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    

Pair Civil War New York Soldier Images Armed W/ Sny Plate Ambrotype & TintypeCivil War 1/6 Tintype Young Infantry Corporal Hardee Hat Feathers And Tassle1860's Civil War Tintype Photograph Of Union Navy Sailor / Navy Tar 6th Plate #1Antique - Civil War - Memorial/mourning Locket - With Gem Confederate TintypeAntique Civil War Tintype Armed Calvary Soldier1/6th & 1/4 Plate Antique 19thc Post Mortem Tintype Photographs & Cases, NrC1864 Civil War Cdv Photograph Of U. S. Naval Academy Instructors Naval OfficersAntique 1800s Civil War/indian Wars Soldier In Uniform & Hat 1/6 Tintype PhotoLot Of Tintypes And DaguerreotypesCivil War Confederate Soldier Tin Type1860's Civil War Tintype Photograph Of Union Navy Sailor / Navy Tar 6th Plate #21/6 Plate Cased Tintype Of A Civil War Officer In Uniform & Bummer Cap~no Resrve1860's Civil War Cdv Photograph Of Union Navy Admiral David Farragut1860's Civil War Cdv Photo Of Union Navy Ironclad Ship Designer John EricssonCarnival / Circus Cartoon Cutout Boxing , Antique Tintype Photo Manipulation. 4 Women, 1 Dressed As Ghost W/ Hand On Arm Of Woman W/ Paper: Horizontal Tintype6th Plate Civil War Tintype Of Early War Union Volunteer- Remington RifleFine Empty 1/4 Plate Case Fontayne Cincinnatti Daguerreotype Ambrotype TintypePay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain ~ Humorous Tintype Photograph NrScarce Ambro Tintype Small Civil War Photograph Of Soldier1860's Civil War Cdv Photo Of Union Navy Engineer Montgomery Of Uss NarragansettOutlaws Diplaying Weapons &symbolic Items, Photo, Watch, Book, Whiskey Tintype Quarter Plate Civil War Tintype Of Union Soldier, Co. "f" 56th InfantryAntique Photo Tintype Woman With Guitar Man + Violin Musician Music Instrument1860's Civil War Cdv Photograph Of Union Navy "commodore Hull" By Mathew BradyAntique Gem Tintype Photo Abraham Lincoln Brass Frame C. 18641860's Civil War Cdv Photograph Of Union Navy Lieutenant Commander Naval OfficerCivil War Tintype - 2 Union Soldiers - Quarter Plate SizeThree Antique Ambrotype Photographs & 1 Tintype With Children In Pony Cart1/6 Plate Cased Tintype Of A Civil War Era Soldier In Uniform~ Zouave(?)~no ResvGreat Civil War Era Tintype Of Man With Large Side Knife20 Antique Tintype Lot Tin Type Photographs Men, Women, ChildrenVictorian Family Photographic Images Album Leather 50 Photos 10 Tintypes 1860s V Fine Cased Tinted Tin-type Photograph Attractive Young Lady In Bonnet 1860sTwo Very Young Boys Civil War Soldiers? Studio Shot Tintype Photograph NrTintype Studio Image, Taken From Behind Ladies Girls With Very Long HairCivil War Tintype - Armed Confederate - Rare Beaumont Adams PistolVintage Civil War Soldier Tin-type Image In Folk-art ShellAntique Daguerreotype Tintype Photo Boy Young Man Civil War Era Phoenixville?21 Tintype Photographs Men Women Children Antique Tintype Ambrotype Daguerreotype Lot Of 3 Little Girl Older Gentlemen ManCivil War Era Tintype In Gutta Percha Case "union Case- Littlefield, Parsons &Antique Photo Album 29 Cdv 14 Tintype Children Portraits Military - Admiral DotLot 6 Vtg Tintype Photographs Ninth Plate 1/9 Each With Brass Mat In PreserverCivil War Era Tintype Photo Of 2 Young Ladies. Wonderful Clothing Civil War Photo Album New Jersey Infantry New York 42 Cdvs Tintypes ZouaveVintage Tintype Photo Handsome Man Pretty Cute Dog Collar Suit 1860s Outdoor Tintype Of Sawmill Paper Mount Cdv SizedAntique Tintype Family DogRare Antique Civil War Tintype Photograph Dalmatian Dog Pet Federal Eagle MattedAntique Tintype Photo 2 Men Gambling Smoking Drinking 19th C Photograph1860's Civil War Cdv Photograph Of Union Navy Lieutenant - Naval OfficerTwo Young Ladies With Very Long Hair ~ Painted Backdrop Tintype Photograph Nr1860's Civil War Cdv Photograph Of Union Navy Paymaster - Naval OfficerCivil War Soldier Tintype 1/4 Plate. Patriotic Frame. Tinted Flag Lot Of 24 TintypesAntique Daguerreotype / Ambrotype Photo In Union Case / Tin Type ManF3315~ 6th Plate Dbl Tintype Gutta Percha Union Case Berg #3-118 Critchlow Photo Vintage- 8 By 10 Black African American- Wedding Bride & Groom- PartyMarx Wind Up Train With Key Tin Type