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Earliest known photo of US First Lady fetches $456K at auction

Dolly Madison news
Image – Sotheby’s

A daguerreotype of former first lady Dolley Madison, taken in 1846 by John Plumbe Jr., has resurfaced after decades in obscurity and was recently auctioned at Sotheby’s for $456,000, significantly more than its estimated value.

This photograph, now identified as the earliest known image of an American first lady, captures Madison with a piercing yet inviting gaze. The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, which also holds the earliest known photograph of a U.S. president, acquired the portrait.

Dolley Madison, known for her influential role as first lady from 1809 to 1817 and her bravery during the War of 1812, is celebrated for shaping the role of the first lady.

Her hospitality and political acumen helped bridge divides among the nation’s leaders. The daguerreotype, discovered by anonymous sellers cleaning out a family basement, will be showcased in a 2026 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, marking both the 50th anniversary of the museum’s photography collection and the 250th anniversary of the United States’ founding.

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