You Know What This Oldest Surviving Photo of President John Quincy Adams Looks Like?

Screengrab via Columbia Pictures.
Screengrab via Columbia Pictures.

The oldest known original photo of a US president has been found and will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s. While John Quincy Adams looks very dignified in his portrait, he also looks like he’s plotting to kill us all.


The New York Times reports that this daguerreotype of Adams, taken in a Washington portrait studio, has since 1843 been in the family of one of his fellow representatives, Horace Everett. He gave it as a gift following his tenure as president, sort of like a high school yearbook portrait. The family was seemingly unaware of the image’s significance. There are other versions of Adams from this photoshoot, but this is the only original daguerreotype to survive:

Emily Bierman, the head of Sotheby’s photographs department, called it “without a doubt the most important historical photo portrait to be offered at auction in the last 20 years.”

“Not only is it an incredibly important historical record,” she said, “it’s also a stunning composition. You really get a sense of who Adams was.”

Um, okay, if you say so:

Image via Sotheby’s.
Image via Sotheby’s.

That dude is straight up Vigo the Destroyer’s cousin or something. Ghostbuster’s prop department ripped this picture off. Look at him! You can almost imagine Adams yelling, “Death is but a door. Time is but a window. I’ll be back!”

Adams was supposedly very into getting his picture taken, and wrote about the process in his journals. In total, he sat for 60 portraits in his lifetime, which according to my estimate of cultural selfie inflation is like, what, eight million photos by 2017 standards?

“The operation is performed in half a minute; but is yet altogether incomprehensible to me,” Adams wrote. “It would seem as easy to stamp a fixed portrait from the reflection of a mirror; but how wonderful would that reflection itself be, if we were not familiarized to it from childhood.”


The image is valued between $150,000 and $250,000 and goes up for auction in October. Though this is technically the oldest original image of a president, William Henry Harrison did sit for a portrait in 1841, though all existing copies were made years later. Harrison also looks far less ominous. If you want a piece of history that you fear may also come to life and destroy you, John Quincy Adams is the only choice.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin


Cherith Cutestory

He was kind of a badass. In death as in life, I guess.

I volunteered for a books for prisoners thing in the basement of a Church in Quincy once. It was just a typical church basement from the direction I entered. And a couple of hours in it turned out John Quincy Adams’s tomb (along with his mother, father and wife’s) was on the other side of the wall from where I was sitting.

It was a little creepy.