Merchants Exchange, Philadelphia

William Langenheim, American (born Germany), 1807 - 1874, and Frederick Langenheim, American (born Germany), 1809 - 1879.

Photograph taken in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Salted paper print from a paper negative

Image: 9 3/8 x 8 7/8 inches (23.8 x 22.5 cm) Sheet: 10 13/16 x 9 7/16 inches (27.5 x 24 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Gift of The Miller-Plummer Foundation, 2000

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Additional information:
  • PublicationGifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    This historic and extremely rare photograph by two of Philadelphia’s earliest distinguished photographers is one of only two prints of this size known to exist, making it the centerpiece of the Museum’s select group of early photography in the city.

    After many years of experimentation, the discovery of photography was announced in Paris in January of 1839, with Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre’s eponymous invention, the daugerreotype. The details of this amazing new process did not become available in the United States until the fall of that year. By 1840, the enterprising Langenheim brothers had opened a daguerreotype studio in the Merchants Exchange building in Philadelphia. A distinctive Neoclassical edifice completed in 1834, the Exchange was a highly visible symbol of Philadelphia’s predominance and economic vitality, and therefore an ideal location for the Langenheims, who were soon among the first successful commercial photographers in the country.

    Stimulated to action by Daguerre’s announcement, William Henry Fox Talbot, a gentleman scientist from London, introduced a different approach to capturing a sitter’s likeness. Unlike the daguerreotype, the “Talbotype” or calotype was made by projecting light through a negative, allowing more than one print to be made of the same image. The business-savvy Langenheims pioneered the use of this process in America and in 1849 acquired the U.S. patent rights. This large view of the Merchants Exchange was made three months later, on August 16. It was probably intended as a showpiece to demonstrate the art of the calotype, with the idea of attracting other photographers to license the patent. Though the Langenheims correctly recognized the importance of Talbot’s invention— a version is still in use today—the public did not quickly abandon its affection for the daguerreotype, and the brothers’ investment led to bankruptcy. Katherine Ware, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary (2002), p. 47.