Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tintypes in the Ypsilanti Archives

Some of the photos in the Archives' collections are tintypes. This a freaky technique in which images were exposed onto an actual piece of metal--a thin sheet of iron (not tin) that has been "japanned", or, covered with a coating of black enamel or lacquer. The iron plates used for tintypes were cut with tinsnips, sometimes resulting in an irregularly-shaped plate. Corners were often clipped, as here, to help the tintype better fit into photo album pockets. Tintypes came in a variety of sizes, with "gems" being tiny photos that could be inserted into a brooch or pendant.

Since the image from the lens is exposed directly onto the metal plate, without the use of a negative, it appears as horizontally reversed from the actual real-life scene. Some photographers had cameras with mirrors to correct this reversal. In this unlabeled Archives photo, the dog would likely have been facing left in the studio. You can see that the photographer hand-tinted this tintype by rouging the cheeks of the child.

Tintypes were popular with Civil War soldiers because they were durable and could be mailed without worry that they would be damaged. Tintypes originally became popular in the mid-1850s and waned in the 1890s as new technologies took over, but they continued to be produced into the 20th century, often at fairs or carnivals as a novelty. To this day, tintypes are some of the best-preserved photographic prints in the Archives.


Lisele said...

That little dog reminds me of "Watch." Perhaps it is a little Starkweather relation.

cmadler said...

There are some people still making tintypes (often in association or connection with Civil War reenactments); for example,

At the "Civil War remembrance" at Greenfield Village over Memorial Day weekend this year they had a photographer using some old technique. I'm pretty sure people said he was doing tintypes (certainly he was operating at the tintype studio). Unfortunately, I never did have time to make it over there. There has also sometimes been a tintypist (is that the right word?) at a reenactment near Hastings, MI (here's a scanned tintype from 2008). Here's a reference to a modern (reenactor) tintypist in Bay City, possibly the same person who took the previous image.

dd said...

Lisele: My goodness, it DOES look like Watch! There was no date on the photo, phooey. But hmm, it was in a photo album...I'll see if I can find it again and if there are other Starkweathers in that album.

Dusty D said...

cmadler: Those Coffer tintypes are just beautiful. I particularly love the sunflower one on the page you so kindly linked.

I had heard that there was a tintype studio at Greenfield Village but I don't remember if I've seen it. Supposedly they built in super-ventilating modern vent hoods for safety...given that potassium cyanide is used in the developing process.

And with daguerreotypes, as you know, one uses deadly mercury vapor to develop the print. There's a speculative-history book out there about Louis Daguerre going mad from mercury exposure.

It is called "The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre."

Review excerpt: "The great man became delusional, convinced that the end of the world was near - as soon as a year. We hear: 'When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. After a decade of using mercury vapors to cure his photographic images, Louis Daguerre's mind had faltered--a pewter plate left too long in the sun.

'But during his final lucid minutes on this cold evening of 1846, he felt a strange calm. Outside, a light snow was falling and a vaporous blue dusk seemed to be rising out of the Seine.'

cmadler said...

I probably walked past the GV tintype studio a dozen times before I noticed that it was actually an open building and not a storage shed or something. It's across the street from the frozen custard stand, near the statue of Edison.

According to the Greenfield Village website:
Charles Tremear was a traveling tintypist until he found work with Ford Motor Company in 1909. In 1929, he was asked to create authentic “old-style” tintypes for visitors in Greenfield Village. In this studio, Tremear made portraits of many famous people, including Thomas Edison, Joe Louis and Walt Disney.

Where & When
Built in 1929 in Greenfield Village