Photograph: 1839 – The first “selfie” in history?

1839 Oldest self portrait Robert Cornelius. Daguerreotype

Could this be the first “selfie” in history? It is an 1839 self portrait of Robert Cornelius (1809 –1893). On the reverse of the photo it reads ‘The first light picture ever taken’. What pose would you assume if you thought that posterity might stare back at you for eons into the future?

Cornelius was from Philadelphia (USA), a photography pioneer and a lamp manufacturer. He ran two of the earliest photographic studios in America during the early 1840s, but rival studios opened up and Mr Cornelius appears to have decided that gas and lighting was more interesting or lucrative. A previous post gives you the literary context of 1839.

But perhaps you are sceptical. Possibly you think that in a true selfie a person should be proudly half naked? And surely that didn’t come along until very recently? Here’s another selfie, this time from 1840.

first selfie

No, this gentleman isn’t dead. This is a self portrait of French photography pioneer, Hippolyte Bayard – pretending to be a drowned man (or, at least, that’s his excuse).






2 thoughts on “Photograph: 1839 – The first “selfie” in history?

Add yours

    1. ha, yes! – and thank you. Robert looks very modern, he could be walk down any street today wearing jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers – meanwhile, we can only hope that Hippolyte would be wearing something! 😉


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