1849: Robert Holland Vance to Messrs. Hale & Co.

These two letters were written by early American photographer, Robert Holland Vance (1825-1876), the son of William Vance (1759-1841) and Charlotte Holland (1795-1870) of Washington County, Maine. An on-line biography for Vance says he:

Robert H. Vance

Robert Holland Vance

“inher­ited money from his father and learned about photography as a young man while working in portrait studios in New Hampshire and Boston. By February 1847, he had his own gallery in Valparaiso, Chile, and later opened a similar venture in Santiago. Much of Vance’s commis­sioned work came from owners of the wealthy, silver mines of Atacama Province, but circumstantial evidence suggests he also documented landscapes for his own satisfaction, then a rare practice among professionals.

“By 1850, Vance was 25 years old and the California gold rush was underway. He sold his South American studios and moved to San Francisco to take advantage of the commercial opportunities (of the gold rush). En route to America, he stopped at Cuzco in the Peruvian Andes, and one biographer (Abel Alexander of Buenos Aires) believes this body of work represented Vance’s best photography whilst in South America.

“Within twelve months of his arrival in northern Cali­fornia, Vance had opened portrait studios in Sacramento, Marysville and San Josй, and eventually expanded his interests to Nevada (Virginia City and Carson City), and Hong Kong. Declaring Vance’s Sacramento location as the “finest Daguerreotype and Photograph Gallery in the world,” the San Francisco Daily Times described the “magnificent chandeliers, lace curtains, orlet [bordered] carpets, and the richest style of furniture.” There were “eight elegantly finished reception rooms, and twelve op­erating rooms [and] ladies sitting and toilet rooms, where family parties may go, with a perfect assurance of privacy, and the premises are so arranged that there are at least three distinct galleries, each separate from the other.” [Source: Dating-AU website]

Vance wrote both of these letters from Arequipa — which he calls the “poorest city in Peru” — where we learn that he has been operating for two months during the summer of 1849. His letters also reveal that he is enroute to Lima over some of the “worst roads in South America” and expecting to arrive there in March 1850 after applying his trade in “five different places” — including Cusco — along the way. From Lima, Vance expected to take passage to San Francisco and set up a Daguerreotype studio there in a prefabricated studio that he was having constructed in Boston which he planned to have shipped to California by the summer of 1850.

As many letters were misdirected or lost in the transport from the regions of South America to the United States, the contents of both of these letters are essentially the same, though written some three weeks apart and conveying slightly different versions of his operations in Chile and Peru.

Editor’s Note: I have taken the liberty of correcting the spelling on both of these letters to the best of my ability. It is readily apparent that Vance was not highly educated.


Addressed to Messrs, Hale & Co.
[Hale, J. H. & Co., daguerreotype miniatures, 109 Washington St., Boston, MA (1849)]


Arequipa, Peru, South America
July 25th 1849

Dear Sirs,

I have just received from my agent in Valparaiso [Chili], Messrs. Loring &c., a letter saying that they had sent you a draft for the balance of your Bill against me. I am sorry it was not paid before. It would have been paid immediately on the arrival of the the goods if I had been in Valpo. It was a long time after the goods arrived that I received your letter or heard of the arrival of the goods. But as soon as I did, I directed Mr. Loring & Co, to send you a draft for $900. The remainder I wish to stand until I saw your Bill. As soon as I got it and saw it was all correct (or nearly so), I directed them to send you a draft for the balance which they have done.

I have been in Bolivia for the last four or five months operating. I have done very well so far. I shall go from here to Cusco [Peru] where I shall stop two months and so on to Lima [Peru], stopping at four or five small places on the road. It will take me about six months to perform the journey and I intend to take $4,000 if not more by the route. I shall not operate in Lima on account of the prices being so low — small pictures are taken there for $1 apiece by some Frenchmen. But I believe there is now there two Americans who get about the same prices that you do in Boston. I get for mine just double what I did in Boston.

My rooms in Valpo are a going on finely. I have got one of the best of fellows in charge of them. He has one half of the profits. I get from $100 to 200 from them every month as my part of the profits. We manufacture rings, pins, in fact all kinds of gold & silver things [and] engraving in all its Branches, print visiting cards and take Daguerreotype pictures. Take it all together, it makes a good business for us & it increases with us every month as we become known. I expect in the course of a year we shall have the finest establishment upon the coast.

As soon as I get to Lima, I intend to go to California and open another kind of business in connection with my picture taking. To do so, it is necessary to have a good house and that for the present is not to be had there either for love or money. For that reason, I have sent to Boston to have one made all ready to put together — everything complete — and sent out to me. I am sure of making [money] after I get everything arranged as I want it from six to ten thousand dollars a year. It is the best speculation I know of for such a place as California.

I still continue to keep my business on this coast of Valpo. I have agreed with Marshall A. Lewis, No. 31 Washington Street, to execute my business for me. I shall make all my remittances to you which I wish you to pay over to him as he may want to pay for the things I have ordered him to purchase. I have also told my Brother to purchase $300 worth of things for me and to present the Bills to you and you would cash them for me. I shall send what money I think will be necessary to pay for all these things. But if it should lack a few hundred dollars of being enough to pay for everything I have ordered, I hope you will lend me an hand and advance me the money on which I will pay you twelve percent interest. I shall be able to send it all to you when I get to Lima & also to pay you for all the stock which I shall order of you in this letter. If you have any doubts of my responsibility to pay you, you can inquire of Charles Loring, brother to E. T. [Elisha T.] Loring, No. 5 India Wharf [Boston]. If I do not hold a note against him for $1,000, it now amounts to $1,100. If he will pay this in Boston, I will send you the Note and let you collect it, or else I will have to collect it in Valpo. I wish you would see him and ask him about it and write me to Lima to the care of Russell Dartnell, Esqr., with your Bill enclosed of whatever you have charged against me so that I may remit money to you from Lima. I shall get there within eight months. You will have to get Loring to forward your letter or else it will not come by the way of Panamar [Panama]. Direct him to send it that way and I shall be sure to get it in due time.

Image attributed to Vance taken in California

Image attributed to Vance taken in California

I want you to send me the following things, viz.

1 Doz Whole Frames with Glasses & Borders
1 Doz. Whole Cases
2 Doz. Half Frames
4 Doz. 2A Frames
2 Doz. Half Cases Velvet
12 Doz. 2A Cases Silk
24 Doz. Medium Cases Silk
24 Doz. Medium Plates
12 Doz. 2A Plates
2 Doz. Half Plates
1 Half Plate Camara & 2 Half Plate Chemical Boxes
1 Small Camara & 2 Small Chemical Boxes
2 Small ____ Baths with Thermometers
4 Cast Iron Head Rests & 2 Camara Stands
2 Boxes of Paints & 1 Doz. Small Camel Hair Brushes
1 lb. of Rouge & 10 lbs. of Ground Rotten stone

Image attributed to Vance takin in California

Image attributed to Vance taken in California

List of Chemical Wanted:
3 oz. of Bromine
6 oz. of Colored Iodine
4 oz. Dye India
2 lbs. of Hyposulphate
I expect chemicals & plates from France soon. Therefore _____ (little)

The whole to be packed in those cheap, there feet ____ trunks (as the trunks will be very useful to me) and directed to Saint [San] Francisco, California. This stock is to commence operations in California as I shall leave all my stock on this coast in Valpo. for those rooms there.

Send also to Valparaiso the following stock, Viz:

4 Gross of 2A silk cases
4 Gross of M silk cases
½ Doz. Boxes of Paints & 1 lb. of Rouge.

Pack the whole in the same kind of trunks as the above & direct to me in Valpo., to the care of E. T. Loring. Please send these things by the first opportunity. You may be sure of your money for them when I get to Lima or any other Bills that you may settle in regard to those other things I have ordered.

I send you inclosed a draft on Gilles & Co. House in London for ƒ261-15 S on sixty days sight. This draft you can realize the money for immediately as it is against one of the best houses in all Europe. I see by one of the English papers that Bills in London are selling at 6¼ percent premium in New York. I hope you will do the best you can with it for every hundred dollars that I get put in the U.S. cost me here 110 and this draft — unless you get a premium on it — will cost me $114 for every 100 paid in the states. But if you get the 6¼ percent premium, I shall lose but 8 percent which is a fair exchange.

I have sent also the Daring & Co., Valpo., 90 ounces of Fine Gold and 967 Hard Dollars to be sent to you by the first vessel that sails for the states as it passes to send by that way than by the steamers. For the Gold, I gave $18 per ounce. I am in hopes you will get more than that as it is very fine gold. Do the best you can with it. The Dollars also, I believe, are at a small premium but I am not sure. I have sent you more than I thought I should have been able to at first. I expect what I have ordered Mr. Lewis to purchase for me will amount to from $2000 to $2500 which will leave you a balance in your hands to give me credit for after paying the Bill of things to the amount of $800, which I have told my brother to get for me. But if these things should cost more than what I have set them down at, please settle the whole and charge it to me, for I do not wish to fail in my undertaking as I am sure it will pay me well — at least $10,000 a year. You will write me to Lima to the care of Russell Dartnell, Esq. & let me know how much I shall then be in your debt. Those cases for Valparaiso, please send by the very first opportunity, but the other stock for California please send in the ship with my other things which Mr. Lewis is to purchase for me. E. T. Loring & Co, will send you a bill of lading as soon as as that Gold & those Dollars are shipped, which I wish you to have insured so as to be on the safe side.

I will now close hoping you will do the best you can for me & I shall do the same by you.

I remain truly yours, — R. H. Vance




Arequipa, Peru, South America
August 16th 1849

Messrs. Hale & Co.
Dear Sirs,

Vance Advertisement

Vance Advertisement

I sent you a letter by last Steamer containing a Draft on Gilles & Co. House in London which I wished you to sell at as high a premium as possible. I see by the papers that drafts on London at 60 days sight are selling at from 5 to 8 percent premium, all is I wish you to do the best you can & turn the draft into money. I have also sent to Loring & Co, Valpo., Ninety ounces of fine washed gold and 967 Hard Dollars to be shipped to you by the first vessel and the Bill of Lading forwarded to you by mail. As soon as it comes to hand, please have it all insured. This money I am sending to you to pay for a House & various other things which I have ordered Marshall A. Lewis, No. 31, Washington Street to purchase for me and send to Saint [San] Francisco, California. I wish you to pay the money over to him as he may want it. The balance you can pass to my credit, for I do not think the things that I have ordered will amount to the money I have sent. But if by accident it should amount to more, please advance the balance and you shall be well paid for the same for I do not wish my undertaking to fail on any account for I am sure of making ten thousand dollars a year out of it as soon as I once get it going — which I am in hopes to have in full operation in less than a year from this time.

I want you also to send me the following articles, Viz:

[Repeat of order from Letter 1]

100 Dollars worth of fine blank visiting cards (plain). I wish for an assortment (large & small) and the wholesale price of the same so that I may know when to purchase next time. We are doing now in our rooms in Valparaiso a great deal of engraving and printing which pays about as well as Daguerreotypes. I shall pay you five percent commission for purchasing the cards and twelve percent for your money until it is paid. I shall be able to pay you all up when I get to Lima, which will be in seven months from this time. If you are afraid of my ability to pay you, do not send the things. I can refer you to Charles Loring who I presume you will find with his brother, E. T. Loring, No. 5 India Wharf. I hold a note of Hand against him of $1000 principal & $100 interest for lent money. I will send you the same from Lima if he is willing to pay them. I wish you would see him about it and if he is willing to pay it, then I will send it to you from Lima.

Vance Advertisement

Vance Advertisement

I am sure of getting in at the very least in my route from here to Lima at least $4,000. I shall operate in five different places between here and this. Cusco will be my first place 300 miles from here. From there to Lima is 600 miles & one of the worst roads in all South America. I do not find the places quite so close together here as I found them at home. I never find two places large enough to work in nearer than 150 miles to each other, and many times I have to go 300 miles. I have been operating in this city just two months and have taken $2000 for stock & pictures which is not so bad, although it is called the poorest city in Peru. I am making apparatus wherever I go. You know I am not slow at that business. I get $100 for instru___ and $100 more for small camera, & a good price for stock.

I want you to write me and direct to Lima, to the care of Russell Dartnell, Esq., with your bill against me inclosed so that I may cancel it while I am there. I expect to go from there to California unless I have time to go up to Valpo. and spend a week or so, and then get to California before my things do. I shall expect a letter from Mr. Lewis when I get to Lima letting me know when my things were shipped. You will have to get E. T. Loring to forward your letter across the ismas [isthmus] or else I shall not get it under five or six months after you send it. So be sure and get him to forward it & then I shall receive it in due time. I send you in this a duplicate to the draft on Gills & Co., London [amount] which I sent to you in my last letter. You will see that I have written you this for fear you might not have got my last dated August 6th. If you did, this letter will [be] of no account excepting I have ordered a few more things for my Valpo., rooms than what I did in my first, which you can send if you please.

I will now close hoping I shall here from you when I get to Lima. I leave tomorrow for Cusco. My things went three days ago. I hope this may find you in the enjoyment of health and happiness.

I remain truly yours, — R. H. Vance


Other pictures attributed to Robert H. Vance:


An Ambrotype attributed to R. H. Vance taken in San Francisco (1854)








Naval Captain by Robert Holland Vance



One response to “1849: Robert Holland Vance to Messrs. Hale & Co.

  • Gary W. Ewer


    Thank you very much for adding the Robert H. Vance letters to your blog. I found them very informative and helpful in my understanding of Vance’s operation prior to his arrival in San Francisco in 1850.

    I have been intensely researching Vance and all facets regarding the 300 whole plate daguerreotypes he exhibited in New York in the fall/winter of 1851. I have been able to unlock the mystery of what happened to those daguerreotypes (and spoke of my research findings in a paper delivered to The Daguerreian Society in 2011.)

    Might I be able to conduct an e-mail conversation with you regarding the Vance letters?

    all the best,

    Gary W. Ewer
    photographic historian
    my website:
    The Daguerreotype: an Archive of Source Texts, Graphics, and Ephemera

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