The tintype photograph, patented in the United States in 1856, was the first photographic process that nearly everyone could afford. It was hugely popular during the Civil War and photographers in their covered wagons would follow military units and provide these inexpensive pictures for the soldiers to send home to their families. Their loved ones also would reciprocate and sent their sons, husbands and fathers tintype photos from home.
While most popular from the late 1850’s thru the 1870’s, tintypes continued to be produced into the early 20th century. The tintype photo is a direct positive on a thin sheet of iron (not tin!) coated with a dark lacquer. These were very resilient, did not need drying, and could be handed to the customer just a few minutes after the photo was taken.
Tintypes are difficult to date precisely. Clothing, hair style and props are one method to get an approximate time frame. There were 20 or so tintypes in the mysterious box of unknown photos of my Howell and Graham ancestors from Cecil County, Maryland. For more about these photos please see Unidentified Graham & Howell Photos #1. I think most of the photos in my collection are from the 1860’s and 1870’s.
The majority are approximately 2.5 x 3.5 inches. Many have clipped corners to make for easier insertion into an album. Only #6 still has its paper sleeve intact. Numbers 11 and 13 have been colored by the photographer. This tinting was popular in the 1860’s but was no longer common by the early 1870’s. Number 11 also has a fringed chair as a prop. This chair with adjustable parts was designed especially for the studio. It was introduced in 1864 and was seldom used after the mid 1870’s. These two criteria would date this young man’s photo to between 1864 and 1872, approximately. Someone who knows more about 19th century men’s fashion and hair style could come even closer. You gotta love the blue tie!
Many of these images have darkened over the last century and a half. I lightened them in Photoshop and posted them at a resolution that will view at about 4 times their actual size in order to reveal detail. That’s all the restoration work that I’ve done so far.
Please enjoy these photos from the 19th century: babies, children, families, even two beauties in their fashionable swimsuits! Recognize anyone? Please let me know.
Written by Warren McIvor