(mainly in the 19th century)
Tintype photos, as the name
implies, were photos with the image on a metal surface, rather than on
glass or paper.
tintype process or ferrotype
process evolved from the
by Prof. Hamilton Smith of Ohio in 1856.
Ambrotype images were collodion negatives
on glass, viewed against a black surface. Tintypes were negatives
on on iron, coated with black paint, lacquer or enamel.
Both processes relied on the fact that a
collodion negative appeared as a positive image when viewed against a dark
surface. A tintype was much cheaper to produce than an ambrotype,
and was more durable.
Tintypes would be exposed while the
sensitised collodion on the metal was still wet, and would be processed
immediately after being exposed - so producing an early version of the
When mounted in cases, ambrotypes and
tintypes can appear similar. However the two types can be
distinguished by testing them with a strong magnet applied to the centre
of the glass.
The tintype process
was patented by the American, Hamilton L Smith.
The tintype process
was a cheap process, used mainly by beach photographers and other
were often low quality, so studios tended not to use tintypes,
except occasionally when a small 'gem' tintype images (about 1 ins x 1
ins) were mounted into a
size of card.
Tintypes in Britain and America
The person who sent this photo has asked
it might have been taken.
Please click on the image to read more.
produced in the USA from 1856 and became popular from the 1860s. They
remained popular into the 1900s and as late as the 1920s. Tintypes in the
USA were usually of a decent size (not like in the UK) and big enough to
see some good detail.
In UK the
(on glass) was much more common following the decline of the more
Tintypes were introduced
commercially (by Americans) into the UK in the early 1870s and started off
being very small (about 15mm across - the Gem; and 35mm across - the
Victoria). By the end of the decade they had become quite popular for the
cheap end of the market and they were fitted into a card the same size as
the ubiquitous Carte de Visite and therefore fitted nicely into family
Larger tintypes in the UK
were more likely to be produced by itinerant photographers (seaside etc.)
because the tin was light and unbreakable and tintypes became more and
more popular in the 1880s and 1890s and lasted until as late as the 1930s
on some beaches.
USA or Europe tintype?
Mike Maltz, Houston Texas USA, sent this tintype image
to me. (Please click on it to enlarge it.)
Mike is particularly interested in discovering whether
this image is likely to have come from Europe of USA. If you have
any views on this, please e-mail me.
Thank you. - Peter Stubbs.
Tintype in the Civil War
In America, tintypes were
used by the travelling photographers following the armies of the civil
war. Tin (or actually thin iron sheet) was cut to size by the
photographers. The sheet was then coated with something like tar.
This process was cheap, and the results could be mailed home without
- Coat a thin blackened sheet of iron with wet collodion on one side.
- Take photo with special camera (with up to 36 lenses).
Process while still wet
Cut into small rectangles, one per photo.
Perhaps mount on card to fit a carte de visite album OR
- Perhaps fit into a cheap case, possibly with
Tintype cameras would normally hold a
stack of unprocessed tin plates inside the camera. They would
have a device such as a rubber sucker and moving arm to raise each of the
plates in turn to be exposed.
After exposure, the plate would be dropped through a slot in the base of
the camera into a tank that held chemicals for immediately processing the
image. The chemicals would be a high strength solution that would
develop and fix an image. This was designed so that the developer
would work faster than the fixer, and the image would be ready to washed
in about a minute.
The image would normally be reversed, left to right, but some cameras
included a mirror or prism that made the image appear 'right way round'.
Alternatively, the photographer could re-photograph his original tintype
photo in order to get an image right way round.
[Details in the first two paragraphs above
are based on an article by John Coathup in Photographica World, the
journal of the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain: No
125, 2008/3, pp.24-29]
The image of an ambrotype
would be either reversed (left to right) or 'normal' depending on how
the glass was mounted.
However, the image of a tintype would
always be reversed.
tintype process was widely used for portraiture, being the cheapest form
of portrait available. It was often used by travelling
photographers, including seaside photographs.
Some attractive tintypes in cases have been found, but typically, a
tintype photo was of poor quality, with a limited range of tones, the lighter tones
was sometimes used to whiten the image. This is about the
most deadly poison we know today.
tintype is likely to be small, perhaps 1.5 x 2.5 ins, or only 1 x 0.5
ins in the case of a gem tintype.
framed in a more basic case than is used for ambrotypes OR
mounted on a card, the same size as a carte de visite to
fit a Victorian photograph album OR
fitted into a locket
Tintypes at the Seaside
Tintype photographs were
often produced by beach photographers. Edinburgh is situated close
to Portobello, a popular seaside resort around 1900. Several
photographers had studios on the Promenade at Portobello,
but I have found no Portobello tintype photos.
Tintypes at the Empire Exhibition
However, I have a more
recent recent tintype portrait in a thin silver coloured frame
2 1/2 ins. x 3 ins, marked:
Photomatic TRADEMARK USA
Automatic Co. Ltd.
Exhibition - Scotland - 1938.
are two a Gem Portraits - a small tintype photo mounted behind a carte de
visite sized cardboard mount. The mount was often a pastel shade,
Both the gem portraits above have
been produced by studios at 75 Princes Street - at the foot of
Hanover Street opposite the Royal Scottish Academy Galleries.
Gem and Carte de
For further information on
Gem and Carte de Visite tintype photos, please see the
web site of Photo Historian, Marcel Safier, Holland Park,
This web site gives a brief
description of the tintype and its origin. It refers to tintype
albums and lists many studios producing tintypes in the UK, USA,
Australia and New Zealand.
Sources of information are given and
there are links to other relevant web sites.