

Groups

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Log Cabin and Hard Cider Club, Portland, ca. 1850
Log Cabin and Hard Cider Club, Portland, ca. 1850Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

The Maine Historical Society Collection contains several examples of group daguerreotypes, the most significant of which are the two that show members of the Log Cabin and Hard Cider Club, a Whig political organization that flourished in Portland in the 1840s and 50s. The group took its name from the 1840 presidential campaign in which the Whig candidate, General William Henry Harrison, was transformed from a patrician Virginian into a more appealing common man who lived in a log cabin and drank hard cider. A half plate daguerreotype by the Portland photographer Samuel L. Carleton shows twenty-nine club members seated or standing in rows.

The other image is a whole plate daguerreotype by George M. Howe taken in February, 1853. Larger and less formally posed than Carleton’s, this daguerreotype seems as much a collection of individual portraits as it does a group picture. The inscription on the reverse that “This picture is to be given to the last survivor of the Cabin” instilled in its owner a sense of its historical importance that must have contributed to its preservation and eventual gift to the Maine Historical Society.

English Friends of Capt. F. Patten of Bath, ca. 1850
English Friends of Capt. F. Patten of Bath, ca. 1850Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

A daguerreotype of the three English friends of Captain Patten depicts a tightly composed group of elegantly dressed men, of whom nothing more is known than an inscription that links them to a Bath sea captain. Equally shrouded in mystery is the daguerreotype of five girls, including one with a cleft lip. What brought them together in a photographer’s studio – school, friendship, or family?

Other group daguerreotypes in the Society’s collection are more clearly identified. Probably the work of a Portland photographer, the skillfully composed portrait of Lucretia Day Sewall and five of her children is a striking image, in which the sitters look directly at the viewer, engaging us through a span of nearly 170 years. In contrast to Lucretia Sewall’s strong face and modest attire is an earlier daguerreotype of her in an elegant dress and bonnet wearing leather gloves, very much looking the part of the daughter of Portland merchant Ezekial Day and the wife of attorney Kiah Bailey Sewall.