Tintype is the popular moniker for melainotype, which got its name from the dark color of the unexposed photographic plate, and ferrotype, named after the plate’s iron composition (for the record, tintypes contain no tin). Patented in 1856, tintypes were seen as an improvement upon unstable, paper daguerreotypes and fragile, glass ambrotypes. In contrast, tintype photographs were exposed on a sheet of thin iron coated with collodion, which required less time to expose than albumen, but was still inconvenient inasmuch as the photograph had to be taken with the wet material on the plate.

Arriving just prior to the Civil War, tintypes became the favorite way for a soldier to capture his likeness before heading off to battle. Most Civil War tintypes were shot in a studio against a painted backdrop. In fact, so many of these tintypes were produced that the date and studio location of the image can sometimes be identified just because of the design of the backdrop. Tintypes were also popular with tourists at resorts and arcades, so much so that the medium persisted well into the 1930s. Other genres of tintypes include post-mortem photographs (a particularly Victorian preoccupation) and tintypes of paintings and other works of art, which is why tintypes are frequently used by art scholars researching late 18th- and early 19th-century artists.

The raw materials for tintypes were purchased by studios and photographers as 6½-by-8½ inch plates, with brand names like Eureka and Excelsior. These plates were then cut up into smaller sizes based on the whim of the customer. Because this task was performed in the studio or sometimes in the field, the dimensions and uniformity of tintypes can vary, with rounded corners being the most common deviation from pure rectangularity. Many tintypes were also trimmed after the fact by customers, who would gladly sacrifice an edge or two to get their tintype to fit into an existing frame.

The smallest tintypes were called gems for their tiny (½-by-1 inch) size. These tintypes were so small, they were often secreted into lockets and worn by a loved one like a piece of jewelry. More common were what are known as 1/6th-plate tintypes, which are roughly 2¾-by-3¼ inches. Other studios would put your image on a tintype in the standard cartes-de-visites size (2½-by-4 inches), while wealthier customers would spring for ¼, ½, of full-plate tintypes.

The chief disadvantages of tintypes, other than the lack of a negative, was that the images they produced were dark to begin with and tarnished with age quickly. That’s why many tintypes were overpainted later, some in a folk-art style, others simply to brighten up old images. To preserve the images, tintypes were often encased in elaborate frames similarly to ambrotypes. A quick way to determine if an encased image is one or the other is to hold a magnet to the back of the case—if it sticks, you are holding a tintype.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Scrap Album

The Scrap Album

Malcolm Warrington’s The Scrap Album is a handsomely organized site, as you’d expect from an articulate champio… [read review or visit site]

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Stevengraphs Bookmarks and Postcards

Malcolm Roebuck's tribute to the ornate silk picture bookmarks and postcards ('Stevengraphs') produced by Thomas St… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Tintype Of Sergeant In Gray Uniform Holding A Hunting Rifle-possible ConfederateCa 1860's Civil War 1/4 Plate Tintype Armed Union SoldierCa. 1860s Civil War 6th Plate Tintype Armed Union Infantry Officer In Union Case2 Ambrotypes Of Union Artilleryman One With His With Wife Circa 1860's Civil War Cdv Size Tintype Zouave Holding A Very Long Smoking PipeTintype Abraham Lincoln6th Plt 1840's-50's Truly Artistic In Memoriam Daguerreotype Oval Portrait2 Antique Daguerreotypes With Tintype Of Gold Miners,& Ambrotype Of Small Girl57243 19th Century Full Plate Very Rare Tintype Photographers 1880 Tintype Image - Young Man With Giant High Wheel Bicycle - Crisp ImageCivil War Tintype Soldier Flag Special Belt BuckleCa 1860's Civil War 1/4 Plate Tintype Union Infantry Soldier "death Stare"Grizzled Civil War Soldier Infantryman Tintype 1/6th PlateEstate Fresh Antique Civil War Photo Album Soldiers Officer Tintype Cdv Named IdNice Id'd Tintype Image Of Armed Civil War Soldier With Musket, Knife & PistolCa 1860's Civil War 9th Plate Octagon Tintype Union Corporal W/possible Id1/9 Plate Tintype Of A Volunteer From New Hampshire1880 Tintype Image - Man Standing W/ Unique High Wheel Bicycle - Bent HandlebarsAntique Lot Of 51 Miniature Gem Tintypes Tin Types Photographs Photos ImagesTin Type Confederate Soldier.2x Civil War Tintype Photos, Same Union Soldier - Gold Foil Leaf & CaseCivil War Soldiers 1/6 Plate Tintype & Patriotic Thermoplastic CaseCivil War Confederate Soldier Tintype Csa Belt PlateLot Of 12 Graflex 4x5 Film Pack Adapters - Make Wet Plate, Tintype HoldersMan Plays Banjo Woman With Mandolin 1890s Tintype PhotoCivil War Soldier With Gold Buttons 1/6th Plate Tintype Black Young Man Precocious Black Child In Sun Hat & Black Star Outfit Tintype1800's Tin Type Black African American Slave Woman With MedalCa. 1860s Civil War 6th Plate Tintype Armed Union Soldier In Patriotic CaseCivil War Soldier 1/6th Plate TintypeLot Of 22 Tintype Ambrotype And Daguerrotype PhotosEstate Lot 7 Cased Daguerreotypes Tin Types Elmer Bennett Ide Family C.1850Rare Large1/4 Plate Tintype Of Workmen With Tools Saws Paint Brushes Trowels African American Women, Sewing Machine Signs, Maysville, Kentucky: Occupational?Antique Gold Filled Locket With Tintype PhotosTintype Bird Juvenile Great Blue Heron ?Antique Victorian Portrait Tintype Miniatures Photos W/carrying Case C. 1880 YqzCivil War Soldier 1/6th Plate TintypeVintage Daguerreotype Tintype Frames Photos Lot Of 11 Old Tin Type PhotographsLot 2 Early Cased Daguerreotype Ambrotype Tintype Child Children Kid Baby PhotoCivil War Era Tintype Union Sgt. A.b.s. Roberts 1/6 Plate Gold Foil Cased 1862Civil War Soldier 1/6th Plate Tintype With Kepi And Thermoplastic CaseId's 1/6th Plate Tintype Of Two Civil War Soldiers Dated 1865 With Flag BackdropCivil War Soldier Tintype 1/6th Plate Looks Great In Hand But Bad ScanRare Antique Image Tintype Child Baseball Uniform W Base Ball Bat Cap Excellent Original Civil War Era Tintype Confederate Officer 1/9 Plate Gold Foil CasedCivil War Corporal Killed In Action Large Whole Plate Tintype Photo C1863Small ~ 1870s Gem Tintype Album With 19 Tiny Images Surviving Inside It1/16th Plate Tintype Of Gentleman Wearing Cowboy Hat In Gutta Percha Case1/6th Plate Tintype Of Gentleman In Patriotic Case - "constitution & The Laws"1880’s Three Tintype Images Of Early Safety Bicycles - One Has Three BikesAntique Leather Bound Photo Album 54 Ferotype Tintype Cabinet Carrds Post MortemId's 1/6th Plate Cased Tintype Of Civil War Soldier With Nice Flag BackdropTiny 3.5" Gem Tintype Album With Labeled Family Portraits Very Sweet Antique 1/6 Plate Tintype Musician W/ Baritone * Musical Instrument1800's Daguerreotype & Tintype Black Deer Cased Image Photograph Mother & BabyHandome Guy Holding A Kitty Cat Fashion Hat Milford, Ma Tinted Cheeks Tintype13 Antique Photo Dry Plates Ad & Box...antique Copper Frames...lots Of PicturesCivil War Tintype - Possibly Confederate From AlabamaVintage Tin Type Photo Of 3 Women In Hinged Box