Historic camera snaps record price at auction

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A daguerreotype, the world's first commercially produced camera, dating from 1839 and bearing the rare signature of its French inventor, sold at auction in Vienna Saturday for a record 732,000 euros (898,000 dollars).

The wooden sliding box camera was privately owned by a family of opticians in northern Germany for generations. The 170-year-old apparatus was built in Paris in limited numbers from Jacques Daguerre's original plans by his brother-in-law, Alphonse Giroux.

The daguerreotype, one of only a dozen in the world, all in museums, was put up for sale by the WestLicht auction house. It said the buyer, who requested anonymity, is an international collector.

The winning bid for the historic camera was 610,000 euros, to which was added a 20-percent tax levy, bringing the total price to 732,000 euros.

"It is the first time in the world that a daguerreotype bearing Daguerre's signature and made in the Giroux workshop has been offered for sale," WestLicht gallery director Peter Coeln told AFP.

The owner who gave the daguerreotype up for auction "had received it as a gift in the 1970s from his father after receiving his diploma as an optician," Coeln said.

Every detail of the daguerreotype including the lens, the plaque signed by Daguerre himself, the black velvet interior and the ground-glass screen are in their original state, WestLicht said.

The Giroux-made daguerreotype is known for having a golden plaque on it stating that "no apparatus is guaranteed unless it has the signature of M. Daguerre and the stamp of M. Giroux."

The pioneering camera also came with a user's manual, written in German and edited in 1839 by the publishing house Georg Gropius in Berlin.

In 2007 WestLicht sold a daguerreotype also built in 1839 but by another Parisian workshop, Susse Freres, which had like Giroux a contract with Daguerre. It sold for the then record price for a photographic device of 576,000 euros.

Daguerre never had exclusive rights to the process he invented, instead receiving a pension for himself and the heir of his former partner Nicephore Niepce from the French state, which declared photography a gift to the world.

But businessman Daguerre figured out a way to make money from his fame by signing contracts with the two French workshops giving them exclusive rights to make and sell the equipment.

© 2010 AFP

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