Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Dodge Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 154-155 (This material is protected by copyright)


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The “Dodge” Daguerreotype

Although its present whereabouts are unknown and no reproductions of the image have been located, the few data at hand indicate that this daguerreotype is either a copy of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype or, quite possibly, the original daguerreotype itself — the same plate apparently stolen from the daguerreotypist Edwin Manchester about 1860.

The history of the daguerreotype is nebulous, with the plate coming to light only twice: once in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1860, and once again in London fifteen years later. On both occasions the daguerreotype was in the possession of Ossian Euclid Dodge, a noted songwriter and traveling singer who, when the daguerreotype first appeared, was the proprietor of a music store in Cleveland. The earliest known mention of the plate appeared in the American Journal of Photography for November 1, 1860, where it was noted that Dodge's daguerreotype had already served as the basis of a portrait of Poe in oils: “Edgar A. Poe's daguerreotype, in the possession of Ossian E. Dodge, has been enlarged to life size in a copy, taken from it by a Cleveland photographer, and painted in oil by Walcutt, the Western artist.”

Walcutt was probably William Walcutt, an artist active in Cleveland between 1859 and 1860; the fate of his oil portrait of Poe, as well as the life-size photograph of the daguerreotype, is unknown. The daguerreotype itself did not surface again until 1875, when its owner appeared in London, employed as the British correspondent for the New York Daily Sun. Hearing that John Henry Ingram was in the midst of gathering material for a biography of Poe, Dodge called at Ingram's home on Stoke Newington Green and there introduced himself as an “old friend” of the “once brilliant and noble-hearted Edgar Allan Poe.” He also claimed to own the “only likeness ever taken of the author of ‘The Bells.’ (13) Ingram, familiar with at least a half-dozen portraits of Poe, including the lost “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype, received Dodge's claim with an understandable degree of skepticism. But after visiting Dodge's residence to examine the daguerreotype, Ingram returned home and exclaimed in a letter to Sarah Helen Whitman: “Sure enough, Mr. Dodge has a beautiful daguerreotype so fresh-looking & handsome of Poe — it is the original of one of the photos you sent me!”(14) A month later Dodge called on Ingram again, this time bringing the daguerreotype with him. In a second letter to Mrs. Whitman, Ingram reported: “Ossian Dodge ... spent a few hours at my house last week. ... He brought his daguerreotype of Poe, given him by the poet — ’twas taken, I think he said, in 1845-6 & is, as if the original of one of those you sent me.”(15)

Sarah Whitman, aware that the original “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype had vanished from Providence years earlier, was perplexed by the appearance of this “original” in London. She responded by asking Ingram to clarify his statements about the daguerreotype:

You say the daguerre which Mr. Dodge showed you as having been given him by Poe is apparently the original of ... what I call the Ultima Thule portrait. ... The original “Ultima Thule” daguerre was framed in a large black walnut frame & remained for several years on exhibition in the gallery of the artists by whom it was taken. Mr. [Edwin] Manchester, then in Masury's employ, took these portraits himself ... & had this original portrait (daguerreotype) of Poe in his possession until it mysteriously disappeared some years ago. ... I have told you ­[page 155:] all this before, but I repeat it now to show you that Poe could not have given the original of this picture to Mr. Dodge. ...

It may well be that a copy of the original may have been taken, so like it as to deceive the very artist who took the original. ... If he has a true copy of that wonderful daguerreotype, I would give any sum under fifty dollars for a sight of it. ... Can you solve this riddle for me?(16)

Mrs. Whitman would reiterate this request to Ingram on at least two more occasions, but Ingram sidestepped the issue, replying, “I think the resemblance of the [daguerreotype] in Mr. Dodge's possession marvellous. ... I fear he will not sell it to me — he does not seem to want money.”(17) Dodge did grant Ingram permission to have the daguerreotype photographed, writing, “I meant to have said — if I did not, — that you could take my daguerreotype of Mr. Poe when you like and use it how you like.”(18) These photographic copies, however, would never be taken, and the known history of the daguerreotype ends abruptly with a letter written by Ingram to Mrs. Whitman in November 1876: “Mr. O. Dodge has died suddenly, & I fear neither his portrait of Poe, or the promised copy, will now be obtainable, but I’ll try for it.”(19) No further mention of the daguerreotype is known, and the subsequent whereabouts of the plate are a mystery.

In 1939 a daguerreotype, reportedly of Poe, was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C. The plate had been lent with a group of daguerreotypes from the collection of Therese Bonney, the well-known French photographic historian. Conceivably, this plate could have been the one formerly owned by Ossian Dodge, although this remains conjectural since no reproductions of the Bonney image are known, and it has not been ascertained whether the plate was indeed an authentic likeness of Poe. Bonney's collection of photographs was apparently dispersed over a period of years, and there is no record of the daguerreotype's whereabouts after 1939.(20)






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The Dodge Daguerreotype)