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    

19thc Armed Civil War Union Soldier Musket & Bayonet Tintype Antique Photograph1899 Nodark Tintype Camera * 1st Instant Camera * Pre-dates Polaroid By 50 Years19thc Antique Old West Town Cowboy Leather Chaps Gun Miner Hat Tinytpe Photo6th Pl Tintype- Civil War Soldier Rifle Bayonet Tinted Flag Patriotic Background19thc Seated Civil War Soldier Photograph Tintype Antique Photo Old Union CaseCivil War Cavalry Soldier Ambrotype Double Armed (not Tintype)Two (2) Civil War Era Photo Albums 20 Cdv & Tintypes Abraham Lincoln GeneralCivil War Tintype Union Corporal With Rifle, Bayonet, & Us Buckle Clean And Clear Civil War Soldier Tintype. 1/9th Plate, Great CaseAntique Victorian And Deco Jewelry Lot Mourning Pin Tin Type CameoRare Tintype Photo Locket Stephen A Douglas & Wife, President Lincoln's OpponentCivil War Soldier Tintype6th Plt Tintype Of Civil War Soldier Wearing Kepi With U.s. Flag AlongsideAntique Tintype Ambrotype Quarter Plate 1/4 Man With Folded Hands Wt CaseAntique Vintage Masonic Watch Fob Locket W/ Tin Type Of 4 Person Family NrTwo Soldiers- Armed And Wearing Secession Badge Orig. 1/9th Plate Tintype African-american Black Farmer At Work With Oxen * Occupational * Very RareBoy With Banjo Early Tintype Photo Album Hagerstown, MdLarge Lot Of 40 Antique Photographs Dags Ambros Cdvs & Tintypes Cases1860 Brass Ferrotype Abraham Lincoln And Running Mate Excellent ConditionsAntique Civil War Era Photo Album 33 Cdv & Tintypes Leather BoundVery Rare Black African American Barber Shaving Man Occupation 1/6 Plate TintypeAntique Tintype Ambrotype Sixth Plate Men Father & Son In 1/2 CaseAntique Tintype Civil War SoldierImportant Civil War Era Photographs Tintypes: African American, Zouave Dress EtcAntique Tintype Ambrotype Sixth Plate Man At Railing Wt CasePhotograph: Tin Type Of Real Cowboy With Pistol & Rifle1/6th Plate Tintypes Of Child And Mother In Gutta Percha CaseAntique Tintype Ambrotype Sixth Plate Man With Sideburn Wt CaseTintype American Indian White Man Rifle Wild West Show A Tintype Image That MeasAntique Vintage Civil War Era Large Family Tintype Photograph Collection Lot 17pCivil War Tin TypeSoldier's Kids- 2 Tinted Tintypes In Perfect Hard Case From KentuckyLot Of 2 Antique Photo Albums With 60 Tintype, Gem, Cdv Photo ImagesAntique Tin Type Tintype Photo, Leather Frame/case Velvet Interior 1800's FamilyEstate - Large Antique Format Tintype Two Men Holding Hands Smoking Cigars 8.5"Antique Tintype Photo Album With 10 Gem Size Tintypes AntiqueRare-president Andrew Jackson Grouping:cdv-bank Check-hard Times Token+tintype !1860s Cdv Tintype Photo Album 95 Photographs Ohio Indiana Family Blenheim Foote 6th Plt Tintype Of Civil War Soldier (found W/ Other Soldiers)Family Tintype Photo Album From 1800"sKid Colt Revolver Pistol Tintype Photo Young Boy Civil War - Dangerous Baby CtAntique 19thc Tooled & Gilt Leather Figural Eagle Photo Album 24 Mini Tintype NrInteresting Tintype Image Of Officer W/ Eagle Buckle, Sash, Sword & ScabbardSixth Plate Tinted Tintype Of Pair Of Diverse Young Seaman Civil WarAuthentic Tintype Union Soldier Armed With His PistolAntique Civil War Era Leather Cdv Photo Album With 34 Tintype & Cdv PhotosOriginal Civil War 1st New York Engineers Tintype Identified Flag 1/4pt Relic Ny 1 Tin Type In Case 2 Very Serious Ladies, Potter County , Pa . Estate Pict. Tintype Of A Copied Daguerreotype, W/rare Patriotic MattIdentified Civil War Gem Tintype Cdv 6th 26th Ma Mail Agent To Gen Sheridan Antique Photo Of Adorable African American Sisters Holding HandsVintage Tin Type Leather Frames Lot Of 3 (2 Black, 1 Brown) With PhotographsLot Of 12 Tintype Photographs Tin Type Photo Victorian Bicycles Park Setting Gazebo Boater Hats TintypeCivil War Era Photo Album W 44 Tintypes & Cdv's Abraham Lincoln Revenue Stamps Collection Of 18 Photo Buttons, Tintypes, Celluloids, Pinbacks All PhotographicLot Of 7 Ambrotype & Tintype PhotosGroup Lot Of 18 TintypesAntique Tintype Union Case Lot Of 3 Parts Daguerreotype Fancy Etched Brass Glass