First Steps: Tintypes or Ferrotypes
Tintypes were a cheap format photograph (about three English pence) where the image is formed on a thin sheet of lacquered iron. The image is dark and the surface can look quite mottled and imperfect or have an orange peel look if you reflect the light on to it. The metal is usually cut out quite roughly as if cut by hand without a guideline, using metal shears. The size varies but 9cm x 6cm (same as the print of a CDV) is typical, but it can be as large as 25cm x 10cm.
They were first produced in 1852 and the American and English Patent was granted in 1856 - probably the earliest date one would expect to find. They were popular because they were strong and could be carried in a pocket, especially during the American Civil War period (1860s), and could be cut up to fit in lockets and jewellery. The image was in reverse, and only one unique photograph was made. It was not as popular in Europe as in America but there are English tintypes from the late 1850s, many in the 1880s and even as late as the 1930s, where they finally became the end of the pier photo or perhaps taken at fairgrounds.
1900s American example
Because they look old and black they are often confused with very old photographs - however they always looked like that, and may well be early 20th century.
To go into carte-de-visite albums a carte was produced with a cut-out with the small tintype mounted behind, held in place by a slip of paper pasted over the back. These were known as Gem Portraits
Example from c.1882
You can only put a rough date on a tintype by working out when the clothes were worn.
© Roger Vaughan 2004