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    

1860's Civil War 1/4 Plate Cased Tintype Photo Of 3 Armed Union Army SoldierCivil War Union Soldiers & Fam Ident'd Sabre 4 Tintype & Dag Quincy Mi Gutta Cdv1850's Pre Civil War 1/4 Plate Ambrotype Photo Of Armed U. S. Army Officer1860's Civil War Cdv Size Tintype Photograph Of 2 Union Army Soldier Friends1860s Civil War *tinted Tintype Of Artillery Corporal W Pistol Musket Flag CampCivil War Tintype - Four Young Western Federal Soldiers - 1/4 PlateC 1870 Tintype, Early Baseball Players W Bats In Bib Front Jersey S W Letter "t"Civil War Tintype Young Soldier, Sword And Pistol #1Antique Civil War New York Soldier Union Tintype Photo Private & Corporal CleanEarly Civil War Zouave Soldier ~ Armed W/ Pistol ~ Neff Patent MelainotypeAntique Miniature Leather Tintype Photograph AlbumChildren Playing With Toys Daguerreotype Dag Case & 4 Images Ambrotypes TintypeAmazing Tintype Canadian Trapper In Hudson Bay Jacket & Beaver Fur Gloves - A+Lot 5 Antique Civil War Era Daguerreotype - Tin Type Photo In Case Nice Lot !Bizarre C. 1870 Quirky Old Brass Tintype Button W Photograph Of A Bone Button !Armed Infantry Soldier Original Civil War Tintype Photograph Taken In The FieldCivil War Medals With Calvary Soldier Tintype PhotoScarce Very Early Tintype Of Id'd Atlanta Ga Man With Banjo Guitar Fiddle Civil War Medals And Soldier Tintype PhotoGenuine Civil War Confederate Soldier Tintype Set In 14k Gold Pin Or Pendant5384. Circa 1895 Tintype Maine Me University Of Maine Baseball Player In UniformVintage Violin Fiddle Musicians Violinist Cdv Gemtype Tintype Antique Photo LotAntique Miniature 1"x 1" Daguerreotypes/tin-types Album (43-pictures Included)1890's Man Juggler Carnival Circus Act Photograph TintypeUnion Cavalry Tintype Of Soldier In Patriotic CaseAntique Full Plate Tintype Hand Painted Civil War Soldier Portrait Framed RareCivil War Tin Type Soldier In Uniform #6Handsome Fine Chained Pit Bull Dog In A Chair 1870s Outdoor Abstract Tintype1890's Three Pretty Girls In Swimsuits At The Beach Photograph TintypeYoung Homesick Confederate Soldier Tintype No Reserve5379. Circa 1895 Tintype Maine Me Favorite Border Collie Dog On A Chair Outdoors1890's Man With American Pitbull Terrier Dog Photograph TintypeTintype Dapper Top Hat Handsome Young Man In Suit Standing With Crossed LegsTintype James Mchenry Howard & His Dog ~ Maryland Confederate Officer (post War)Antique Tin Type Photo Album **50 Photos**Pony Cart C. 1890, Quarter Plate TintypeAntique Leather Victorian Civil War Tintype Photograph Family Album Children Pair Of Cute Crooners 2 Handsome Young Singers Men With Guitars Tintype Gay IntOld Tintype And Cdv Album. 46 Images. Louisiana, Kentucky, Boston.Vintage Gutta Percha: Oreo Case - Berg 3-536 Thermoplastic Case!!- No ReserveOriginal Civil War Soldier Color Tinted Tintype With Unusual CapTintype Photo # T4172 Very Pretty Young Woman Beautiful Shoulder Off DressAntique Civil War Era Small 30mm Tintype Of Woman #sAntique Tintype Photo / Young Girl In Dress Scarf And Pink Bonnet*** Rare Civil War Tintype Ohio Soldier Ovm Belt Plate Dagger 1855 Colt ***Original Civil War Tin Type Photograph Of Two Soldiers Nice Condition No ReserveVintage Tintype Two Affectionate Men Gay InterestTintype Photograph Original 1870s Baseball Players1860's Civil War Large Tintype Photo Of Army Soldier 5"x7"Tintype Photo 3 Men Workers Tin Knockers Sheet Metal Occupational 3.5x2.5" 2689Tintype Photo Man Shop Worker Holds Up Sign Occupational 3.5x2.5" 2690Tintype Photo Young Drunk Man Drinking Out Of A Bottle, 4x2.5" 2680Civil War Tintype Of A Union Soldier W/ Flintlock With Eagle And Us Belt BuckleVintage Rare Gutta Percha: Double Geometric Thermoplastic Case- No ReserveC1870 Ferrotype Tintype Photographer S Advertisement Cdv, Rlc Rambo PhiladelphiaTintype Mother And Daughter In Guardian Angel Case Tintype Of Mother, Daughter And Son In Uniform Civil War #2Antique Tintype Photo 5 Young People Wearing Lovely Oriental Outfits CostumesTin Type Cornet Military Or Town Band MemberTintype Young Girl Very Long Hair,ruffled Long Train Dress,side View