Is This the Same Man?

Is This the Same Man?

Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn't really sure. It's beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn't resist this challenge. It's important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing...

Charles Blyth found this handsome daguerreotype in a group of identified family photographs. He thinks the man might be a colleague of his great uncle, but isn’t really sure. It’s beautiful and in pristine condition, so I couldn’t resist this challenge.


It’s important to remember daguerreotypes are reversed. Before comparing this gentleman to any family photographs, it’s necessary to flip the image to see his natural appearance. Faces can look quite different when reversed.


Blyth doesn’t think this man is his great uncle Henry Blyth, born in 1831, but the evidence suggests it could be. Here is the quartet of facts I’ve considered.

1) This man appears to be in his 20s and the clothing (wide cravat, slicked back hair and long sideburns) suggests the photo was taken in the 1850s. This man is the right age to be Blyth.

2) The equipment on the table identifies this man as a surveyor. As far as I can tell, the device is a Wye level, used for long- distance surveying. I found a similar-looking piece on Larry and Carol Meeker’s Web site Antiques of a Mechanical Nature. Blyth was a surveyor in New York State before leaving home at 22 for Chile. He returned home with a beard in 1858 and posed for a portrait with his family; a few years later, he was in the card photograph (below). If the daguerreotype is Blyth, it was taken before his travels in 1853—a date that fits the clothing clues.


3) Even though Blyth’s hairline is receding in this known picture, you can see the similarities between him and the unidentified portrait. Besides a similar hairline, their face shapes are close. It’s not outside the realm of possibility to conclude Blyth posed for the daguerreotype before traveling to South America. This card photo shows he aged a bit from his frontier experience, but it’s likely both pictures depict the same man.

4) One other feature in the daguerreotype suggests it could show Blyth: the cross. According to Charles Blyth, members of the family often posed wearing a cross.

I think the evidence strongly suggests this unidentified picture is Henry Blyth—the tools identify his trade, his age is right, facial similiarities suggest a relationship and then there’s the cross and the fact the image was found with family artifacts. I think it’s Blyth, but I’m not sure I’ve convinced the owner.

Got an opinion? Sound off in the Comments section! Let’s create a dialogue.

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  1. Anthony W. Clemente, Jr.

    Suggest that both images be blown-up to equal sizes and compare the ears of each. Ears do not change over a lifetime just like fingerprints, unless there is some type of accident. Although it is not used as positive identification it is another item that can be used for confirmation. Personally, I believe it is the same person but would need to view the ear detail to confirm my suspicions.

  2. Jessica Keller Huebschwerlen

    It would help if the second photo where larger as the first photo. It’s much too small. Then the details of his face and hairline could be seen and compared.

  3. I sent this photo to my brother, Roger Frank, of Johnson-Frank &amp; Assoc., Inc. Surveying in Anaheim, CA and this was his comment – thought I would share it.

    &quot;The instrument is a survey or engineer’s grade level from times gone by. Looks like it is in fact a Wye level. These levels were made so that the telescope could be taken out of it’s mounts and turned 180 degrees and remounted to be able to check the level bubble and cross hair adjustments while in the field. We have one of these as a display in our conference room, but have never actually used them in practice. They were used to determine elevations. Not sure when they started using them, but were not used after about 1960. The white thing in his hand might be a slide rule??? Not enough detail to tell though.&quot;