The discovery was significant. The selling price was noteworthy. But there’s a story within a story regarding a sixth-plate daguerreotype that sold for $18,000 today at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati.
The image was a portrait of Julia Dent Grant with her eldest children, Frederic Dent Grant and Ulysses S. Grant Jr., taken by an unknown St. Louis photographer in the late spring or early summer of 1854. Mrs. Grant was married to Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, he was away from his family, serving in the military in California — the Civil War and a presidency unthinkably in the future.
The image, which turned up at an Ohio auction last year and wasn’t identified until afterward, shows Mrs. Grant facing the camera. That’s the intriguing part. “Frontal portraits of Julia Grant are a rarity,” Cowan’s catalog noted. The reason was that Mrs. Grant suffered from strabismus. More simply put, she had a crossed eye. As such, she usually chose to be photographed in profile.
The daguerreotype sold at Cowan’s is the earliest-known image of Mrs. Grant. The discovery gives the photo an added layer of appeal. But once you know about Mrs. Grant’s lazy eye, that image becomes even more interesting.