Gary W. Ewer

Gary W. Ewer is a photo-historian conducting independent research regarding all aspects of the daguerreotype. His focus is working with original source texts. He has been a contributor to The Daguerreian Society Annual as well as occasionally speaking at their annual symposiums. He hosts the website: The Daguerreotype: an archive of source texts, graphics, and ephemera, the research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype.

A Complete Picture of California: the three hundred daguerreotypes by Robert H. Vance in 1850-1851.


In 2008, I did a casual Google search that, unexpectedly, began to unlock the decades-long mystery of the fate of Vance’s famed collection. The initial results encouraged me to dig furiously deep into archival and digital resources. I unearthed little and big pieces of the puzzle and soon a very clear picture came into view.

The 2009 Palmquist grant specifically provided funds for my travel to St. Louis, where I was able to locate two catalogues of the St. Louis Museum describing the collection of the museum, including Vance’s daguerreotypes. More importantly, I was able to locate a mortgage document describing and quantifying the daguerreotypes. This research confirmed the daguerreotypes’ inclusion in the museum collection which was subsequently moved in-whole to Chicago.

A Complete Picture of California: the three hundred daguerreotypes by Robert H. Vance in 1850-1851.


With an additional grant from the Peter Palmquist Fund in 2010, I was able to do research in Chicago. There, I was able to locate the catalogue of the Chicago Museum, describing the collection of the museum, including the over various years, confirming the continuation, in Chicago, of the entire collection as received from St. Louis—inclusive of the Vance daguerreotypes. In 1863, the collection of the St. Louis Museum, including the views by Vance, were purchased by John M. Weston and another man from Chicago. The collection opened in Chicago in 1863 as the “Chicago Museum.” The museum changed hands in 1864 and became “Col. Wood’s Museum.” There was another change of hands in 1870. The collection was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, 1871. My trip involved finding: what the public’s response was to the collection; mentions by any Chicago photographers; details about what was lost in the museum; and additional graphic information about the building before and after the fire. I utilized the Newberry Library, the Chicago History Museum, and the Chicago Public Library.

In 2011, I presented a paper to The Daguerreian Society at their annual symposium. The hour-long presentation (which I dedicated to the memory of Peter Palmquist) detailed the narrative of Vance’s efforts, the sale of the collection, the movement of the collection and its various owners, and its ultimate demise in Chicago. I will be preparing a written work providing the narrative which I hope to have ready for publication before long.

Gary Ewer presentation.