Louis Mandé Daguerre's English-language publication, An Historical Account and a Descriptive Account of the Various Processes of the Daguerreotype and the Diorama, which appeard in the United States in 1839, was profoundly influential on a number of early pioneers of photography. One such figure, Robert Cornelius, a young manufacturer of lamps, quickly learned the basics of the daguerreian process and began to produce imagery.
Cornelius' background had given him a practical knowledge of metallurgy and chemistry and he set out to disprove popular scientific belief that the exposure times needed to make successful photographs were too long for portraiture; a self-portrait is one of the earliest examples in the history of the medium.
With the assistance of a young chemist from the University of Pennsylvania, Paul Beck Goddard, Cornelius discovered that bromine was a successful reagent and this breakthrough allowed him to open a commercial photographic studio -- only the second such establishment in America. After 1842, Cornelius closed his studio and returned to manufacturing chandeliers. His portrait of Captain John Biddle (lot 522) in a uniform dating from the Mexican-American War of 1848, is therefore an extraordinary, very late image and may simply have been made because of the importance of the sitter.
Daguerreotypes by Cornelius are extremely rare.
Charles John Biddle (1819-1873) a native of Philadelphia, was the son of Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States, and nephew of Congressman Richard Biddle. Charles Biddle graduated from Princeton in 1837, where he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He served in the Mexican-American War, during which he was commended for gallantry.
In early 1861, following the outbreak of the American Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln's call to arms, Biddle served first in the Pennsylvania Reserves, then with the 42nd Pennsylvania as colonel. Later that year he was elected by Congress to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Edward J. Morris, resigning from the army in February 1962.
After the war, Biddle became one of the proprietors and editor-in-chief of The Philadelphia Age, retaining this position until his death.