Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Literature > 201. William Pratt

201.  William Pratt (1818-1879).  Daguerreotype portrait of Edgar Allan Poe. Daguerreotype photograph, (10 x 7.5 cm.) Richmond, Virginia: Pratt's Gallery, September 1849. RBML

William Pratt opened the Virginia Sky Light Daguerrean Gallery in Richmond in 1846, seven years after the daguerreotype was introduced into the United States. As Pratt related the history of this portrait to the St. Louis writer Thomas Dimmock, Poe had never fulfilled a promise he had once made to pose for Pratt until writer and photographer encountered one another on the street in front of the latter's shop in mid-September 1849. Poe, arguing that he was not suitably dressed, was coaxed upstairs and photographed. The image shows a man, as disheveled as he claimed to be, with a haggard face which betrays the steep decline in his emotional and physical condition; Poe died in Baltimore three weeks later. The enterprising Pratt held a patent on a daguerreotype coloring process, used to impart the faint flesh tone to Poe's face and hand.

Bequest of Mrs. Alexander McMillen Welch (Fannie Fredericka Dyckman Welch), 1951

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