The Daguerreotypes of Robert Cornelius


Event details



264 South 23rd Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103

Presented in partnership with Atlas Obscura Society Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was an epicenter for early photography in 1839. America’s oldest extant photograph was taken in Center City and improvements to the daguerreotype process were made by Philadelphians Paul Beck Goddard and Robert Cornelius. Cornelius took what is heralded as the first “selfie”—a photographic self-portrait. He also established Philadelphia’s first photographic portrait studio.

Few daguerreotypes from this period of rapid development have been preserved. However, a significant body of daguerreotypes by Robert Cornelius remain. CCAHA's Senior Photograph Conservator Rachel Wetzel has been working with colleagues to catalog all of the existing daguerreotypes by Cornelius, as part of a project that will culminate in a publicly searchable database hosted at Yale University’s Lens Media Lab. Rachel is moving on from Philadelphia but luckily will give us one more talk about her project!

Held at CCAHA, this event includes a lecture on the history of early photography in Philadelphia. Wetzel will explain the history of daguerreotype cleaning treatments and how they've effected the long-term stability of the images. The audience will also get a first glance at the images and information included in the Cornelius daguerreotype database and a behind-the-scenes tour of CCAHA’s conservation lab. Light snacks will be provided.

Questions? Email John Pettit at