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As part of the inauguration of New York University’s 17th president, Linda G. Mills, the John Draper Lunar Daguerreotype was selected as a reflection on and celebration of NYU’s place in photographic history. This object was on display at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, October 17, 2023.

Taken by John W. Draper ca. 1840, this lunar daguerreotype was among the first successful images of the moon. The daguerreotype was found in 1961 when materials associated with John W. Draper and his son Henry, including this daguerreotype, were uncovered in a little-used room in the attic of Gould Memorial Library at NYU’s University Heights campus by Professor Lyle Borst, then chairman of NYU’s Department of Physics at the School of Engineering.

Today the object is owned by NYU Special Collections, along with multiple collections that document the Draper family’s connection to NYU and, in particular, John W. Draper and Henry Draper’s interests in celestial photography.

John W. Draper and NYU

As a physician and a professor of chemistry, John W. Draper began his tenure at NYU in 1839. In 1841 Draper was one of the founders of the NYU School of Medicine and in 1850 became its president. Several of Draper’s sons attended NYU, including Henry, who also taught at the institution.

Draper is perhaps best known today for his pioneering work in photography. The first photograph of the human face taken in the United States was taken by Draper of his sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper, ca. 1840. He also experimented with celestial photography, including capturing early images of the moon such as the one seen here.

Item Description

This daguerreotype is currently attributed to John W. Draper and is dated to ca. 1840. The item is 3 1/4 × 2 3/4 × 3/16 in. (8.3 × 7 × 0.5 cm) in size. The daguerreotype is owned by New York University Libraries Special Collections in New York.