Charles Meade, Mary Meade, and Henry Meade
Charles Meade, Mary Meade, and Henry Meade

Of the earliest pioneers in the invention of practical photograpic arts, the Meade Brothers hold a prominent role with its introduction in the United States.  In the early days of photography, the process was known as daguerreotyping.  Invented and perfected by Louis Daguerre in 1836 Paris, the process made its way over the Atlantic and into the United States shortly thereafer.

Meade's Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre
Meade’s Daguerreotype of Daguerre

The two brothers, Henry William Matthew and Charles Richard, were born in England and emigrated to the United States around 1833.

Still teenagers, in 1842 the two brothers founded a daguerreotype  studio in Albany, where they studied and practiced the newly discovered process, and offered portrait services to New York’s public.

Over the next two years the two brothers perfected their processes, and their firm quickly blossomed into a booming business.

Having tasted success, they expanded their business and opened additional studios in Saratoga Springs, Williamsburgh, and Buffalo.

There they invented and improved several daguerreotype processes, and won multiple prestigious awards.

And as their processes and techniques improved, they spent significant time travelling — shooting photographs of cities, people, and landmarks throughout the United States and Western Europe.

Meade Brothers' Studio in Williamsburgh New York
Meade Brothers’ Studio in Williamsburgh New York

In the middle part of 1850 launched an enormous daguerreotype operation in New York City, and sold their other studios shortly thereafter.  Located at 233 Broadway, they built a  facility that specialized in multiple aspects of the photographic arts.

Within the building the brothers constructed an exhibition area, where the public could view free of charge their daguerreotype pieces. Ornately decorated and tastfully baroque, by June of 1852 the gallery boasted nearly one thousand daguerreotypes made by the two brothers.

Many of their photographic subjects were of prominent people of the day. Portraits of Emperor Luis Napoleon, Samuel Morse, Daniel Webster, President James Buchanan, John Frement, and Henry Clay were just a few of the luminaries.  Eerily, the brothers also photographed President Lincoln’s assassin — the actor John Wilkes Booth.

Left: John Fremont, Center: President James Buchanan, Right: John Wilkes Booth
Left: John Fremont, Center: President James Buchanan, Right: John Wilkes Booth

In addition to human subjects, the two brothers showcased their photographs of landscapes, nature, and iconic places they had visited throughout the U.S. and Europe. Daguerreotypes of Niagra Falls, Shakespeare’s home, the Arc de Triomph, and Notre Dame were but just some of the landmarks displayed in their collection.

Visitors to their gallery were enthralled with their works; Until that time the majority of Americans had never seen the likenesses of such people and places, except by way of sketches, engravings, and line drawings in books.

With the advent of daguerreotyping, average Americans were able for the first time partake and behold the beauty of far away places and subjects, seeing their true images captured in life-like photographs.

Interior View of Meade Brothers' Daguerreotype Gallery
Interior View of Meade Brothers’ Daguerreotype Gallery

The brothers’ operation not only served as a means to showcase their works. Within the building, they had also constructed sophisticated photographic facililties.

Replete with waiting areas, dressing rooms, and developer labs, they built two separate studios for taking portraits.  To accomodate group photos, they outfitted their facilities with the capacity to photograph large numbers of people at the same time. Not only was their operation ideal for individuals to have their photographs taken, but it also served as an ideal place for schools and colleges to take class photos.

From all over America their firm was a magnet for artisans and craftsmen.  Engravers, sculptors, painters, lithographers, and die-cutters all came to see the brothers’ works, and to learn how to adapt their crafts to take advantage of the newly emerged photographic arts.

For the next eight years the brothers’ firm enjoyed much success. Having begun as a small studio in Albany, their photographic business evolved and exploded, and grew to become a world-renowned dageurreotype firm that employed ten assistants.

Laudanum PoisonTheir partnership also broadened as a family affair. In the early 1850s their sister Mary A. Meade joined the business. Working under the supervision of her brothers, she was taught the intricacies of daguerreotyping, and is regarded as being history’s first woman daguerreotypist.

Sadly the brothers’ partnership was not to endure. In March of 1858 Charles Richard died.

Enduring several years of ill health, the younger brother passed-away at the early age of 31. Despite the tragedy, Henry Meade sojourned onward, and continued the business along with his sister.

There the firm continued to operate through the Civil War until January 1865, when Henry William Matthew died himself.

Suffering from a long bout of melancholy and depression, he committed suicide by consuming four ounces of laudanum poison.

Numismatic Specimens

Below are the two tokens issues by the Meade Brothers.

The first specimen is cataloged as Miller NY-530A.  Struck in brass, it measures 28mm in diameter, and dates to the time before the brothers sold their Albany studio.


The second specimen is listed as Miller-530. Also struck in brass and measuring 28mm in diameter, the token dates to around the time that the brothers opened their New York studio.

Miller NY-530 Meade &Brothers Albany New York NY

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion Vol. 4, No. 6, Boston, February 5 1853, pg.96
  2. Gleason’s Pictorial Vol 2, No. 24, June 12 1852, pg.377
  3. The New-York Illustrated News, Vol. 3, No. 67, February 16 1861, pg.236
  4. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper Vol. 5, No. 151, March 27 1858, pgs.268-269
  5. A Sad Mortuary Record, Suicide of an Eminent Photographer, The New York Times, January 28, 1865
  6. The Photo-Miniature Volume 4, Tennant and Ward, 1903, pg.555
  7. The First Photograph, Harry Ransom Center Exhibitions, The University of Texas at Austin
  8. Daguerre and the Invention of Photography, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  9. The Daguerreian Society
  10. Visible Proofs, Forensic Views of the Body, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
  11. National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution
  12. The Smithsonian Institution Digital Collections
  13. National Portrait Gallery
  14. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
  15. The New York Library Digital Archives
  16. Southern Methodist University Digital Collections
  17. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
Aaron Packard


  1. Hoping this gets to you, Aaron. Did your research provide any information about how Mary Meade ended her days? Did she continue the business alone? I’m curious about her as one of the earliest women daguerreotypists in the U.S.

    1. Author

      Per my research notes, I believe she continued the business.

    2. I see you wanted to know what happened to Mary Ann Meade. Well she was my 3rd great aunt. Henry W.M.Meade her oldest brother was my 3rd great grandfather and his youngest daughter Jesse was my 2nd great grandmother. Mary turned up closing down the photography business and by the early 1870 was running a boarding house and raising her brother Charles Meade’s Children. She died 17 Jan,1903.

      1. Author

        Hi Alex –

        Thank you for the additional information regarding Mary Ann Meade. It is greatly appreciated.

        Kindest regards,

        A. Packard

  2. Curious about the fate of Mary Meade. Did she continue the business on her own after her brothers’ death?

    1. Author

      Per my research notes, I believe she did.

  3. I enjoyed the article. I found it while researching a Civil War era daguerreotype photograph of a Union soldier with his rifle, bayonet and colt revolver. Now I need to buy a token to go with the photograph and ornate case. Thank you!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Hello again, Aaron. Do you happen to remember where you got the information that Henry William Matthew committed suicide? The Smithsonian didn’t seem to include that fact about him in its collection of Meade materials…

    1. Author

      Hi Nicole –

      The information concerning the suicide of Henry Meade came from a New York Times Obituary published January 28th 1865. The link can be found here. It reads as follows:

      The New York Times
      Published: January 28, 1865

      Yesterday morning Mr. HENRY W.M. MEADE, late of the firm of Messrs. MEADE BROTHERS, of No. 233 Broadway, was found dead in his bed at the Tammany Hotel. On the table in his room were four empty phials, with the apothecaries’ labels and the written word “poison” thereon, and five letters to his friends, which we give below, as tending to throw light upon the case which we have in hand. These phials are small, the largest probably not having contained more than an ounce of poison, or about the quantity which a druggist might unsuspectingly supply to any applicant whose movements were not manifestly those of a maniac. From the statements of Mr. JOHN E. BROWN, clerk at Tammany Hotel, it appears that Mr. MEADE, who had frequently tarried over night at that house, applied for a room and registered himself as “H.W. SHANAGER, of New-York;” that he retired, but before locking his door ordered a hot brandy sling, and this was sent up. He then exhibited no evidence of aberration, and no person in the house gave him another thought until late yesterday morning, when he was found as above stated. A messenger was at once dispatched to the Coroner’s office, and Coroner GAMBLE and Drs. PARADISE, WELTJE and SHAW promptly responded, and the two latter at once made a post-mortem examination, which revealed nearly three ounces of laudanum in the stomach. This, the empty phials, and the deceased’s letters, rendered it a clear case of suicide, and the jury so declared it to be. The following are the deceased’s last letters, and these we present without comment:

      NEW-YORK, Jan. 25, 1865.

      MY DEAR WIFE: For all our disagreements I hope you forgive me, and for this cowardly and rash act. I love you dearly, but the war I was situated and various other things, made our lives unhappy. May God bless you and make you happy, and may we meet above with our dear children. Pray for the repose of my soul and my dear children also. I am in such a state of mind I hardly know what I write; but I am weary of the world. Your affectionate husband, H.W.M. MEADE.

      P.S. — I heard of Mr. BRANCH’s death from your brother. I do not blame you — so, be happy.

      NEW-YORK. Jan. 25, 1865.

      MY DARLING CHILDREN, SARAH AND JESSIE: Forever pray for the repose of your father’s soul. I pray that we may meet in that heavenly home where we hope to be at peace forever. O, forgive me what I have done; God knows how my heart has yearned toward you, and all I ask of you is to be virtuous and you will be happy. Sometimes come to my grave, my darlings, and bring flowers. God bless and comfort you. Your affectionate but unhappy FATHER.

      P.S. — I should like your pictures buried with me, also the hair chain to be found in my trunk. My watch is for SARAH and my horse’s seal for JESSIE, which is in my trunk.

      NEW-YORK. Jan. 25, 1865.

      DEAR FATHER: Be comforted: we all have our faults. But I see no prospect for the future. I trust your friends in Philadelphia, and Mr. GRAHAM, will see you taken care of. It is an unworthy and cowardly act I do; but I cannot help it, and hope God will forgive me for it.

      Your affectionate son, HENRY.

      P.S. — I could say nothing this morning when I left.

      NEW-YORK, Jan 25, 1865.

      MY DEAR SISTER: Do not fret or worry about me. I want to be laid beside my poor mother, to have peace. God alone knows the sorrows of my heart. I have been placed in a peculiar position. I have been faint-hearted and generous. I have made a mistake. I hope God will forgive me this cruel act. We are not our own keepers. Lay me beside my mother in Greenwood, and comfort all who care about me. I hope that God will forgive me, and that we may all meet in Heaven.

      Your affectionate brother. HENRY.

      P.S. — My love to KATY and HARRY. TO Mrs. FOOTE I wish you to express my great thanks. I have written Mr. GRAHAM about her.

      NEW-YORK. Jan. 25, 1865.

      Ma. GRAHAM: Dearest and best of friends, I have had to disguise many things from you as well as others, according to the custom of this world. Take care of those that are left, if possible. The sale of the gallery, &c., will provide something for them. I trust my sad fate may be a warning to those who indulge in liquors, and make them reform. It is the curse of the country. I am in a such a state of mind, committing this cowardly and foolish act, I know not what to do. I hope a good God will reward you for your kindness. If my wife should not marry again, as you have no children, it would be a great relief to me if you would adopt them and bring them up in virtue and goodness, and always let them remember their unhappy father with kindness, and visit my grave. Oh, let them try and forget the unholy act, and remember me with kindness that I have endeavored to show to them. I hope my wife will get a good husband, and that we may meet in Heaven, where all is pure and bright. Excuse the pencil writing and other things, under the dreadful circumstances.

      Yours, very affectionately,


      N.B. — I saw plain the business would not pay, and I request to be paid out of the affairs, $100 to Mrs. F.; $25 to Mr. V.P., borrowed funds, and also $12 to a Mr. M.O. RILEY.”

      Mr. MEADE, who was a native of England, aged 42 years, resided at No. 37 Seventh-street. It is understood that the MEADE BROTHERS’ partnership was dissolved more than a year ago.”

      Kind regards,

      Aaron Packard

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