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    

Knockout Sixth Plate Tintype-triple Armed Civil War Soldier In Zouave Hat NrRare ½ Plate Tintype Of Civil War Sailor American Flag Museum PieceOriginal Civil War Id'd Tintype, 79th Ohio, Sharpshooter ?? W Flintlock Unusual 1880s Error Tintype Back Of Photographer's Head, Girls Looking ScaredCivil War Confederate Id Tintype K Morgam 47th North Carolina Infantry & FamilyRare Civil War Era Tintype Named Union Soldier-stamp On BackRare Sixth Plate Ambrotype/tintype Case-with $10 Gold Coin Design Berg #1-70Civil War Soldier Tintype Photograph 1/6 Plate W/3 Pistols,sword,patriotic Case!Antique Vtg Colored Photo Daguerreotype Ambrotype Beautiful Lady Bear Shoulder Antique Tintype Photo Civil War Confederate Guerrilla Red Battle Shirt Top Hat1/6 Civil War Soldier Ambrotype- Not TintypeCivil War Tintype Half Plate Confederate 1/6th Plate Tintype - Civil War Soldier - Holding Revolver1/4plate Tintype 2 Union OfficersCa. 1860's Armed Union Infantry 2nd Lieutenant Civil War 9th Plate Size TintypeRare Sixth Plate Ambrotype/tintype Case- 'fireman Saving Child' Berg #1-961908 Solid 14k Yellow Gold Hunter Watch Case Tintype Image Scrap/non 32.3g Nr6th Plate Tintype Cowboys With Pistols & Cigars Nr Daguerreotype Ambrotype#1116s Antique Vtg Photo Daguerreotype Ambrotype 3 Young Girls Sisters 4 3/4"lCivil War Tintype Photograph Union Soldier 1st Massachusetts Battery 1861-1865 Three Civl War Soldier's * Tintype & Rare Thermoplatic CaseCivil War Era Tintype In Case~union? Soldier In Uniform & WeaponsUnion Soldier Holding Newspaper TintypeUnion Officer Tintype Large Half Plate!! Four Ninth Plate Victorian Images: 3 Tintypes & 1 Ambrotype Photographs Of WomenMan & Caulking Mallet Tool For Building Ships Occupational TintypeCivil War Soldier Tintype With Us Flag And CannonAntique Photo Album 1872 Miss Emma Brown Matawan, 27 Tintypes, Vanderbilt Family6th Plate Tintype Photo Of Civil War Soldier Scarce Patriotic Brass MatCivil War Era Tintype Photo Of Armed Soldier In Uniform W/ Rifle & BayonetRare Original Cased Tintype Photograph Of U.s. Dragoon Soldier From Mexican WarWow! 19thc Big Group Of 93 Victorian Tintype Portrait Photos Poignant Civil War Era Mourning Girl Child Holding Tintype Of Father, LocketLamerican Tintype Photo Girl With Pattern Dress Great China Head Antique Doll Civil War Tintype Mounted Rebel Armed Bloody KansasLovely American Tintype Photo Of Baby Girl With Large Antique China Head Doll Antique Tintype Photo Civil War Union Soldier Sack Coat Western Theater CowboyCa. 1860's Civil War 6th Plate Tintype Union Infantry Sergeant Antique Western Old Cowboy Packing Colt- AntiqueExcellent Civil War Cdv Sized Tintype Armed Soldier Funky Flag Backdrop Initials Union Soldier W Canteen Tintype1/9th Plate Tintype Of Union Soldier With Beard In Patriotic Gutta Purcha CaseCivil War Tintype Of Young Union Soldier In Uniform Tinted And In Paper CaseAntique Photo Album Full Cabinet Cards Cdvs Tintypes Civil War EraNinth-plate Union(gutta Percha) Photo Case With TintypeSixteenth-plate Union(gutta Percha) Photo Case With Tintype#1116z Antique Vtg Photo Daguerreotype Ambrotype Man Full Case "1890's Unusual Full Plate Tintype Colored Photograph Cowboy Cheap Americanna NrGilded Thermoplastic Case- Near MintFramed Tintype: Quartet Of Plaid-clad Lassies Great Composition Sixth Plate UsaCivil War Tintype - 19th Century Portrait - Fully Uniformed Solider With SwordCa. 1860's Civil War 6th Plate Tintype Union 2nd Lieutenant W/wifeCivil War Era Tintype Photo Of Armed Union Soldier Corporal W/ Rifle & BayonetAntique Photo Case Gutta Percha Double Photo Tintypes CoupleOriginal Large Tintype Photo Of Farmhouse & 3 Or 4 Generation Family; 5 X 7”Post Civil War Cdv Size Tintype Man Taking A Pull From Large Jug - Bottoms Up1/9th Plate Tintype Of A Young Lady Wearing A Necklace Large Brooch & Gold RingTintype Photo Children Holding Doll Teepee Brier Island Digby Nova Scotia Wow!Tintype Photo Of Cowboy Riding Bull 100th Texas Centennial Expo 1930s Wild WestUnidentified Civil War Soldier Tintype