This miniature daguerreotype shows two hands resting on a book. The photograph is set into a two-piece gold-washed brass frame with a loop on the reverse for sewing to a garment. The case design with its simple, raised ornamental border is typical of the gilt-metal buttons mass-produced from 1830 to 1850 in several New England factories such as the Scovill Manufacturing Company in Waterbury, Connecticut, which also manufactured daguerreotype plates. The button was discovered in the early 1980s in a flea market in Massachusetts.
The use of buttons for political purposes in the United States began in the 1700s with buttons that proclaimed "Independence," as the goal of the oppressed colonists, and "Long Live the President," in honor of the inauguration of George Washington. But it was not until the 1828 presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson, just twenty years before the likely date of this photograph, that the button became a regular part of American elections. From "Jackson--True Standard" to "I Like Ike," the political button, both with and without pictures, developed into a characteristically American means of both political advertising and personal expression.
For many years, the image was believed to represent an anti-slavery motif of two hands—one black, one white—resting on a Bible. Today, after detailed digital imaging, the photograph seems to show the hands of just one individual. The symbolic meaning of this unique button is thus open for reinterpretation.
[Rinhart Galleries, Colebrook, Connecticut]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, September 20, 1989
Berkshire Museum. "O Say Can You See: American Photographs 1839-1939," April 8, 1989–June 17, 1989.
Bowdoin College Museum of Art. "O Say Can You See: American Photographs 1839-1939," October 12, 1989–December 12, 1989.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," May 25, 1993–July 4, 1993.
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," August 7, 1993–October 2, 1993.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, Selections from the Gilman Paper Company Collection," June 19, 1994–September 11, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 29," May 21, 2001–September 23, 2001.