Revisiting Edgar Allan Poe

On June 5th 2011 I wrote a blog article called “Theft by Copyright: C.T. Talman vs. W.S. Hartshorn” in which I looked at how copyright has served us in the matter of the most famous Edgar Allan Poe photograph.

Since the early form of photography (daguerreotype) was leading edge technology in Poe’s time, you might think there would be photos of Poe that anyone could use all over the Internet today.  After all, Poe died in 1849, so any photographs in existence should be well in the public domain.

Yet my Google image search only turned up one photo of Edgar Allan Poe that I would be free to reuse.   The implication being, of course, that every other photo of Poe claimed or implied the image was under copyright.

That just doesn’t seem right.

I just did the same search today, right now, and got the same result, only a single image of Poe “free to reuse”

Compare that with an Edgar Allan Poe Google Image Search (without the “free to use or share” license parameter) and you get pages and pages of Poe images. While a few are artistic remixes (and thus possibly copyrightable),  most are straight copies of the public domain photos, yet none are marked “free to use or share.”

Why is that, I wonder?

It isn’t Google’s job to determine copyright on the works shown on websites it indexes, yet I have to wonder why the Google image search did not return Poe’s photo on Wikimedia Commons? [Note to self: search images on Wikimedia Commons before Google Image Search.]

post script errata

Over the past year there have been additional comments made on my article, touching on copyright and the history of the specific daguerreotype.

the photographer

When I wrote the article, I understood the name of the the photographer written on the face of the photograph as the copyright holder to be C.T. Talman. Going back and looking at the current Wikipedia revisions, it seems someone with sharper eyesight or access to a better copy, has identified the name as C.T. Tatman.

I wasn’t entirely sure I believed that, particularly as one of the comments on my article was made by the descendant of a photographer named Talman. As it turns out, the American Library of Congress listing identifies the photographer’s name as Tatman, and notes “this record contains unverified, old data from caption card.”

I’ll accept this; it seems pretty authoritative to me.

the daguerreotype

Another important new thing I learned from comments on the article was that W.S.Hartshorn was actually Samuel Welds Hartshorn (1802 – 1885), according to Terry Alphonse. It wasn’t difficult to establish that this was factually correct, making it likely the initials on the Wikipedia entry had been inadvertently reversed.

On the basis of this, I was edited one of the Wikipedia pages to correct the reversed Hartshorn initials.


There are two different Wikimedia Commons pages I linked in the preceeding article. The first is a faithful reproduction of the famous Edgar Allan Poe photograph.

Wikipedia’s Edgar Allan Poe 2.jpg page credits the daguerreotype as having been taken by W.S. Hartshorn, Providence, Rhode Island, on November 9th, 1848 and the subsequent photograph as having been taken by C.T. Tatman.

The second image, which is derivative of the first, was created by a Wikipedian to clean up the image, but also carries additional information.  This Wikimedia Commons page credits Edwin H. Manchester as the actual photographer. The description identifies Edwin H. Manchester as a “photographer employed by the Masury & Hartshorn firm (second floor of 25 Westminster Street) of Providence, Rhode Island” and tells us that the daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe was photographed “on the morning of November 9th, 1848.”

But who actually created the original daguerreotype?

With these corrections, I found an interesting authoritative article on the subject of this image, known as The “Ultima Thule” Daguerreotype, on the fascinating The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore website. This article clears up my confusion over who actually created the original daguerreotype.

Everything agrees it was taken at the Providence, Rhode Island, daguerreotype studio of Samuel Masury and S.W. Hartshorn, by one of the studio’s camera assistants, Mr. Edwin Manchester.

When Masury and Hartshorn parted ways years later, brothers Edwin H. and Henry N. Manchester — both of whom had worked for the studio as camera assistants — took over the business, retaining the original Poe daguerreotype Edwin had photographed.

B.C. (before copyright)

At the time the daguerreotype was made, copyright did not apply to photographs. When later added, copyright was usually vested in the owner of the film and/or camera. Copyright, like the physical daguerreotype, would have belonged to the Masury and Hartshorne studio, even though an employee (the artist) took the picture.

It is quite possible C.T. Tatman could have later bought the business, which would explain his access to the original daguerreotype, and justify Tatman’s copyright notice. A reasonable business practice under the copyright regime may well have been for Tatman to photograph the original daguerreotype, affix the copyright notice to his negative, and then destroy the original. Such artificially induced scarcity would certainly have maximized Tatman’s profits.

I suspect we will never know.


Copyright has no respect for history or culture;
it is simply a state imposed monopoly concerned with controlling revenue for profit.


Image Credits

Both versions of the Ultima Thule Daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe [photographed by Edwin H. Manchester on November 9th, 1848, at the Masury and Hartshorn studio, in Providence, Rhode Island] mentioned in the article, can be found in the Wikimedia Commons, which exists to allow us to share digital works.

The absurdity of modern copyright law makes it difficult to find images we can use online. My advice in seeking out images licensed for reuse can be found in my techDITZ blog “Images You Can Use ‘article.


4 thoughts on “Revisiting Edgar Allan Poe

  1. While obviously polite and professional, is it necessary to mark a photo or other item as being free for use when it’s in the public domain? Or is it merely the responsibility of copyright holders to note when an item is still under copyright?

    • Any public domain work posted to the Internet today should be explicitly noted, so that they can be indexed so search engines can find them.

      Since changes to copyright have been driven by copyright maximalists, copyright in Canada is by default, copyright holders have no responsibilities at all. Since copyright terms are now tied to the life of the author, there is a large amount of material known as “orphan works,” @zotz but what is original? We are formed by our culture, by the books we’ve read, music we’ve heard, movies we’ve seen, art that touched us. Since no one can say reliably if they are under copyight or who the rightsholder is. No one dares use these works because the copyright owner might step up tomorrow and level charges of infringement.

      • Interesting and a bit terrifying. And so clearly emblematic of a law designed to chill, not enhance, the creative process. Mind-boggling that they’ve gotten exactly backwards the core purpose of having copyright.

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