Saturday, July 13, 2013

Second photo of Charles Francis Hall?

Among his other peculiar qualities, the Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall has always been "monophotographic"-- that is, a man of whom only one photograph exists. This photograph was the basis for all the engraved portraits of Hall in the books and newspapers of the day, one of which is reproduced as the right-hand image above. But who is the man in the image on the left? The resemblance is striking, although his eyes seem to protrude a bit more, his beard is a tad shorter, and his nose somewhat more elongated. Still the resemblance is close enough that the Library of Congress has suggested that the Daguerreotype of which this photo is a crop may possibly be Charles Francis Hall.

If it is Hall, then perhaps there's some dimension of his life we know little about -- as the man in the Dag is wearing quite a theatrical costume, prompting the archival description "Unidentified man, three-quarter length portrait, three-quarters to the right, seated, with arm over back of chair, hand to cheek, with full beard, wearing jacket with elaborate trimming." Perhaps he joined in some amateur theatricals while in New York lobbying for backing for his expeditions? Or might this be from back in Cincinnati? The Daguerreotypes process had long faded from popularity by the 1860's when Hall rose to fame; it would be unusual to see it used for a formal portrait at or after that time. The image is attributed to Matthew Brady, but by the time of Hall's emergence on the national stage, Brady had switched to using Ambrotypes, as with this one of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane. More research is clearly required before we can say for sure, but I'm a bit doubtful.


  1. Intriguing and potentially exciting find! Sounds like a job for facial matching software.

  2. Thanks, Jonathan! And yes, it does seem as though this might be a worthy test for such software. I was skeptical at first until, realizing the Daguerreotype was mirror-reversed, I flipped it and put the two faces side-by-side!

  3. I say no. It's fun to speculate, but the similarities in hair and beard are misleading. Disregarding hair, the faces are not actually similar. The bridge of the nose is a different length and profile and the eyelids, top and bottom, are quite different. I haven't seen the original daguerrotype of Hall, but the other versions of this portrait suggest that this engraving was accurate.
    Just an opinion of course, I'm no expert - but then again don't even get me started on the "new" official Shakespeare portrait!