The case for the daguerreotype is made of leather and features a design of a vine and grapes on the cover. (1961.011)

The Mary Baker Eddy Library Collections include more than just Eddy’s papers (see, for example, these past articles). One unique item we’d like to highlight this month is a daguerreotype of Abigail Baker Tilton, Eddy’s sister.

Today it’s common for people to take, send, and print photographs from their phones. In contrast, the daguerreotype seems quite primitive. But it was the first practical method of photography, announced to the public by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1839. The Library of Congress describes Daguerre’s invention as “a polished copper plate upon which an image was directly exposed” and goes on to explain :

No negative was used in the process and so each daguerreotype was a unique, one-of-a-kind object. With its brilliant, mirror-like surface and its ornate case, small enough to hold in the hand or carry in the pocket, the daguerreotype was suited to a vivid and intimate representation of a loved one.1

Click here for a video on YouTube of how daguerreotypes are made.

The “loved one” in this daguerreotype was Abigail Baker Tilton (1816-1886), Mary’s eldest sister, five and a half years older than she. In 1837, when she was 21, Abigail married Alexander Hamilton Tilton. He was 32 and a member of a family whose wealth was built on textile mills located in the town of Sanbornton Bridge, New Hampshire (later renamed Tilton in honor of his family).

Front of the daguerreotype case

The case for the daguerreotype is made of leather and features a design of a vine and grapes on the cover. (1961.011)

The two sisters had a thorny relationship. As Eddy described it in 1907: “My oldest sister dearly loved me, but I wounded her pride when I adopted Christian Science, and to a Baker that was a sorry offence.”2 So it’s not surprising that when Abigail passed away in 1886, she didn’t leave Eddy one cent. (However, author Robert Peel notes that “On at least one occasion when she was seriously ill, [Abigail] had been on the point of sending for Mrs. Eddy to come and heal her but had been dissuaded by others.”3)

After her discovery of Christian Science in 1866, one of Eddy’s earliest healings involved curing her niece Ellen Pilsbury of enteritis (an inflammation of the intestine).4 Pilsbury was the daughter of Martha Baker Pilsbury, another Baker sister. After the healing, Abigail wrote to Martha: “I have my private opinion that in the end no real good will result from all the stir she [Eddy] has made about Ellen, but hope I am mistaken and great benefit will result from her efforts yet.”5

The final correspondence in our collection between Mary Baker Eddy and Abigail Baker Tilton is from August 1885, and it was quite sharp. Abigail sarcastically addressed Eddy as “My Dear Rev[erend]., etc. etc. etc.” Evidently Eddy had sought refuge from a rainstorm in Abigail’s barn, on the way to visiting the monument of her late husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy, in Tilton’s Park Cemetery. “A barn or a lobby,” wrote Abigail, “is the most fitting place for you and tramps.”6

To her credit, Eddy responded with great restraint: “…how my heart goes out to you in sorrow that you are not filling the last pages of your life with better thoughts, motives and aims. May our dear Father forgive you and fill you with the sweet peace that I find in His love.”7

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. America’s First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1862,” Library of Congress, accessed June 17, 2016, http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/connections/daguerreotype/history.html.
  2. Mary Baker Eddy, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1913), 313.
  3. Mary Baker Eddy:The Years of Trial (Boston: Christian Science Publishing Society, 1971), 215.
  4. Robert Peel, Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (Boston: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966) 215; Gillian Gill, Mary Baker Eddy (Reading, Massachusetts: Perseus Books, 1998), 175-176.
  5. Abigail Baker Tilton to Martha Pilsbury, 4 August 1867, LF#1411, Longyear Museum, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
  6. Tilton to Mary Baker Eddy, 18 August 1885, IC352.48.004.
  7. Eddy to Tilton, 26 August 1885, L13903.