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T Paul 08-28-2001 04:11 PM

daguerreotype repair
I was thinking about my mother the other day. She has a very old photo of a distant relative, and I remember a bit back that she accidentally damaged it. I think it is a daguerreotype, but I am not sure. My mother decided the picture was a bit dull and wanted to spruce it up so she started to wipe the glass not realizing that was where the actually photo was and unfortunately destroyed part of it. She was absolutely sick with herself when she did it. Now that I am a member of this forum I thought perhaps I might be able to repair it for her. I donít have the picture now. I will have to get it from her, but I was wondering has anyone done any scans of such a photo? What would be the best way to get a working copy in order to repair it?

Ed_L 08-28-2001 07:49 PM

If the photo is in fact, a Daugerrotype, it is *EXTREMELY* fragile. Daugerrotypes should not be taken out of their frame, and the entire thing should also be sealed. If it is a Daugerrotype, you should only be able to see the image as a positive at a certain angle of viewing. If the angle is changed, it will appear as a negative, or not at all. I think this is the easiest way to identify a Daugerrotype. If I'm wrong on any of this, I *will* be corrected. Do not let *anything* touch the surface of the photo, even lightly. When you make a positive identification, I'm sure somebody here will be able to help. I'm going from memory, so it's possible that I could be wrong on some of it, but I think it's pretty accurate.


DJ Dubovsky 08-28-2001 08:42 PM


Since you seem knowlegeable on the subject, what is the difference between the daugerrotype and the tintype? Just curious.

T Paul 08-28-2001 08:57 PM

DJ I have been researching the web and this is what I found....

The daguerreotype is a direct-positive process, creating a highly detailed image on a sheet of copper plated with a thin coat of silver without the use of a negative. The process required great care. The silver-plated copper plate had first to be cleaned and polished until the surface looked like a mirror. Next, the plate was sensitized in a closed box over iodine until it took on a yellow-rose appearance. The plate, held in a lightproof holder, was then transferred to the camera. After exposure to light, the plate was developed over hot mercury until an image appeared. To fix the image, the plate was immersed in a solution of sodium thiosulfate or salt and then toned with gold chloride.
Exposure times for the earliest daguerreotypes ranged from three to fifteen minutes, making the process nearly impractical for portraiture. Modifications to the sensitization process coupled with the improvement of photographic lenses soon reduced the exposure time to less than a minute.

A tintype (ferrotype) is made by coating a wet, light sensitive emulsion on a japanned metal plate in the darkroom. The plate is then inserted into a light tight plate holder and then the plate holder is inserted into the prearranged camera. The dark slide is removed and the exposure is made. The dark slide is replaced and the holder is then removed from the camera and taken back into the darkroom and in the dark, while the plate is still wet, it is developed in an iron developer, fixed and washed with water and placed to air dry. After drying, the plate placed under a brass mat with a clear glass cover. The whole package is then wrapped with a brass preserver and placed in a case or frame. The tintype process was introduced in 1852 and was still popular in the earlier part of the 1900's.

T Paul 08-28-2001 09:00 PM


After researching the web I am pretty sure that the photo was a daugerrotype, and she did take it out of the frame...that's how the damage got done. She is a big history buff and is completely embarrassed by her mistake...that's why I was hoping I could repair it. Although if I remember right, I think she wiped off half of the face. I am going to see if I can get it this weekend.

DJ Dubovsky 08-28-2001 09:13 PM

Wow you sure did your homework didn't you? Thanks for the information. I never really knew what the difference was but it sure was facinating. Makes me wonder how they ever even came up with the idea. Although the processes are vastly different I'm not sure if I would still recognize the difference if I saw them side by side.

I feel for your Mom. I bet that was a real devastating experience for her. It would be nice if you could fix the damage but if most of the face is gone, I don't see how. That doesn't really leave much to clone or copy from. You definately have your work cut out for you. Good luck with it and if you do it, don't forget to let us know how it turned out.


T Paul 08-28-2001 09:46 PM

Well I am hoping that I will have half a face to work with.

Daguerreotypes Examples

Tintypes Examples

Of course it's not the same as seeing them in person.

Here is one that has a halloween theme.

Even scary themes could be a little funny. Tintypists and their subjects could soften the edge of just about any topic.


Ed_L 08-29-2001 01:34 AM


Everything I am saying is from recollection. I haven't read anything on the subject for several years, but I'm pretty sure I'm right about this:
It is not an uncommon mistake to think a Daugerrotype is a tintype or vice versa. Many are of the same size, and might appear in the same type of frame and/or case. If you had one of each in your hands, the one in your right hand would be the tintype (kidding). Scratch that last sentence! If you had one of each in your hands, you could turn one any way you wanted, and you would still see the same image, much as you would see the same thing when viewing a regular photo. This is the tintype, and it might be found unprotected, and without a frame, in a box along with other items at a flea market or antique dealer. The Daugerrotype will appear differently when viewed at different angles. It might appear as a positive, but when you change the viewing angle, it will look like a negative, or you might see nothing at all because of the mirror like finish. You would have no problem whatsoever in identifying them if you had both to look at. And if you remember the viewing angle problem, you will have no problem identifying them even if you have one by itself. The tintype is pretty rugged, and you will find many tintypes that have damage to the metal itself, but the image might be very good still. The tintype is also not nearly as susceptible to deterioration from airborne contaminants. Daugerrotypes should be sealed into the frame to keep air out. I *think* the tintype was the first really affordable photo for the general public, and many thousands (probably millions) were made as a very to mildly popular technique from about 1850 (can't remember for sure, but very popular) until the 1920's or so (mildly popular). Tintypes usually have little dollar value, where the Daugerrotype has a much higher dollar value, as well as more of a historic value due to the much lesser number of them left. A large number of Daugerrotypes were destroyed because people took them out of their frames for cleaning. This is not a mistake made only recently. I believe the first Daugerrotypes required such a long exposure time that there were no images of people because of movement of the body. They were (I think) all with a subject matter of buildings or other non-aminate things. When the process became faster, photographs of people became popular. One last note: I would not take a Daugerrotype out of it's frame for scanning. The image is *VERY* fragile, and could easily be lost. Don't blame me for the long post -- you asked for it! :)


Ed_L 08-29-2001 01:41 AM

Hi T,

Read my previous post to Debbie. If your photo is a Daugerrotype, you will probably have a hard time scanning it because of the glass. Do not remove it from the glass to scan. This could result in losing what you have left. You might try raising one side of the frame a little (prop something under it), and try to scan it. If repeated attempts fail, I think the only good solution would be to copy it with a digital camera or traditional camera. Best of luck with it, and let us know how you made out.


T Paul 08-29-2001 07:08 AM

Thanks for the great info Ed. I'll let you know how it goes once I see if it's even repairable. If so, I will try your scan method as well as a taking a digital copy of it. Hopefully between the two methods I will have something workable. I really hope that enough is left that I can repair it as it would make my mother feel so much better. I believe it's the other photograph of theat relative at that age too, so I can't steal from another source. Any tips for resealing it since she opened it to clean it?

You are correct that the first Daguerrotypes required a long exposure time about fifteen mins so not many portraits then as that was a long time to sit still. Later they did speed up the exposure process making photographs of people more popular.

Price was also a factor. Daguerrotypes cost about $5.00 (more than a weeks pay for most people then), whereas, tintypes sold for a penny or less, making photography universally available. The cost of an image at the time the process became obsolete was about 25 cents.

Another interesting tidbit is that the tintype actually does not contain any tin, but is made of thin black iron. It is sometimes confused with ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, but is easily distinguishable from them by the fact that a tintype attracts a small magnet.

-Ahh the wonders of web research. This is quite an interesting topic. I am learning so much.


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