That title is from an article written by one Humphrey Davy in 1802. The New York Times reports today that a silver nitrate image of a leaf is possibly the oldest "photograph" of anything ever. The article provides brief history:
Probably in the 1790s, according to accounts written shortly afterward, Thomas Wedgwood, a son of the Wedgwood china family, began experimenting with what he called solar pictures, making images on paper coated with a silver nitrate solution. A friend of his, James Watt, wrote in a 1799 letter that he intended to try similar experiments...
The article doesn't go into details about Watt, whom I suspect is the steam engine guy. Of course, it does talk about how much money the "solar picture" is worth (a bunch of old pics sold for $9 million last year). And how much somebody'll make when Sotheby's auctions it off, IF it is really a snap from the Eighteenth Century. IF they can prove the provenance. IF anybody wants it. (I'm sorry. Of course somebody'll want it. Somebody always wants something. That's why eBay is there.)
Which brings us to the next slide in today's flickering picture show:
According to a recent New Bedford Whaling Museum communication:
Ambrotyping was patented in Boston by J. AMBROSE Cutting. Ambrotypes were more popular than daguerrotypes (patented by Louis DAGUERRE). It must've been great to live in a time where you could invent something and name it after yourself. (I mean, where's Armand DIGIT?)
This whole plate ambrotype of the Saratoga, taken in 1856, is the first known photographic image of a whaleship. From 1845 to 1860, the Saratoga made four successful whaling voyages to the North Pacific. Frederick Slocum was Master during her last whaling voyage, from 1856 to 1860. In 1860, she was withdrawn from service due to the Civil War and in 1863 sold at Barcelona. Her final fate is not known.
So popular were those ambrotypes, in fact, that you can pick one up on eBay.