The Art of



Avishai Halevy of Phoenix, Arizona is an avid collector of historic photographs, among them Tintypes. This page and the round robin gallery provide Fixing Shadows with an admirable set of Tintype examples to consider. Avishai starts with children and dogs and will be adding others in time. He tells us:

I have many more images in my closet. They are hidden little treaures of intimacy and relations of unknown friends. For years I could not find the time and the trust needed to photograph people close and true as I would like. I was amazed what images I could just pick up tossed away by relatives that have already forgotten their own.


Through the years I have been on a lookout for photographs of years gone by. Some of the common photographs one could still find are tintypes. These were the snapshots of their period. Everyone could have them. They first appeared in the late 1850s. Most of the images taken where portraits, and of course many of them were of children. The following samples are of babies. One had to develop a way to have them hold still during the relatively long exposure...If you take a close look you can trace some of the methods in the photographs below.The first tintype on the left solved the problem in an odd way. It is a sample of postmortem photography, photographing a deceased person, a common practice in the ninteenth and early twentieth century. (A fascinating book exploring this genre: "Sleeping Beauty" was published by Twelvetrees Press in 1990. Take a look at Jay Ruby's presentation of his new book Secure the Shadows It is devoted entirely to mortuary photography in America.

Showing Off the Dogs

Tintypes of young children and their dogs; tintypes of dogs

These days, when looking for pieces of our photographic past one could still most likely find tintypes. Those odd looking dark photographs 'on' a thin sheet of iron (not tin!) were the snapshots of their period. They first appeared in the late 1850s. Most of the images taken where portraits. As of today most of people wanted to remember faces of those dear to them and were ready to dress up for the occasion and go the studio (or the street photographer) Many times they borrowed the outfit from the photographer himself. Seeing dogs pictured was not as common at that time, but I must admit I know a few folks that love their pets more than their children. These are dignified portraits. The ancestor photos to Wegman and Elliot Erwitt! They stood there in front of the camera to stop time.

It was the start of a period when common people and often their dogs could be more than vague memories in words or letters but real faces. Fresh as they were. Like Peter Pan never aging. Here we are today looking on these one hundred years old captured seconds via fast electrons born at the time of the creation.

The following paragraphs are quoted from: ICP Encyclopedia of Photography / Pound Press, Inc. 1984

Tintype is the generic/street name for Ferrotype. It was essentially an ambrotype made on a piece of thin sheet iron that had been enameled black or brown-black. The plate was coated with collodion and sensitized just before use, as in the wet plate process. The most common size was about the same as the carte-de-visite, 2 1/4'' x 3 1/2'', but both larger and smaller ferrotypcs were made. The smallest were "Little Gem" tintypes, postage-stamp size, made simultaneously on a single plate in a camera with 12 or 16 lenses, and clipped apart with tin snips to be pasted on the back of small cards with cutouts for the image. The basic process was described by A.A. Martin in France, in 1853; it was patented in 1856 by William Kloen and Daniel Jones in England, and by Hamilton Smith in the U.S. The name ferrotype was supplied by the U.S. plate manufacturer; Peter Neff called the process melainotype in commercializing Smith's patent; tintype was coined by the public.


Tintype tones are somewhat drab, compared to other processes. The pictures were produced by unskilled operators, many of whom worked on the streets with cameras that had a slotted bottom for dropping the plate into canisters of developer and fixer. The plate was doused in a bucket of water for a quick rinse, and dried by waving in the air, for on-the-spot delivery to the customer. Although it lacked quality, the tintype has social significance because it brought photography within reach of the working class and the poor. A single carte-de-visite size plate or a dozen Little Gems cost twenty-five cents or less. Consequently, the common person began to appear with frequency for the first time in photographs. The low price and immediacy of the tintype made having a photograph taken no longer a special occasion. Spur-of-the-moment pictures became common; many people played, mugged, and generally behaved without restraint or formality in front of the camera. The resulting record is rich in detail and in the revelation of attitudes.

The tintype was immensely popular in the U.S. from about 1860; it was the primary medium by which soldiers and families shared images of one another during the Civil War. In Europe the fad began about a decade later and was never so pervasive as in America. Collodion tintypes gave way to gelatin emulsion dry metal plates in the 1880s. The genre survived with street photographers until amost the mid-20th c. in some parts of the world. It was inevitably replaced by 35mm and instant photography cameras.

A note on a box of tintypes at the Brush Factory antique and curio shop in Farmington, New Hampshire reads: "Buy yourself an ancestor, $3.00."

Go to the Round Robin gallery

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