John H. Fitzgibbon was born in London in 1817, but moved to the United States at an early age because his Irish-born father, Michael, had been working in New York City as a ship chandler (equipment retailer/dealer). As a teenager, Mr. Fitzgibbon served as a saddle-making apprentice in Philadelphia, which is where he met and married a local girl named Amelia Wright. When saddle making proved not to his liking, Mr. Fitzgibbon moved his young family to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he became a successful innkeeper, due in large part to his extroverted personality. During this time, he became introduced to the daguerreotype process, and immersed himself in learning the techniques being practiced on both sides of the Atlantic, which by 1841, varied significantly. He later recalled that every operator guarded his practices zealously as highly confidential, to the considerable frustration of "we poor beginners."
After years of study, Mr. Fitzgibbon joined the growing ranks of itinerant photographers, and moved again to the bustling metropolis of St. Louis, Missouri, where he opened a gallery that quickly distinguished itself for artistic portraiture. Again, he used his gregarious demeanor to his advantage to promote his business, and became one of the earliest photographic advertising and marketing gurus. By the 1850s, his inventory grew to more than 1,000 images (mostly of actors, politicians, and prominent local citizens), and expanded to include cameras, equipment, and chemicals. Mr. Fitzgibbon shrewdly hired New York-trained assistants to maintain pace with ever-changing technology. His grand studio, which consisted of 13 rooms, was then believed to be the largest photographic studio in America. His gallery received top dollar for his celebrity portraits, as evidenced by the six-foot canvas portrait of actor G. V. Brooke as Richard III, which fetched $700.
An active member of the photographic industry, Mr. Fitzgibbon became a frequent contributor to several noteworthy publications, including the Daguerrean Journal and the Philadelphia Art Journal, which was the first photography specialty publication. Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper featured Mr. Fitzgibbon and his views of St. Louis landmarks in 1856, which further solidified his status as St. Louis's preeminent portraitist. However, despite his success, his income struggled to support his growing brood, which now included five children, and necessitated frequent travel, including extended visits to the Indian Territory (1854) and to Central and South America (1857).
In 1861, Mr. Fitzgibbon inexplicably closed his St. Louis studio and settled in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Civil War intervened, and he was briefly held captive when he attempted to a return to the North. After his release and the death of his wife, he moved to New York and lived with his daughter and son-in-law, stage actor Dan Bryant, who bankrolled his new photography venture. He married fellow photographer Louisa "Maria" Dennis, who joined him in his business. By 1869, Mr. Fitzgibbon was back in St. Louis, where he opened opened galleries on 4th and Olive Streets until his retirement. His wife continued to operate both studios until they were sold in 1881. Still active in photography, Mr. Fitzgibbon founded the St. Louis Practical Photographer journal, and served as its editor-in-chief until his sudden death from heart failure on August 12, 1882. J. H. Fitzgibbon was laid to rest next to his first wife in St. Louis's Bellefontaine Cemetery. Maria Fitzgibbon succeeded her husband as editor of his publication, which was subsequently renamed the St. Louis and Canadian Photographer in 1888.
2016 Cabinet Card Photographers of the 19th Century (URL: https://lostgallery.blogspot.com/2016/12/cabinet-card-photographers-of-19thf.html).
1975 The Daguerreotype in America by Beaumont Newhall (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 115.
1999 Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press), pp. 301-302.
1857 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Vol. IV (New York: Frank Leslie), p. 213.
2017 J. H. Fitzgibbon's Daguerrean Gallery (URL: http://www.luminous-lint.com/__phv_app.php?/i/70849:9851:59596:44542:69827:9803:11992:65350:15894:64870:35768:35769:35889:38161:38160:52647:39188:54722:36522:65411:66716:67490).
1882 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Vol.VIII (St. Louis, MO: St. Louis Democrat Publishing Co.), p.10.
1855 Humphrey's Journal of the Daguerreotype and Photographic Arts, Vol. VII (New York: S. D. Humphrey), p. 5.
2014 Two Missouri Scenes by J. H. Fitzgibbon (URL: https://viewingthepast.wordpress.com/2014/11).
1881 Wilson's Photographics by Edward L. Wilson (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 359.
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