The Church Historical Department recently recovered two rare photographs stolen from the department in the early 1980s. One is a rare daguerreotype of Brigham Young taken in 1850. The other captures a scene at the 1853 groundbreaking for the Salt Lake Temple.
In 1839, French artist Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre introduced a photographic process that captured focused images on silver-coated copper sheets. These captured images - the first commercially viable form of photography - were called daguerreotypes. Daguerreotypers, as the pliers of this new craft became known, made their way to early Nauvoo and pioneer Utah. As a result, the earliest photographic images of Church leaders and events are daguerreotypes.In late 1989 or early 1990, Historical Department staff members discovered that the Brigham Young daguerreotype and the one of the Salt Lake Temple groundbreaking were missing from the Church's historical collections. For a time staff members assumed the missing daguerreotypes had simply been misplaced. Over the next several months, efforts were made to locate the missing items.
In July 1991, a New York daguerreotype dealer contacted a Historical Department staff member to ask if the Church would be interested in acquiring daguerreotypes of Brigham Young and the Salt Lake Temple groundbreaking. He said the daguerreotypes were in the possession of a Los Angeles collector. The dealer said the images were similar to ones he had seen published. He did not have the daguerreotypes in his possession but hoped to obtain them in the near future.
The Historical Department later contacted the dealer and informed him that the daguerreotypes he described seemed to match two missing from the Church collections. The dealer sent photocopies of them to the Historical Department, and, after viewing the photocopies, officials from the Church Historical and Security departments flew to New York to personally examine the daguerreotypes, which the dealer had meanwhile received on consignment. This inspection convinced the Church representatives that the daguerreotypes were those missing from the Historical Department.
Believing that the daguerreotypes had been removed from Church possession sometime in the past without authorization, Church officials reported the matter to law enforcement officials, registered the loss with the Art Loss Register, published a notice and copies of the daguerreotypes in IFARreports, (a publication sent to collectors, auction houses and law enforcement agencies), and eventually filed suit in federal district court in New York to regain possession of the valuable historical objects. The court ruled in the Church's favor earlier this year, and the daguerreotypes have been returned safely to the Historical Department.
Church officials remain uncertain how the daguerreotypes were removed from the Historical Department. The Los Angeles collector reported purchasing the daguerreotypes from a Salt Lake antique shop in approximately 1982 while in Utah on business. The collector had been taken to the shop by a Utah business associate who later passed away. The California collector has been unable to recall enough information to positively identify the shop in which he acquired the items. Anyone with information that may shed light on this matter should report it to the Historical Department Administration, 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.