Posted 5 years ago
Acquiring historically interesting early cameras has been a bit challenging these past couple years. My ‘want’ list is small but difficult to fulfill. So I look for accessories and images to go with my camera collection.
I first saw this ¼-plate tintype advertised for a 2015 auction and made a mental note to look at it later on. The ‘Quarter Plate Tintype of Pugilists’, as titled by the auctioneer, intrigued me. The more I looked at it, the more it grew on me. It wasn’t love at first sight but by the time the auction was getting ready to end I was completely enamored by the subject matter, composition, and subtle humor.
The Lot was described as follows:
“Quarter plate tintype of two men in a fighting stance, both shirtless and wearing boots, wool trousers, and tinted red sashes around their waists. The sashes appear to be Union artillery officers' sashes and, together with the rest of their outfits, it is reasonable to assume this is a Civil War-era image. Housed in The Capture of Major Andre Union case (Krainik-18).”
For weeks I looked at the image and slowly uncovered many wonderful details. It is obvious that each “pugilist” is steadied by a posing stand. This means that the exposure was long (many seconds) and stands were needed to steady the fighters to make a sharp image. What’s interesting is that the stand design matches catalogue listings dating to the late daguerrian / wet plate era. Lighting is practically overhead and slightly off to the side which is consistent with glass covered walls and ceiling of an early studio. And this particular Union case was introduced in the mid-1850s. This pretty much reinforces the 1860s date (civil war years) that I am attributing to the image which is consistent with the auction house’s belief it could be a civil war-era image.
On the day of the auction, I bid live and won with no regrets.
The image is one of the highest quality tintypes I’ve ever seen. This is somewhat of an oxymoron because tintypes are supposed to be inexpensive, poor quality images. The tonal range (technical execution) and condition are truly remarkable. Hand tinting of the sashes is impeccable. The only imperfection are a couple marks where the brass mat meets the plate.
As a note, the actual scene is reversed by the camera (lens) because tintypes are unique, direct-to-positive images. In other words, there are no negatives to properly reverse the image to what was seen by the photographer.
And that Union case. Gorgeous and in near perfect condition.
The images posted here were produced by the auction house. I could have reshot the tintype and case, but the effort for me to improve on the picture quality would have been more work than necessary. (Then again, I did some minor distortion correction and color balancing.)