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 rectangles. Many tintypes were also trimmed after the fact by customers, who would gladly sacrifice an edge or two to fit their tintype 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    

Antique Civil War Period Tintype Photograph Solider & Pocket Watch, Boxing MatchRare Monitor Union Case With Soldier PhotoCivil War Photo Tintype Handsome Young Officer1/4 Plate Tintype & Cdv Photograph Civil War Young Soldier Pennsylvania Antique 19thc American Western Tintype Photographs Cowboy W/ PistolAntique Vintage Estate Knife Lighter Silver Coin Tintype Photo Junk Drawer LotId'd Original Civil War Tintype Photograph Armed Union Soldier W/ Musket & GearSuperb Tintype Of A Super Young And Handsome Civil War Soldier In 9-button FrockDecorative Union Case, Daguerreotype, Tintype Civil War Soldier With Rifle1864 Abraham Lincoln Campaign Ferrotype Brass Mounted Gem Tintype GorgeousTintype Of Civil War Cavalry Soldiers Armed With CarbinesCivil War Soldiers Tin Type Picture Wounded Warrior Picture Identified & DatedScotsman In Scottish Kilt Tintype. ScotlandRare Tintype Photo Whiskey Jim Greathouse Cowboy Outlaw Billy The Kid AssociateAntique Leather Bound Photo Album Tintype & Cabinet 26 Pictures Rare Nude 1800sRare Civil War Era Soldier's Large Man With Dog Tintype - 3 3/4" X 4 3/4" -nice!Antique Tin Type Confederate Soldier With Double Barrel Shotgun (51611)Huge Estate Lot 1100 Antique & Vintage B&w Photographs Tintypes Cabinet Photos +#10 Rare Delicate Profile Gem Tintype (~¾" X 1") Extraordinary Content & ClarityLot Of 12 Antique Daguerreotype Tin Type Photos In Cases L@@k!!Civil War Soldier Young Union Man Circa 1860s Tintype1/4 Plate Civil War Tintype Photograph Confederate Cs Soldier Case ReenactorCdv Album And Tintype - Civil War Soldiers. 29 Images.#12 Rare Man & Hunting Dog Gem Tintype (~¾" X 1") Extraordinary Content/clarity!Antique Tintype Photograph - Outdoor View - Men & Horses - One MountedAntique Tin Type Photo In Black Thermoplastic Case Man W/ HatVintage Victorian Photo Album Tintypes & Cdv Photos Children Women MenNice Original Tintype Photo Of Standing Civil War Soldier W/ Camp Background1870's Philadelphia Baseball Players? Tintype Photograph - Wieland's, Phila. Civil War Tintype Photo Of Soldier In Uniform African- American ? Sold As Parts Dag Daguerreotype Tin Type Case,images,poor Condition,gutta PerchaAntique Gem Tintype Photo Album 140 Images Take A LookOccupational Tintype Baker Or CookTintype Of A Young Man, Oval Union CaseTintype Photo Spaniel Dog Focused Look #2 1880sBeautiful Pictorial Image Of A Patriotic Lady & Wonderfully Tinted American FlagCa. 1870 Postmortem 9th Plate Tintype Portrait Of Mother Holding Dead Baby ChildCivil War Era Tintype Photo Of Young African American Western Cowboy Wild WestTintype LotTintype Gem Leather Photo Album, 24 PortraitsAntique Tin Type Photograph Dog Sitting On CarpetOld Double Tintypes Of Lady In Brass Frame Union Case Littlefield Parsons CaseAntique Photograph Lot: Tintypes, Daguerreotypes In Framed Book Antique Tin Type Waistcoat Button Young Girl & Dog Image - 9/16"Antique Photo Album Civil War Era Small Leather For Cdv Tintype Fake Photos Arctic Explorer Tintype In Heavy Furs/occupationalLot Of 5 Tin Type Daguerreotype Photographs In Cases - Repair Or PartsGem Tintype Photo Album Clark Downing Family 44 Tintypes Antique Leather Cdv Photograph & Tintype Album For 50 PhotosTintype Photo Antique Dog Spaniel? Sticking Tongue Out #1Antique 1860's Gold Photo Locket W 2 Gem Size TintypesTintype Of Woman With Infant In Velvet Lined CaseAntique Photo Albums W/tin Type Photos & Cabinet CardsVintage Photomatic Photo Booth Picture Handsome Man Hat Tin Frame 1940/1950 UsaTintype - Young Man With Cigar, Suspenders And Work Boots , Striped ShirtTintype Of Young Girl With Tinted Cheeks Flowing Hair Large Cross Around NeckAntique Victorian 19c Small Gilt Metal Framed Gem Tintype Photographs & Box TinAntique Mid-late 19th C Lot Of (8) Victorian Era Tintype Family Photographs YqzPretty Young Lady Beautifully Hand Colored Tintype PhotographTintype Of Civil War Soldier And Wife