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    

Extremely Rare & Utterly Majestic 1/2 Plate Civil War Outdoor Camp Scene TintypeKiller Tintype Of A Big Revolver Armed Civil War Fifer Holding A Pretty Fife !!!Civil War 1/4 Plate Tintype - Calvary Seargant With Hardy Hat And SwordCivil War Tintype Photograph Union Soldier Infantry W/rifle Gun Hardee Hat Antique Civil War Union Soldier Us Belt Tintype Photograph Glass & Gold Frame 1880s Cat Portrait Studio Posed Tintype Photograph1/6th Plate Confederate Zouave Soldier Tintype In A Mother-of-pearl Adorned CaseRare Occupational Quarter Plate Tintype Of A Saddle Maker At Work -nice- Nr Antique Miniature Gem Tintype Black Leather Photo Album 24 TintypesAntique 1860-70 1/4 Plate Tintype Photo Occupational Guitarist Guitar Strange Tintype Photo 6 Seated Women Covering Faces With Hands Numbers On FeetExtraordinary Civil War Soldier Armed W/ Gun & Ghost Tintype Photo/photographAntique Tintype Men Locked Arms Pards 1860s Gay Interest Civil War Soldier UnionAntique Photo Album Filled With Old Photos Photographs & TintypesGorgeous Lot Daguerreotype Ambrotype Tintype Union Case Frames Must See!Antique Daguerreotype Civil War Calvary Union Soldier Tintype In Leather Case NrCivil War Soldiers Kepi Hardee Hat Tintype In Hard Case Ohio Id Slury BrothersCivil War Tintype Of Fully Armed Soldiers1800s Antique Tin Type Photo Man Playing A Banjo To Beautiful Mannequin1880s Young Man With Bicycle Studio Posed Tintype PhotographOriginal Civil War Tintype 2 Soldiers In Uniform W/ Swords No ReserveLot Of Daguerreotypes Ambrotypes Tintypes Union CasesAntique Civil War Union Soldier Ambrotype W/ Case, Vintage, Tintype, ConfederateThree Union Soldiers In Playful Mood 1/6 Pl TintypeBlack Woman Very Unusual Pose Outdoors Tintype Photo EnigmaYoung Civil War Corporal W/ His Pretty Smiling Daughter & Patriotic Mat TintypeCivil War Soldier Tintype Photograph Of Us Union Army Or Confederate UniformLarge Antique Tintype, Rual Family Full Plate 8 X 10 Tintype Photo Of House With 3 People In FrontRare Antique Plate Tintype Proper Gentleman Framed & Matted Very Nice CaseFull Plate 8 X 10 Tintype Photo Of Barn And Couple On Horse Drawn Buggy12 Antique Tintypes - Group Photos With Fancy Backgrounds Large Big Lot - Old1870s Boy With Drum Studio Posed Tintype PhotographHand Tinted Postmortem Sixth Plate TintypeAntique Tintype 1883 African American Mother Baby Gertrude & William Goodrige NrTin Type Photos, Civil War Era, Young Girls, Sisters? LookTintype ~ Two Affectionate Young Men In Mongrammed Bathing Suits Gay Interest NrTintype, Vintage Photo, Baby/toddler With Her DollTin Type Old Man With Beard With Big Dog In His Lap Old Estate12 Antique Tintypes - Baby & Child Tintype Lot - Children CollectionTintype ~ Hunter W Rifle Large Reclining Dog In Studio Painted Backdrop NrAntique Tintype Photo Rough Ranch Hand / Cowboy Dudes Pose With Tiny Puppy Dog!Antique Tintype Photo Mixed Lot Men, Women, Children Some With CasesQuarter Plate Civil War Soldier Portrait - Buckles, Bayonet Visible - TintypeInteresting Tintype Of Two Men ~ Possible Gay Interest12-1880s Tintypes Studio Photographs Images Of Victorian Groups Families FriendsAntique Tintype DaguerrotypeSixth Plate Tinted Tintype Young Barefoot Boy From Spiller Album Of Virginia** Lot Of 6 Assorted Antique Tintype Photos **Terrific Hand Colored Civil War Union Tintype Portrait. No Reserve!Antique Photos Lg Lot Of 72 Men Women Baby Some Tintypes Late 19th Early 20th C Occupational Tintype Of Three Different Figures Most Unusual Antique Ninth Plate Tintype Civil War Soldier Kepi Hat Full CaseAntique 1860's 1/4 Plate Young Girl & Beagle Dog Ambrotype Photograph 4" X 3" NrVintage Fairy Album 29 Small Tin Type Photographs In Clasp BookAntique Tintype Photo Beautiful Young Woman Wearing Fabulous Jewelry Hat & ShawlTintype, Vintage Photos,lot Of 9, Assorted Men/women/kids** Unusual Antique Tintype Photo Of A Large Family **Quarter Plate Tintype Of Union Civil War Soldier With Sword & ScabbordAntique Postmortem Baby Ambrotype Daguerreotype Tintype In Case Signed