Finder thinks picture historic

A Las Vegas collector believes he has found a hitherto undiscovered early photograph of Ulysses S. Grant, the general most responsible for winning the Civil War who later served as president from 1869 to 1877.

A UNLV archivist says the daguerreotype appears to be an authentic photo of Grant, as other experts have surmised. Collector Randall Spencer would prefer to sell the photo to some historical institution for public display, but would consider selling it to a private collector to finance his quest for vanishing images of American history.

Spencer, 56, is an alternative rock ‘n’ roll guitar man who plays under the name Eric London, but in the 1970s his day job was managing the early American division for a large antique dealership. Later he started his own shop in California’s Bay Area.

"There was at that time still an abundance of early American photography that had not been examined, especially in San Francisco, because when people went West in the mid-19th century, that’s where they ended up. … And what really launched me into photography was discovering a picture of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln, Sarah Bush Lincoln, the stepmother who raised Abraham Lincoln."

He thinks it was 1991, but remembers the date clearly: Lincoln’s birthday.

"It had been discarded out of a sterling silver photo album" that was put up for sale in the same store. He captured the photo but wasn’t able to get the album.

That was the point when interest became obsession, Spencer said. Although Mrs. Lincoln became well known with her son’s rise to fame, authentic photos of her were rare or nonexistent, yet one had turned up in an ordinary shop.

Spencer began poring over books and memorizing every known image he could find, captured in the 19th century dawn of photography, of any American historical figure.

The Frenchman Louis Daguerre discovered a practical means of developing a photographic image on a metal plate and demonstrated it to the French Academy of Sciences in 1839. The following year an American, Robert Corneilus, found a way to reduce exposure times from several minutes to seconds, and ushered in the age of the studio daguerreotype "likeness."

Each daguerreotype was the original plate upon which the image was captured, so it was unique; there was no negative from which to make copies. The process flourished less than two decades before "ambrotype," the next of many successively faster and cheaper processes, began to replace it.

Spencer found his Grant photo for sale at the San Jose Photographic Exposition in about 1992.

"I was told that the man who had these had bought stacks of daguerreotypes, and they were obviously from a collection because they were all the finest quality I have ever seen," Spencer said. "He had a doctor’s (house-call satchel) full of sixth plates. (A sixth plate is a specific common size of daguerreotype, about 23/4 by 31/4 inches, as is Spencer’s photo of Grant.) He still had hundreds, but he had torn the cases off many of them and sold the cases.

"He treated me like a fool because I tried to stop him."

So Spencer bought the photos he could afford, but was unable to obtain the original frames and leather cases in which the images were probably packaged.

(Other photo collectors confirmed that the antique dealer’s unfortunate decision to separate photos from their original cases, in an attempt to maximize profits, was not especially unusual less than 20 years ago.)

Spencer continued, "I believe he really did get them at a garage sale, and I learned it fairly reliably that some of the Grant family had moved to San Jose and sold some family artifacts at a garage sale."

So that’s a possible explanation of the photo’s return to the Bay Area, but it can never be proven, Spencer concedes.

Grant had at least one daguerreotype taken while he was a lieutenant in the Mexican War (1846-1848). Spencer’s daguerreotype was probably taken a few years later, when Grant was about 30.

"The only time I could figure out that he could have had this image taken was when he was in San Francisco," Spencer said. "He elaborated in his memoirs on his adventures at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was 1852, the height of the Gold Rush. He was stationed at Benicia Barracks and went over there to participate."

Already a booming, rich city, San Francisco had several daguerreotype studios. Whoever shot this daguerreotype, however, did not sign it.

Spencer said Dr. Lloyd Osterndorf, a now-deceased expert in the field of photos purported to be of Abraham Lincoln, applied a forensic method of measuring facial features, and could find no significant differences between Spencer’s photo and known Grant photos.

Still, Spencer has been discouraged in previous efforts to have this, and other photos he believes historically important, accepted as the real thing, because institutions desire an unbroken chain of custody before acknowledging that an artifact is what it appears to be.

"They didn’t like it that I wasn’t bringing them Grant’s photo signed by him and stapled to his underwear," Spencer said. "That is an institutional attitude I detest because it is causing artifacts of the utmost importance to get lost forever. They need a system that acknowledges probability."

But archivist Peter Michel, director of special collections at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas did not ask whether the photo came with 19th century long johns. Comparing to the known Mexican War photo, he’s also pretty certain the Spencer photo is of Grant.

"The noses strike me as exactly the same in the two pictures, and everything about the picture is correct for the period in which it would have been taken," Michel said.

Joe Thomson, a photo historian currently organizing the Review-Journal’s archives of historic photos, was similarly persuaded.

A rare photo of a person widely admired, Spencer said, has a stronger market than an even rarer photo of some historic scoundrel. And while Grant’s presidency was considered a poor one, most Americans greatly appreciate his winning the Civil War.

"All I really know is it’s the most valuable photo that’s been found in years," Spencer said.

He added, "I don’t plan to keep it any longer than I can to find a corporation or individual willing to pay my price. And it’s not the highest price I think it could bring; I would set the price at $2.5 million because I think there are people who can afford that to get the only one."

And what would he do with all that money?

"Fund further research. Because our historic heritage, unacknowledged, is slipping away every day," he said. "I’m looking to fund a historical recovery foundation, based on the philosophy that the proof is in the pudding."

Contact A.D. Hopkins at adhopkins or 702-383-0270.

Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like