Monday, June 28, 2010


I have a small collection of Tintype photographs, and I have scanned six of them here.  Please click on the photo to make it larger and easier to see some of the detail in the photos.  Tintypes were invented in France in 1853, and were patented in the USA in 1856.  To take a tintype photograph, the photographer would take a thin photograph-sized sheet of iron (not tin as the name would imply) and varnish it black.  He would then apply a wet coating of silver-based emulsion, and then place the sheet in the camera and expose the photo.  The photograph appears right on the iron sheet.  It is technically a negative, but the black varnish background makes it a positive.  Tintypes were comparatively fast and easy to produce.  This was the era in which photographs were taken only by professionals, men who were virtually chemists.  There were no portable cameras that you could snap away around the house.  For that reason tintypes were very popular at fairs and carnivals.  You could go into a tent, get your photo taken, and it would be ready to pick up before you left the fair.  Tintypes were very common for more than 40 years, and there were many thousands of them made. The gelatin-silver emulsion photographs have proven to hold their images very well over the years.  When you consider that the 6 tintypes I have shown here are all in the neighborhood of 125 years old, the quality is quite remarkable.  Due to my interest in photographic history, I own ten of them.  They are available at antique malls, and I see them pretty regularly, but I only buy ones that are in good shape and in which the subjects of the photos intrigue me.  I have looked at these old photos many times, and almost feel I know the people. Sadly, the reality is that their identities have been lost forever.  It's almost haunting to look into the eyes of the people in these portraits taken in a far different time.

1 comment:

  1. Darren - I've just figured out how to do this. Anyway, congrats on the gold medal! I think you're the most decorated of the siblings - I lettered in track in Jr High and that's about it :) Terry