Historical Object of the Week: Dunshee Photo of Henry David Thoreau

A weekly look at some of Concord’s most historical items.


Henry David Thoreau sat for his photograph twice, in Worcester in 1856 for the daguerrotypist Benjamin Maxham and in New Bedford in 1861 for the ambrotypist Edward Sidney Dunshee (1823-1907). 

One of the Dunshee ambrotypes is in the collection, a gift to the Museum of Mr. Walton Ricketson and his sister Miss Anna Ricketson in 1929. Shortly after Thoreau’s death on May 6, 1862 — 150 years ago this month — Daniel Ricketson (Walton and Anna’s father) wrote to Henry’s sister Sophia Thoreau about the ambrotype:  “We all consider it very lifelike and one of the most successful likenesses we ever saw.”

An ambrotype is a photograph produced by a process developed in the 1850s, whereby a photographic negative is produced on a glass plate. The negative, when backed with a black coating, appears as a positive image. Like the earlier daguerrotypes, ambrotypes were then mounted in a protective case, like this one made of leather and velvet.  To learn more about the Concord Museum’s Thoreau collection, read An Observant Eye: The Thoreau Collection at the Concord Museum, by David F. Wood, available at the Concord Museum Shop.


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