Dating Tintypes

Old Books

1856-1860 - The earliest tintypes were on heavy metal (.0 1 7 inches) that was never again used. They are stamped "Neff's Melainotype Pat 19 Feb 56" along one edge. Sizes range from one-sixth plate to full plate (see appendix El. Many are found in gilt frames or in the leather or plastic (thermomolded) cases of the earlier ambro-types.

Civil War Period: 1861-1865 - Tintypes of this time are primarily on--sixth Plate and one-fourth plate and are often datable by the Potter's Patent paper holders, adoned with patriotic stars and emblems, that were introduced during the period. After 1863 the paper holders are embossed rather than printed. Uncased tintypes have been found with cancelled tax stamps adhered to the backs. The stamps date these photographs to the period of the wartime retail tax, September 1, 1864, to August.

Brown Period: 1870-1885 - In 1870 the Phenix Plate Co. began making plates with a chocolate-tinted surface. They "created a sensation among the ferrotypists throughout the country, and the pictures made on the chocolate-tinted surface soon became all the rage," according to Edward M. Estabrooke@ During this period "rustic" photography also made its debut with its pastoral backgrounds, fake stones, wood fences and rural props.Neither the chocolate tint nor the rustic look are found in pre -1870 tintypes.

Gem Period: 1863-1890 - Tiny portraits, 1/2 by 1 inch, or about the size of a small postage stamp, became available with the invention of the Wing multiplying cameras. They Were popularized under the trade name Gem, and the Gem Galleries offered the tiny likenesses at what has proved to be the lowest prices in studio history. Gem Galleries flourished until about 1890, at which time the invention of roll film and family cameras made possible larger images at modest cost. It was no longer necessary to visit a studio that specialized in the tiny likenesses.

Gem portraits were commonly, stored in special albums with provision for a single portrait per page. Slightly larger versions also existed. Some Gems were cut to fit lockets, cufflinks, tiepins, rings and even garter clasps.

Carnival Period: 1875-1930 - Itinerant photographers frequently brought the tintype to public gatherings. New portable equipment, of size and weight that could easily be carried on a wagon, included skylight-paneled tents, rolldown backdrops and cases for supplies sufficient for a week or more at a fair or Carnival. At such permanent locations as the Boardwalk at Asbury Park or Atlantic City, New Jersey, or in the streets leading to the views at Niagara Falls, tintypists established permanent galleries equipped with painted backgrounds suggestive of the locale.

Identifying Tintype: The tintype was made the same way as the ambrotype, with the exception of the iron sheet base apposed to glass. They were also know as melainotypes, and ferrotypes. Its development is attributed to Hamilton Smith of Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio and to Victor N. Griswold, an Ohio photographer, who manufactured the japanned black plates to expose on. The first tintypes were placed in case used in dags and ambrotypes, but this was short lived, because of the cost. Tintypes were placed in a sealed paper holder, which today aides much in date identification. To identify a tin from a dag can be difficult if it is presented in the dag/ambrotype cases.

Dating clues include, advertising and promo labels of the galleries in which they were made, tax revenue stamps, mount styles and mounting embellishments. 1860-1940

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS: Tintypes made photography available to everyone.
Tiny portraits called gems were about ten cents per dozen. The average price of tintypes, from the inception of the process in 1856 to its fade-out by World War II was ten to twenty five cents for an image the size of a playing card. Tintype galleries were everywhere. Tintypes are reversed.

Tintypes are commonly cracked from the varnish overcoat. Some images get bent and this bent area exposes the iron plate underneath, and are commonly rusted in these areas. For some reason many tintypes were removed from their paper holders, allowing for abrasions and other damage. Cleaning should involve no more than a light dusting with a soft cloth or brush. USE CAUTION, any cracks of raised areas could be removed by brushing over them. Very successful copies can be made if your photographer is experienced in this type of work, not just in copy photography but in tintype copying. It differs from traditional copying and one must be experienced to get the best results, as many tintypes are dark and many are darker from aging varnish coatings.

Used by permission of the author: Leslie
©1999 by Leslie

Used with permission.
Do you mind if this is posted on the web somewhere? It's really great information.
Maggie, No I would not mind at all. Knock your self out!. If you like I can sent the other types of photography dating. Just give the word.