John P. Doremus

Doremus’s floating gallery, c. 1875 from The American Tintype by Rinhart, Rinhart, and Wagner (1999)

Though my plans for following the Mississippi from Arkansas to here this summer were thwarted by the RSA conference, it still seems like a good plan to me. Perhaps it was my choice to go up instead of down—down seems to be a more popular direction.

After their muskets were finally laid down, and veterans, North and South, returned homes, traveling photographers, looking for further adventure and profit, took to the roads and even the rivers (in flat-bottomed boats outfitted as complete studios). (82)

I wonder if a car, a camera, and a laptop count as a complete traveling studio?

In 1875, in a letter published in Anthony’s Photographic Bulletin describing photographic boats along the Mississippi River, the correspondent wrote that may of the photograph and ferrotype boats were up to eighteen feet wide and seventy feet long. One of the most interesting was a boat built at Minneapolis that had made the long journey from the Falls of St. Anthony to the mouth of the Mississippi. The owner of the floating gallery was John P. Doremus, who also had a successful gallery in Paterson, New Jersey. Doremus photographed interesting views along the Mississippi, amassing a collection of scenes and information about St. Paul and other towns along the river with the intention of writing a book about them.

On the deck of Doremus’s boat was an 18’x7’ house designed with an eye to comfort and detail. On boarding the boat, the patron was ushered into an 8’ x 16’ room furnished with a marble-topped table, watercolor and oil paintings, chromos, and other accoutrements. Folding doors opened to the 14’x 30’ operating room. The house also included a toilet room for customers, a room for Doremus’s use, a private dining room and parlor, a stateroom with two berths, a kitchen with a large pantry and storeroom, and a silvering and toning room. Bellow it all was a three-foot deep hold ventilated by air shafts and used for storage [Bulletin 6 1875: 345-46] (American Tintype 82-84)

I won’t be traveling in that kind of style, unfortunately. Noted for future reference: The State Historical Society of Iowa has sixty-one stereoviews by Doremus, including twelve scenes from Iowa according to Palmquist.