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Extremely Rare Full-Plate Ambrotype of Purser Joseph Wilson, USN


Extremely Rare Full-Plate Ambrotype of Purser Joseph Wilson, USN – This extremely rare ambrotype is in overall fine condition, with some emulsion streaking, primarily in the bottom area of Wilson’s image. The image proper retains excellent clarity, depicting Wilson, considered the oldest U.S. Navy Paymaster, still on active duty, serving until after the Civil War. Perry Adams was able to identify this fine and rare image by contacting a well-established, long-time navy collector, who happened to have an Id’d CDV of Wilson, apparently taken during the same sitting, at the same time as when this ambro was taken (we have included an image of the CDV – front and back). This image appears to have been taken in Boston, during the Civil War; it depicts Wilson, in full dress uniform, holding a cane. The image, as mentioned, is quite clear, and the back retains all of its original, black lacquer. Enhancing the image is the fact that it is housed in a fine, faux-grained, period frame, with original its cover glass. This is indeed a rare image, especially considering its unusual and rarely encountered size.

Research yielded the following information about Joseph Wilson, who had a long and significant career, including service during the War of 1812, during which he was captured by the British and later paroled, returning to service, apparently violating the expected norms for a paroled officer. The frame and plate measure as follows: Frame Size – Height – 13.5”; Width – 11.75” ; Sight Size of Plate – Height – 7.75” ; Width – 5.75” .

Joseph Wilson entered the Navy a Paymaster, on July 24, 1813, initially serving on the brig “Rattlesnake”, with subsequent service on the following vessels: ship “Argus” in 1814, the brig “Savannah”, in 1815, the frigate “Macedonian”, in 1817 (remaining there for four years); the schooner “Shark”, in 1824; the frigate “Guerriere”, in 1828, for four years; the ship “Preble”, in 1840; the ship “Lexington”, in 1846, for four years; the steamship “Powhatan”, in 1861. He was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1788 and died, at his residence, Black Will’s Cliff, in Swampscott, Massachusetts, on June 19, 1875. Wilson was the oldest Paymaster in the service and described as  “most correct and methodical man.” According to period accounts,“…it is said that his accounts with the government never varied a dollar, and he enjoyed, as he deserved, the fullest confidence of the authorities in the Navy Department.” During the last years of his life, Wilson was placed on the retired list, with a rank of Commodore. Wilson was interred in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Joseph Wilson - Birth:  30 Oct 1788 – USA; Death:  19 Jun 1875 – Swampscott, Massachusetts, USA; Marriage:  14 Aug 1814 - Spouse:  Jane Peters Greene







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