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Tintype help

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  • Tintype help

    I have a client who wants to restore several old photographs he discovered in his grandmother's attic. Among the photos were 2 tintypes (at least I think they are) of unknown relatives.

    First of all, does anyone know of a way to date tintypes? One image is of a mother and son (I am attaching it) and the other is of the father and the two daughters. The interesting thing is that they have been hand colored. I am not sure if this was done at the time the images were produced (was that a common practice?) or if it was a later restoration job. The metal is fairly thin, with a black laquer on the back. The front has a gun metal colored material (emulsion?). Any help or info would be appreciated.

  • #2
    Tried to attach this earlier and the forum crashed...
    Attached Files


    • #3
      ...and a detail
      Attached Files


      • #4
        When it comes to something like this the first person I think of is Thomasgeorge. He is one of your best resources for help in this area. He has a very extensive knowledge with antique photos. There is also Jim Conway who is a conservator. If they don't see thread in a day or so then I would PM them if I were you.


        • #5

          Tintypes came in around 1855 (or a little later). They were *extremely* popular by 1860 and remained so for more than 20 years. The earlier ones were made on collodion, and I think it was during the 1880's, the gelatin emulsions became most popular, and were used well into the 20th century. You could run a test (if you have to) to find out if it is collodion or gelatin. Collodion dissolves in alcohol or other solvents, but is not affected by water. Gelatin swells in water, but is not affected by alcohol. A very small drop of water or alcohol on the very edge of the tintype should reveal what it is. If you use water, let it soak for a couple of minutes, then blot off. View the area under different lighting directions to detect any swelling of the emulsion. If the tintype is enclosed in a case like ambrotypes or dags, it is likely to be an early example. I think Tom could add something about the clothing for the period. He is our local authority as DJ suggests.



          • #6
            G. I'm no exptert at this, but maybe I can help some.

            Tin types were produced from about 1856 thru 1900, so that really doesn't narrow things down any.

            Based on the costume I would say this is from the 1870s. The dress is not as tight waisted as in the 1880s, and the "knife pleats" at the bottom are an 1870s fashion. There is some overlap with dress styles of the 1860s, as the decoration on the front of the dress began to appear in the second half of the decade.

            The little boy is wearing knickerbockers, which would be rare in the 1860, but fairly common in the 1870s. Also the jacket style is not shown in any of the photos (see refs below) of children of the 1860, but I see several examples of similar jackets in the 1870 (and again none in the 1880s).

            American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs by Priscilla Dalrymple, Dover Publications NY 1991

            Dressed for the Photographer Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900. Joan Severa Kent State University Press, Ohio 1995

            Not a reference I used but a good place to start looking for this kind of information is:

            Again, I'm not an expert, and have only done this previously for my own family photographs.



            • #7
              Thanks for the response! I'm always amazed at the quick and knowledgeable responses I get here.

              DJ - I'll send them a message if they do not see this thread.

              Ed - That is cool information. I don't feel good about putting a droplet of water on the photo but that is useful info to have. The client is REALLY getting into these old photos and the restoration process so I will pass the info along to him. Who knows, maybe he will become one of us!

              Tim - Thanks for the clothing info. I figured that would be the easiest way of dating them and your link supplied me with a fountain of information. Finding out some of the things these photos can tell us about the past and the processes used to make them, is almost more fun then then the process of restoring them!

              Here is the other image of the husband and daughters -
              Attached Files


              • #8
                Um.... The littlest one in the picture is probably a son. Small children were put in dresses regardless of sex. The one consistant difference is the part in the hair. Girls in the middle, boys on the side.

                Looking at the gentlmans coat (a high-button sack coat) indicates 1870-1880. The lace in both this picture and the last show that the family had at least a little extra money, so figuring they could follow fashion fairly well, it still sugests the 1870s unless the lady couldn't stand the tight waisted dresses of the 1880s and just refused to keep up with the style...



                • #9
                  Pertaining to the hair being parted on the side, here's a part of one of Tom's posts that I found interesting: "It was considered feminine, and therefore slightly unacceptable for males to part their hair in the middle until late in the 19th century. It is reported that U.S. Grant was heard to remark that he immediatly disliked and distrusted any man who parted his hair in the middle, thus, the importiant thing to look for is if the part is on the side"



                  • #10
                    Tim - Good observation. That does appear to be a boy (little boys must have been a bit confused ).

                    I found some interesting information through one of your links, about the reasons for the painted Tintype. After photography became widespread and popular, many minature portrait painters were forced out of business. A few moved into photography and offered painted color as an option. Many people at the time were still uncomfortable with the appearance of photographs and wanted them to look more like traditional portraits.


                    • #11
                      That does appear to be a boy (little boys must have been a bit confused ).
                      It was probably worse in the 1850s and 60s when off the shoulder dresses were popular, for children of both sexes.

                      minature portrait painters were forced out of business. A few moved into photography and offered painted color as an option
                      Wow! That I hadn't heard before. Makes perfect sense though...



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