The “Whitman” Daguerreotype

The “Whitman” daguerreotype was taken in Providence, Rhode Island in November of 1848 by the studio of Samuel Masury and S. W. Hartshorn (the same studio that captured Poe in the more infamous and unsavory “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype just four days prior to this one). It’s the only known likeness Poe commissioned himself, speculated to be an engagement gift to Sarah Helen Whitman. She likely accompanied him to this sitting.

Wearing his old military frock coat and glaring at us with his piercing stare from a three quarter angle, Poe considered this image the best likeness he ever had. However, Sarah Helen Whitman disagreed with that sentiment. In an 1874 letter to Poe biographer John Henry Ingram, Whitman said “This picture of mine has been hidden away all these years because I thought it did not represent him truly, but many persons who have seen it lately think it has the best expression of any picture yet taken of him.”

Although the engagement between Poe and Whitman lasted barely a month, Whitman cherished this daguerreotype for more than two decades. At seventy one years old, Sarah Helen Whitman sensed her shortening life, and knew she needed to put the daguerreotype into good hands. On August 20, 1874, she sent the daguerreotype to her photographer friend, William W. Coleman, who actually met Poe during his visits to Providence.

The daguerreotype was passed between a few different owners before it was finally given to Brown University on January 1, 1905. It remains in their collection and can be viewed in person (by appointment) at the John Hay Library.

The “Whitman” Daguerreotype of Poe, courtesy of Brown University.