Find of the Week: Tintypes

Find of the Week: A Couple of Tintypes

A tintype is a non-reflective, one-of-a-kind photograph on a sheet of iron coated with a dark enamel. Its most common use was for portrait photography. Like ambrotypes, tintypes rely on the principle that underexposed collodion negatives appear as positive images when viewed against a dark background… Tintypes first appeared in the United States in 1856 and remained popular well into the 20th century.

source: Notes on Photographs

So what’s the difference between a daguerreotype and a tintype? In all my years of looking at old stuff (inexpertly), I have never known how to distinguish between the two. So I finally did a little research, and here’s a few tips on determining whether you’re looking at a tintype or a daguerreotype.  This comes straight from the depressingly efficient eHow (the website that de-romanticizes the discovery process):

  • Establish the age of the photograph. Daguerreotypes were produced for a limited amount of time, only about 20 years, from 1839 to 1860. Tintype production had a longer run of about 40 years, with the first tintype being created around 1856 and lasting as a photographic method until the early 1900s.
  • Examine the image. Daguerreotype images have a magical quality to them that tintypes do not. If the photograph can only be seen at certain angles, there is a good chance it is a daguerreotype. These images also have mirror qualities to them. A daguerreotype will reflect items such as paper with writing on it if placed before the image.

So there you have it.  The compelling seaside pose of the gentleman in the second photo notwithstanding, I have conclusively determined that I am in possession of tintypes. I quickly came to the sad realization that my  images lacked the “magical quality” attributed to daguerreotypes by the experts.  The experts who put the How in eHow. And now that I know, I won’t rest until I stumble onto a couple of daguerreotypes. I’m not exactly sure what qualifies as a “magical quality” but whatever it is, I want it, even if it only comes via a two-hundred year-old photograph.

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