Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Very Short history of the Tintype.

The item I present is known by its vernacular name; Tintype, however it was originally named the Ferrotype (Ferro as in Iron) by Hamilton Smith in 1856 using Frederick Scott Archer's 1852 Wet-Colodion process. The Tintype was produced on Japanned Sheet Iron (not tin) and is similar to the Ambrotype in that both appear as negatives until they are given a black backing - in the case of the Ambrotype it was usually black felt or card, while the Tintype was merely painted black.
The Tintype was one of the first truly democratic forms of photography in that before the advent of what we now think of as Amateur photography by the George Eastman Co. in 1889 there was a huge social gap in who could and would be photographed. The Dageurreotype - the first form of photography, which took off in America  - was an item that for years only the wealthy could afford. By the time that technology trickled down the masses, the Tintype and Ambrotype were relatively inexpensive items, which one could obtain at typical sites and arena's of working class leisure such as county fairs and the seaside. This example is expressed further in the sheer number of 'occupational' tintypes that we see from the period; Tintypes of people posing with their tools of industry, such as iron-workers, postmen and women and especially those employed in the army. The popularity of the Tintype coincided with the start of the American Civil war in 1861 and beat the Dagerreotype and Ambrotype in popularity due to its sheer robustness as a huge number of the items could be sent in the mail. Unless someone purposely did so, the Tintype was very hard to bend and could not shatter like the glass of the Ambrotype or Dageurreotype. Also unlike the others the image itself was usually preserved underneath a layer of varnish, sealing the image to the item, creating a unified object. 
An interesting aside and counterpoint to the above observation is that due to its robust nature, the Tintype became the first form of photographic portraiture that could be defaced with a knife or a pen without destroying the overall pictures, beginning a long and interesting history of images violently distorted by jealous ex-lovers. A whole PHD thesis awaits in the wings there.

The item here is probably from around the 1880s and is displayed within two foil stamped surrounds known as pinchbeck frames and behind glass. This style was inherited from the Dageurreotype which was usually held behind glass, between pinchbeck and all encased within a cloth or fur-lined Gutta-Percha case (Gutta-Percha being the first kind of industrially-molded plastic as far back as the 1840s), however as the Tintype and Ambrotype’s decreased in value and worth, all pretense of appearing in the upwardly mobile guise of a Daguerreotype was slowly done away with – first with the Gutta-percha case then with the pinchbeck foil. As value decreased many Tintype’s were being produced simply in card enclosures, which were usually printed with images of sailboats to donate their use-value as a memento of a fun day out. By the late 1920s and 30s the Tintype had long ago been superseded by George Eastman’s Kodak brand of camera’s as well as many pretenders to that particular crown and the tintype was left high and dry, pedaled out by elderly, itinerant beach and boardwalk photographers as a cheap bit of fun. These lasted – particularly in Scotland – until the early 1950s until they themselves were finally done away with the kind of ‘Happy Snaps’ beach photographers and ‘Walkies’ photographers who dared to broach town centers for their trade.

This Item is small enough that it can be cupped in one hand and many Tintypes, Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes of this period were often produced in this size, which is known as sixth plate and measures around 2.25 x 3.5 inches. The material importance as it is linked to emotion during this period has been explored at length by Geoffrey Batchen, Nancy Martha West and Elizabeth Edwards among others.