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Tintype Photograpy

Tintype prints, also known as ferrotypes in the United Kingdom, were popular in the 19th century for portraiture due to their low price and durability. Widely available from street vendors and studios, collectors would keep tintype portraits in small paper or metal mats.

Tintypes were made by exposing a wet silver salt-coated sheet of metal inside a camera to create a direct positive. The prepared metal plates were available commercially beginning in 1856. As the process did not require lengthy exposure or drying time, it was easy for vendors at carnivals or on the street to take a prepared plate, photograph their subjects, and hand the customer a varnished tintype in a matter of minutes.

Tintypes did not have the clarity of albumen prints, and gradually faded in popularity as the paper photograph rose to prominence. Contemporary photographers have revived the process, and studios dedicated to making tintype keepsake photographs exist in major cities such as New York.

Quick Facts

  • Tintype negatives were made on sheets of iron, not tin. The misnomer originates from the cheap or "tinny" feeling of the materials
  • Tintypes are unique images, and each exposure produces a direct positive. To reproduce them, photographers would use a special multi-lens camera and then cut the plate to separate individual pictures
  • In the Unites States, tintypes were relatively easy to produce in a mobile, covered wagon studio, and were the most popular form of photograph during the civil war. Photographers captured both portraits of soldiers, as well as the aftermath of battles on American soil

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