22 artifacts in this set
There is no tin in a tintype. (The thin metal of the iron plate probably reminded people of tin, leading to the popular name tintype.) A tintype is a photograph made on a thin black-painted sheet of iron. It is a reversed image of the person or scene that was taken directly from the camera. (Notice the reversed lettering on this bakery wagon.) It looks like a positive print because of the dark color of the metal plate it was on.
Having your photograph taken was considered an event. People got dressed up and went to the tintype photographer in their city or town to have their portrait made. Most tintypes were studio portraits of one or two people.
Photographers often posed married couples in this way--with the husband seated and the wife standing by his side.
People usually didn't smile in early photographs--their expressions were more serious and formal. Early photography was heavily influenced by pre-photographic portraiture--people hadn’t grinned when having their likenesses drawn or painted, either. Having one’s image made was important occasion--it called for a more timeless expression.
As direct images, tintypes did not produce photographic negatives from which multiple copies of an image could be made. But tintype cameras could be fitted with multiple lenses, allowing several copies of the same tintype image to be produced at one time on a single sheet of iron.
In the early days of photography, the sitter needed to remain motionless. Any movement would result in a blurred area and an unusable image. A headrest cradled the head and kept it still during the exposure (probably about 10 seconds). As photographic equipment and processes improved, less exposure time was needed and headrests became obsolete. Photo studios also had special chairs with head braces to keep the head from moving.
Photographing infants and toddlers could be challenging. Some images show the mother's hand, covered by a shawl, helping to steady and soothe the infant "off camera"--her arm would be covered by a decorative mat. If a child moved during the exposure, the image would turn out blurry. This baby's tintype turned out nicely--nestled into a chair, it was not in danger of tumbling over!
The child in this tintype image has been dressed in her best, bedecked with a necklace, and her hair curled. Like this young girl, children were often photographed with toys--their own or perhaps studio props. Unlike today, having your child's photograph taken was not a frequent event. Perhaps just one photograph would be taken during childhood.
Tintypes--inexpensive and durable--proved to be of special value in the 1860 presidential campaign, when small tintype images of Lincoln and other candidates decorated tokens, medals and campaign pins. The use of photography in political campaigns was still unusual at the time--most campaign buttons did not yet include photographic images of the candidates.
Outdoor tintypes were quite rare until the 1880s, when a new, more convenient dry-plate process replaced the earlier wet-plate process. Even with the challenges that outdoor photography presented (taking tintype equipment out of the studio and the lack of ready access to a dark room to develop the image), photographs of outdoor scenes became more common.
Tintypists sometimes traveled with their equipment from farm to farm, offering their services to rural customers, who proudly posed in front of their homes. In this tintype, William and Corilla Webster are shown with their family in rural Delaware County, Ohio, about 1881.
During the Civil War, many soldiers had their photographs taken in uniform--either at a studio before leaving home or in the field by photographers who followed the army. Quickly made, inexpensive and sturdy, tintypes could be left with loved ones or slipped inside a letter and sent through the mail. These images often captured a soldier's pride in serving his country--and helped preserve his memory if he did not return home from battle.
Most occupational tintypes were of men rather than women--it was a male-dominated workforce during this time. But tintypes did capture images of those who worked for pay outside the home--women like milliners, factory workers, or domestic servants. This woman, in cap and apron, and holding a broom, worked as a housekeeper.
People not only had tintypes taken of themselves at "work," but also at "play." This young man--dressed in his baseball uniform and holding a bat--headed to the tintype studio for a portrait. By the 1880s, when this tintype was taken, playing baseball was a popular sport in many American communities.
Group portraits were more complicated to capture than photographs of individuals. The photographer had more people to pose artfully--and then had to keep everyone's attention during the several-second exposure. Images of outdoor leisure activities like this picnic became more common in the late 1800s.
The inexpensive tintype made portraits available to almost all classes of society--they even made it possible to indulge one's whimsies. The informality of the tintype medium could encourage its subjects to relax and be spontaneous in playful images. Rather than being photographed in a more formal, traditional pose, these young men lounge on the floor of the photographer's studio.
Tintypes became less popular as new and better forms of photography replaced them. But traveling tintypists still found work at country fairs, summer resorts, and other vacation spots during the late 19th century--and well into the 1930s. This couple had a photograph taken while visiting a seaside resort--though the image itself was made in a nearby studio in front of a painted backdrop.