In 1855, Brady advertised a new kind of image, the photograph, made by shining light through a glass negative onto a piece of light-sensitive paper. According to contemporary critics, photographs united the dazzling precision of the silvery daguerreotype with the familiar characteristics of engravings or lithographs, for, like prints, photographs were easy to exhibit and easy to reproduce. Brady's operators (including the talented Alexander Gardner) soon produced large negatives--nearly 20 inches high and 17 inches wide--which they named "Brady Imperials." With their grand size and beautiful range of tone and texture, Imperial images offered Brady a new way to display his talents. He enhanced his carefully composed portraits with artistic props, such as columns and drapery, while his assistants could also add ink, chalk, watercolor, or oil paint to the finished photograph. The cost for an Imperial ranged from five dollars to several hundred for the most lavish examples--at a time when many workers earned less than three hundred dollars a year.
2. Nathaniel Parker Willis /Mathew Brady Studio