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tintypes - introduction

  • Tintypes came before photographic paper was invented. Tintypes originated in the early 1850’s. Kodak came on the photographic scene about 1888. Tintypes were so popular they were produced for over 100 years and were still found in the 1950’s.
  • Until the Tintype, photos were produced on glass or copper. Tintypes were not really on tin, but rather thin, coated iron plates. Early photographic products were placed in the back of a box camera and exposed directly though the camera lens. Because of this all forms of early photography resulted in a mirror image of the subject. All prints were one of a kind.
  • The most common size for a tintype was 2 ¼ x 3 ½, but they were made in various sizes. The limiting factor was the size of the camera back.
  • Photographers made their own hand coated plates. The plates were created by painting them with collodian (gelatin) and dipping them in silver nitrate and other ingredients. The plates had to used while still wet! Best of all, this mixture was both toxic and flammable and caused many an explosion. Final prints were usually varnished for protection.
    The most significant fact about tintypes was their price. Tintypes were the first inexpensive photographic print and as such, made photography available to the working class. Prior to the tintype only aristocrats could afford photography. The number of “photographers” proliferated as a result with quality a frequent casualty.
  • One popular use of photography was to photograph the dead (post mortems). They were also popular during the American Civil War because the soldiers’ pictures were durable enough to send back home via horseback. Tintypes were available from traveling photographers operating out of wagons or tents to elaborate photo parlors in towns.
  • Tintypes weren’t just an American phenomenon. The technique moved to various parts of the world including the British Isles and South America.



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