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A very old photograph

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  • A very old photograph

    i wasnt sure where to post this, but this forum seemed the most appropriate. if not, could a moderator please move it to where it would be.

    this is, what i think, a photo of a photo. the original is apparently lost, but someone made a re-photo before the original was destroyed or lost...i think. and that's why i'm posting this. i'd like folks to analyze this also and give me your evaluation of what this might be.

    the picture is of my great, great, grandmother, who died circa 1889. that means the picture was taken some time before that, maybe around 1880.

    i can tell you a bit about the photo you may not be able to tell from the image. there are no studio markings or writing of any kind on the front or back, except where on the back my mother has penned who this was and a tiny bit of data about her. it is done on a very stiff piece of something resembling compressed cardboard, roughly 1/16th of an inch thick. the back is naturally faded and dirty and there was no frame with the picture.

    ok, the other reason i'm posting this is just because i think it's an interesting picture. i've been going through my mother's BOXES of old photos and picking out some gems to retouch. i've run across about a half dozen tintypes so far and have scanned those already and some real great period pieces that i might post later if anyone has an interest. these are delightful. the clothing, cars and so on are really quite a study

    Attached Files

  • #2
    well, i solved part of the mystery! i found another old tintype of which this photo is from! someone, at some point, apparently made a photograph of just this woman. in the original tintype there are actually two women. someone either made another of just the one woman or made one of both and cut the one out and pasted it onto a piece of pressed cardboard. fascinating!

    i'm going to guess that they were trying to save the tintype, or rather the content of same. the tintype is fairly dark. i've scanned it and am in the process of cleaning up the scan.

    does anyone know when tintypes were prevalent? i'd like to try and date this more precisely.



    • #3
      There are sites with info about the history of photography, and info about tintypes, cabinet cards, etc. -- we used to have a couple of people here with knowledge about those areas, but I'm not sure that they still visit the site.

      Here's a start:


      • #4
        Originally posted by Kraellin
        does anyone know when tintypes were prevalent? i'd like to try and date this more precisely.
        Tintypes: introduced in 1856. Peak years: 1860-1863. Waned: 1865-1867. Tintypes marks the end of the cased images. At the beginning of the Civil War started to be placed inside of carte de visite sized sleeves.


        • #5
          Kraelin, my reference books date tintypes from 1856 into the 1930s. The fact that they were less expensive and more durable made them very popular.

          We'll have to rely on the dress style to date this photograph. The close fitting bodice and knife pleat bottom of the skirt are good representations of late 1870s to mid 1880s so your estimate of 1880 is pretty good. A scan of the original tintype showing the other person might be helpful in dating.

          The dark background of the cabinet card, the cardboard you describe, might also help date the reproduction. I'll have to do a little more study later.

          Hope this helps, and good for you in going through those old photographs. Aren't they amazing?



          • #6
            thank you all!

            well, i know it's not later than 1889. she died then according to the markings on the back of the copied image. there are no markings whatsoever on the tintype image. it's quite small, about 2 inches by 3 inches or so. the 'paper' is clearly steel and it's a bit bent here and there and quite dark, but the detail is remarkably good in my estimation.

            i've converted the original scan that was in .bmp format to .jpg to post here. the compression wasnt too bad so most of the detail is still there.

            and yes, i love this stuff. my mother has a ton of this stuff, tintypes, old pressed cardboard types and more. i could spend the rest of my life just working on her stuff. i've also found pictures of some of her old boyfriends and am currently working on a blackmail scheme... much to her dismay... and amusement

            also, i dont normally ask this of pictures i post on retouch, but i'd prefer these not be copied or distributed, other than for your own personal practice or posting here.

            Attached Files


            • #7
              Kraellin, what a marvelous image! I downloaded the tintype and did a levels adjustment so I could see the clothing and hairstyle better and think we might push the date back to the mid to late 1870s.

              Have you identified the younger woman? This might help in dating as well.

              Did you crop the tintype when you scanned it? The first image you posted showed a pleated ruffle on the skirt that is not showing up here. Looks as if there was some high-tech retouching going on when they produced the cabinet card.

              Don't worry, your image will go no further than my "things to work on" folder. I enjoy the challenge of dating these old photos and learning more about the people in them.


              • #8
                sadly, i have no other information about the picture(s). these were handed down to my mother from my grandmother and my grandmother passed away a number of years ago. my mother knows only what is printed on the backs of the various pictures she obtained. we know the woman sitting was my great-great grandmother and her name, but not who the other woman is.

                and i hadnt even noticed the difference in the skirt before. good catch. as far as i know or can tell from the tintype, there is no evidence to support the addition on the skirt. the scan was fine and nothing left out. in fact, i even scanned this one twice. the first time i did a batch scan of several of these and then did this one all by itself at 300 dpi. whoever did the cabinet card (ok, so that's what that's called), must have added that in, or, the tintype was cut off at the bottom at some point. i'll have to look at it again to see if that was what happened. i've already returned it to my mother.

                1870's... interesting and thank you if you find out anything more i'd love to hear it.

                also, if you'd like to see more of these, i have a whole batch of these which i'm looking at to restore. i've already scanned some and returned them, but i've a whole folder not even scanned yet and my mother has BOXES full of photos of various sorts and ages ranging from the older tintypes to photos hand colorized by the studio where they were taken, to studio shots of a cute distant relative, to a bare-bottomed picture of herself as a baby, to marvelous period stuff like old cars and clothing, to, well, just about anything and everything. quite a treasure trove i could quite literally spend the rest of my life JUST working on all this stuff. so, if there's something of particular interest, such as the period clothing, let me know.

                and thank you for respecting my wishes. i've posted what i've posted more or less with my mother's permission, but more like tacit consent and a raised eyebrow



                • #9
                  Of course! The tintype you have was cut off at the bottom from a larger original! The cabinet card was made from the larger original.

                  Tintypes are actually iron but got the name of tintype because they were cut with tin shears or tinsnips. They came in several sizes, the majority were 6 1/2" by 8 1/2". When cameras with multiple lenses were invented, identical portraits could be produced in one sitting. Source: Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs by Maureen Taylor.

                  It sounds as if you indeed have your work cut out for you. At first you will be drawn in by their unique nature but soon you'll be noticing family characteristics. Then you'll get out the magnifying glass to compare noses, eyebrows and earlobes. Or, with image software you may be layering one image on top of another to see if they match.

                  Btw, don't be afraid to talk to great great grandmother while you're working on her picture. She just might reveal some of her personality!

                  I will caution you though; if you aren't careful, you could become a genealogist! One little fact about someone makes you want to know more.

                  Please feel free to private message me if there are images you would rather not post. I have several books that I use for dating photos from 1840s into the 1920s and as I said before, I love the challenge.


                  • #10
                    The tintype you have was cut off at the bottom from a larger original! The cabinet card was made from the larger original.
                    maybe... i'll try and verify this tomorrow.

                    well, these are quite small then. i just measured one. it's 2 3/8 x 3 5/8. and most definitely metal, though i dont really know if iron or steel. they are fairly thin, being about the thickness of maybe two business cards put together. i have five of these currently in my possession and on the backs of each there is a black to reddish-black glossy coating, like an emulsion that is hardened and streaked a bit on some. there are no text markings on any of them. no etchings of any kind either. and each one is slightly different in size, though all fairly close in size.

                    is there any way to tell what the metal type is for sure? shld i scratch the back side as a test maybe? i'm guessing that that coating on the back is perhaps to keep them from rusting...perhaps.

                    hehe, well, so far great-great grandmum hasnt said much and my dad's the geneaologist, not me. i'm the restorer though, i do admit, there is one of a gentleman that sort of looks like ulysses s. grant that i'm curious about.

                    ok....d'oh! i still have the one of great-great grandma! it was still in the scanner! lol. and it wasnt cut off at the bottom at all.... the image is so dark that apparently the scanner read it as part of the absorbsion pad! hang on, i'm going to scan it again with a piece of paper around it.....

                    ok, we'll chalk that one up to getting older

                    here's the new scan:

                    boy, now i have to start over on the restoration... lol.

                    Attached Files


                    • #11
                      well, i'm just turning out to be more senile than i thought. there is writing on this one. and it would appear that it's my great-great grandfather, a Van Stone. that's the writing along the side. this is the one that i was going to post in the last post but realized i still had the other one in the scanner, so i've now scanned this one and am posting it here.

                      at a guess, i'd say this was taken probably at nearly the same time and in the same studio as the other one, being that this is most likely the husband of the woman in the other one.

                      pretty amazing

                      and btw, thank you for catching that bit about the cut off skirt. you've saved me a lot of re-work

                      Attached Files


                      • #12
                        Glad you found the original tintype of the women. Surprising what we lose in our scanners, isn't it?

                        Back to my source for this information:

                        "In 1856, an Ohio chemistry professor named Hamilton Smith patented the process of coating an iron plate with collodion. The iron was coated with a black or brown varnish. The resulting image was a direct positive when viewed on the dark background. These images were known as melainotypes or ferrotypes, because of the iron backing. . . .

                        "The iron tintypes were more durable and weighed less than daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Unlike the daguerreotype and the ambrotype, tintypes could be carried in a pocket or sent through the mail without risk. A coating of clear varnish further protected the image area."

                        No need to scratch the surface; just use a magnet. A magnet will stick to iron.

                        When you are restoring those images, pay attention to the baseboard of the wall in both pictures. You can see it very well in gggranddad's and only a very little next to gggrandma's skirt. If they look similar, your thought of being the same studio and timeframe are probably correct. Sometimes it is the obscure detail that ties things together.

                        Did your gggrandparents have a daughter? Could she be the younger woman?
                        Maybe even a granddaughter if the time is correct. Isn't this fun?

                        I'll have to prepare a couple of pictures and give you the details of my search to identify the subjects. It was a small detail that solved the mystery.


                        • #13
                          I was given the cabinet card of the two women with no identifying information. The pink matte of the card was intriguing but other than tentatively dating it around 1870, I got no further.

                          Two years later a cousin gave me a scan of the man, telling me that her mother had given it to her saying, "This is grandpa." For thirty years cousin thought it was our grandfather George. I had other pictures of Grandpa George that were much better quality so I didn't think too much about it for another year or so.

                          One night out of a clear blue sky, it dawned on me that "Grandpa's" photo had a pink matte. I dug out both photos and looked at them side by side. The background is the same!

                          Since I had dated the women as 1870, there was no way the man could be Grandpa George as that is the year he was born. When my aunt identified the man as Grandpa, she meant her grandfather, Solomon, father of Grandpa George.

                          I've compared the woman standing with pictures known to be my great grandmother thirty years later and definitely see a resemblance. The man then is my great grandfather Solomon and this is the only picture of him that anyone has found so far.

                          Dating one photo helped date the other photo which in turn helped identify the subjects in the first. See why I love this stuff!
                          Attached Files


                          • #14
                            ummm, a magnet will stick to both iron and steel. both are ferrous materials. so is there any other way to identify which this might be? your information certainly does point to it being iron and the information you posted about the coating certainly seems to match up with what i've got.

                            dont know about a daughter. i'll have to ask my folks. my dad's the geneologist in the family, but not sure he's traced this side of the family yet.

                            and had you not mentioned it, i probably wouldnt have noticed your two photos had the same background. the two pictures are taken at slightly different angles and distances to that background and it would be very easy to miss. good catch



                            • #15
                              Regarding iron or steel, would it be possible to cut steel, even that thin, with tin snips? Would steel be as economical to use in this application? Tintypes were popular because they only cost a few pennies each.

                              I've learned to look for details such as the background or jewelry to link pictures and people. I am amazed by the talents of people on this forum who catch tiny little details for retouching or restoring a photo. As far as that goes, I may see something isn't quite right but don't know what is wrong or how to fix it. I'm still learning!

                              Btw, gggranddad is quite a handsome fellow!


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