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    

Rare Orig Tintype Of Civil War Dandy - Exc Confederate Dressed In Great Attire Good Group Antique 19th Century Tin Type Ambrotype Glass Photographs PortraitsAntique Tintype Photo- African American Native W/bone- Circus Side Show FreakCivil War Tintype Photo, Very Nice Quality! Civil War Soldier, 1861-1865Vintage Estate Silver Coin Knife Lighter Tintype Junk Drawer LotRare Orig Tintype Of Civil War Union Sailor In Full Uniform-clear -3 1/4 X 3 3/4Civil War West Virginia 1st Cavalry Tintype 6th Plate Sharp ImageCivil War Soldier Tintype Levi J. Romig 147th Reg Penn. Inf. Note: Great ContentCivil War Tintype Photo, Very Nice Quality! Civil War Soldier, 1861-1865Antique Photo Tintype Hidden Mother Post Mortem ? Woman Propping Up Child Civil War ? Union Soldier Tin Type In Gilded Period Frame - Uniform And CapCivil War Tintype Of A Young SoldierOriginal 1/9 Plate Jefferson Davis Tintype Photo Civil War Confederate PresidentCivil War Soldiers Cdv Tintype Photo Album Ohio Sword Outdoor PhotographAntique Tintype In Case-civil War Soldier Young Union Man~circa 1860s-nice OneCased Tintype Civil War Soldier Musician Playing ViolinAntique Pre-civil War Cased Daguerreotype Ambrotype Mixed Photo Lot Of 2Pretty Woman Hand Colored Tintype Photograph In Case FrameRare Outdoor Tintype Of Civil War Era Id'd Saddle And Harness Shop BuildingAntique Tintype Photo Cowboy With His Pistol In His Hand 2.5" X 3.5"Civil War Militia Military Soldier Tintype Daguerreotype Ambrotype PhotographRare Tinted Cdv Size Antique Tintype Lovely Girl With Yellow & White Tabby CatAntique Tintype Photo In Case-mother And Child-case Latch Is Broken But Nice PixVery Rare Union General Custer Tintype Photograph Photo Civil War Old Original3 Old Daguerreotype Ambrotype Tintype Brass Frames For CasesAntique Photograph, Tintype Of Young Barefoot Boy Holding Boots & Hat* Antique Tintype Baby Covered In Vines W/ Half A Carved Union Case *Antique Civil War African American Union Soldier W/ Rifle Tin Type PhotographLarge Lot Of Tin Type Photos In Frames Rare Antique Gem Tintype Photo Of Jumeau Dolls C 1880 For Locket Album DollhouseAntique Leather 30 Tintypes Photo Album Various Subject Matter All Full3 Civil War Era Photo Albums, Tintypes And Cdv'sVintage Antique Identified Photo Album Cdv's Tintypes 49 Images, Ne PennsylvaniaUnion 1/4 Plate Tintype-(7 X 4) Photograph Of N.c.o.sargent In Full Uniform-rareOld Gutta Percha 1/4 Plate Union Case With Tintype Double Photograph PhotoOccupational Tintype-milkman ? Milk Delivery ?1860's - 1870's Large Tintype Photograph / Family Outside Home With Piano1890s Victorian Man In Suit Posing With His Bicycle-tintype Photo 3.5"Antique Victorian Reversible Oval Man Woman Photograph / Tintype Pin BroochCivil War Gem Tintype Tiny Union Soldier Sword Uniform Antique Photograph Cased Tintype 2 Young Ladies1870's Confederate Tintype-general Robert E. Lee & Sons-mathew Brady-april 1865.Tintype Photo Of 2 Handsome Dapper Affectionate Young Men Wearing Cowboy HatsVintage Civil War Era Ca 1865 Unique Sports Ferrotype Tin Photo Of Swim TeamLot Of 4 Vintage Tintype Photographs, 1 W/man Posed W/gunAntique 1800's Tintype Photo Couple Posing Studio Cliff House San FranciscoTin Type,ferrotype Id 3,all Victorian Dress, Suits,hats,8 In Group,umbrellaAntique Tintype Civil War Union Teen Infantry Soldier With Odd Hand 9th PlateVictorian Tintype Cdv Sized Photo Man Standing Outside Sweet ShopAntique Dauguerrotype Ambrotype Tintype Photo Images Union Case Frames Man WifeRare Tiny Miniature Gem Tintype Baby Child With Antique Bisque Doll Dolls House Antique Tintype Lot - Girl W/doll, Railroad Guy W/dog, 2 OthersVintage Tintype Photo Of 2 GentlemenWonderful Leather Tintype Wallet Case W/ Nice Images - Excellent Condition!Antique Ambrotype,tintype Mixed Photo Lot - 1800's Photos Civil War EraLovely Antique (victorian) Leather Photo Album W 36 Portraits TintypesVintage / Antique Junk Drawer Lot ,toys, Tin Types ,token Coins And MoreLeather Photo Album, Full, Cvd, Tax Stamps, Tin Type, Misc Papers, Cabinet CardsCivil War Era Tin Type Photo Soldier Marching Band Musical Instrument Tuba HornBesties! 2 Tintypes Of Duo On Bicycles Posing. Matching Hats. Fun!