Thomas Coffin Doane was born in Barrington, Nova Scotia, Canada on March 9, 1814. Little is known about Mr. Doane’s childhood beyond that he was one of 11 children born to James and Abigail Homer Doane. He learned of the daguerreotype (referred to regionally as the ‘talbottype’) shortly after its invention in 1839 and sought to educate himself on the laborious and time-sensitive process, which involved coating silver sheets in iodine; and then after about a ten-minute exposure in a pinhole camera, the paper was submerged in a bath of silver chloride so the image could be set. Mr. Doane became an enthusiastic student of Halifax-based painter and Canada’s first daguerreotypist William Valentine. The duo relocated to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they operated the Valentine & Doane studio at the Golden Lion Inn. As one of their 1843 advertisements boasted, “They are confident of producing pictures of exquisite beauty… as a comparatively small expense.”
However, within a few years, the partnership dissolved. Mr. Valentine returned to Halifax, while Mr. Doane spent the next few years traveling throughout the West Indies, before returning to Canada and settling in Montreal in 1847. He subsequently married Maria Perry, with whom he had ten children. His artistry soon earned him the reputation as Montreal’s finest daguerreotypist, and his elite clientele included Lord Elgin (James Bruce) and Quebec politician Louis-Joseph Papineau. Although the daguerreotype was relatively short-lived, and soon replaced by the calotype, ambrotype, and tintype, in rapid succession, Mr. Doane remained steadfastly loyal to his photographic medium of choice. He and fellow Canadian daguerreotypist Eli J. Palmer’s works received honorable mention at the prestigious Paris Exhibition in 1855. Mr. Doane also dabbled in landscapes, and was the first to document the 1858 fire at the Molson brewery.
Sadly, Mr. Doane’s beloved daguerreotypes were a highly perishable commodity, with the images clouding and tarnishing over time. Furthermore, because there were no negatives, daguerreotypes could not be reproduced, and their cases made them impossible to insert into family portrait albums. For these reasons, along with the soaring popularity of carte-de-visite portrait cards, there were few daguerreotypists in business by 1860.
Mr. Doane finally closed his Montreal gallery in 1865, and shifted his focus to portrait painting. After his wife’s death in 1880, Mr. Doane spent increasing time in the United States. He frequently worked in New York City and also operated a portrait studio at Temple Place in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896, 82-year-old Thomas Coffin Doane died at the Bronxwood Park, New York home of his daughter, Charlotte Doane Moore. His works are currently housed within the McCord Museum in Montreal, Canada.
1851 The Canada Directory by Robert W. S. Mackay (Montreal, Canada: John Lovell), p. 374.
1902 The Doane Family and Their Descendants (Boston, MA: Alfred Alder Doane), p. 374.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 262, 283, and 372.
2010 Experiencing the Arts: The History of Photography (URL: https://www.gov.nl.ca/eecd/files/k12_curriculum_documents_socialstudies_2010_nls2205-02photo_pp15-34.pdf).
2007 The Independent, Vol. V (Reprint from The Carbonear Sentinel and Conception-Bay Advertiser, July 11, 1843) (St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: The Independent), p. 9.
2012 J'aime New York (2nd Ed.) edited by Eloise A. Briere (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press), p. 44.
2019 Library and Archives Canada: Thomas Coffin Doane Collection (URL: https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca).
2004 Photographs Objects Histories edited by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (London, UK: Routledge), p. 21.
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