Tintype: Early image on a thin iron plate resembling
tin. By far the most common of the three for sports subjects.
Daguerreotype: Early mage on a silver-coated copper
plate. The rarest and most valuable for sports subjects.
Ambrotype: Early image on a transparent glass plate
with a black backing. Rare for sports subjects.
People are surpised to find out that many 1800s photographs
were not paper but glass and metal. The standard metal and glass
photographs are the Duaguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes.
These are popular with collectors and come in different sizes
Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were originally housed in special
cases discussed later in this chapter. The tintype can be found
au natural, in cases, frames and paper envelopes with openings
These metal and glass photographs were the dominant form of
photography until albumen prints. The Daguerreotype was the first
practical photograph and proved popular with the public. It was
replaced by the cheaper Ambrotype, which was replaced in popular
use by the tintype and albumen carte de visite. The tintype waned
in popularity by about 1890, but was produced into the early
The Daguerreotypes/ambrotypes/tintypes (for the rest of this
chapter referred to as 'D/A/T' shortness' sake) were made with
a different photographic process than photographic prints on
paper. With modern paper photography a glass or plastic film
negative is first made, and this negative is used to 'print'
the image on paper. With the D/A/T process, a negative image
is made on a solid plate of metal or glass, and that is the final
product. Due to a special black backing, the image appears to
the viewer to be positive tonally (dark to light), though is
reverse laterally (left to right) as with a negative. Any letters
on an athlete's uniform will be backwards.
While countless paper prints could be made with a negative,
almost every D/A/T you find is unique. The photographic process
produced one and only one photo. There was a process for making
copies, but it was rarely used.
Amongst today's collectors Daguerreotypes are considered the
most desirable and attractive, the Ambrotype the next most desirable
and the tintype third.
D/A/T photographs come in many sizes. Metal and glass plates
were manufactured then sold to the photographer or photography
studio. The photographer could use the entire plate to make a
large photograph, or, as was more common, cut up the plate to
make multiple smaller photographs. As a result, most tintypes
have irregular cuts including crooked edges and clipped corners.
The listing below this paragraph is a general size range for
these photos. Variations are to be expected. Size is often described
as a fraction of the plate: 'full plate,' 'half plate,' and so
on. The full plate is the rarest and most desirable size with
collectors. The half plate is the next rarest. There are rare
and highly desirable examples of double full plate, about twice
the size of a full plate. There are differences of opinions on
the exact sizes, with the below listing coming from the California
* Full plate - 6-1/2 x 8-1/2
* 1/2 plate - 4-1/4 X 5-1/2
* 1/4 plate - 3-1/4 x 4-1/4
* 1/6 plate - 2-3/4 x 3-1/4
* 1/9 plate - 2 x 2-1/2
* Gem tintypes: 1" X 1" or smaller. Gem tintypes were
most popular in the 1860s and are often found in small card-like
With hands on experience, it is usually easy to tell if a
photograph is a Daguerreotypes, ambrotype or tintype. Daguerreotypes
in particular have a unique image quality. The only thing that
causes a challenge is that Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and sometimes
tintypes are held in cases, which means you can't turn the image
itself over in your hand and identify what material it is.
Tintype: 1860- early 1900s.
The above rarity comparison and dates should give you a start
at identification, especially if you are looking an online auction
where you don't have the item in front of you. If a photo shows
a baseball player in 1880s uniform, it could not be an ambrotype
or Daguerreotype. As basketball was invented in 1891, there can
only be basketball tintypes. As boxing has a long and storied
history, there can be all three types of boxing photos. Percentage
wise, the random sports D/A/T is most likely to be a tintype.
The tintype and rarer ambrotype have similar and sometimes
indistinguishable images, especially when the Ambrotype has a
dark colored glass. In some cases the only way to identify is
to look at the back and of the photo and see if it is made out
of glass or iron. The Ambrotype's image often has a 3-dimensional
effect when examined closely, as the shadows and highlights are
on different levels of the glass (image on front, black backing
behind the glass). The tintype image, on the other hand, is flat
and has a 2-D image. Tintypes are attracted to a magnet, while
Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes are not.
The Daguerreotype image has a magical, mirror-like quality.
The image can only be seen at certain angles. A piece of paper
with writing will be reflected in the image, just as with a mirror.
If well developed and preserved, the images are of highest quality,
crystal clear and with great detail.
The following is a closer look at each type:
1860s tintype with worse than usual
The tintype process was especially popular in the United States.
Unlike Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes, tintypes were usually not
held in cases (cases described later). Some are sold in metal
frames, with the frame often not original to the tintype.
Early tintypes were thick and heavy and usually bear the imprint
of the manufacturer. Chocolate colored tintypes were produced
after the 1870s. While large sizes were produced for many years,
tiny 'gem' tintypes (about 1" X 1") were made starting
in 1863. These were often sold in bunches and put in albums or
special cards or envelopes that look like cartes de visite. These
tintypes in cartes often have the photographer's price list on
the back. Later on, tintypes were given a protective coat of
varnish and were sold with out case or other holder. Tintypes
from the turn of the century were usually small and of lesser
image quality, sometimes held in envelopes.
tintype in case
The Daguerreotype is considered to be the most desirable of
the three types. It is historically significant as the first
practical photograph, depicts early subject and the image quality
is superior. Some collectors consider the Daguerreotype to be
even superior in image quality to modern processes.
The manufacturer's symbol was stamped on full plates before
the plates were sold to the photographer. This stamp is sometimes
used to give a date to Daguerreotypes. However as the photographer
often cut the plate into smaller parts, the symbol won't appear
on all Daguerreotypes.
Most Daguerreotypes were held in cases.
badly damaged Daguerreotype
The Ambrotype was the popular successor to the Daguerreotype.
While the image was inferior to the Daguerreotypes, it was cheaper
and easier to produce. It is generally considered to have an
image quality between Daguerreotypes and tintypes.
The glass plates do not bear dating marks as with the Daguerreotype
plates. Early Ambrotypes had a second plate of glass sealed to
the image. This process was discontinued in the 1850s. The use
of the darker colored coral glass began in the late 1850s. As
noted, these often resemble tintypes when held in cases.
Ambrotypes needed a black backing behind the glass to make the
image positive in tone. Early Ambrotypes had the black backing
in the case, while later ones had the black directly applied
to the glass.
Finding a sports ambrotype should be a treat for the sports
collector, as they show early images and are rare.
Ambrotypes were usually held in cases.
ambrotype in case
Daguarreotype in open case
cover of closed case
Duration: 1839- 1860s
Most Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, and a minority of sports
tintypes, were held in custom made, elaborate cases.
The cased photograph is made of several parts, and the totality
was meant to beautify and protect the delicate image. The parts
include the photo itself, a brass mat, a pane of glass, a preserver
(also called a frame) and the case (a box with a hinged lid).
The pane of glass protects the image from the outside elements.
The mat frames and aesthetically enhances the image while protecting
it from the glass. The preserver, which can also be ornamental,
holds the previous parts together. These parts are usually held
together with varying types of paper or tape. If you think about
it, these parts much like the parts to a modern framed and matted
photograph or lithgraph. Finally, these parts were placed inside
the case. The most common style of case is ornamental and folds
together like a box. The cases were paper mache, thin and embossed
leather covered boxes, or molded and embossed cases made of thermoplastic.
The last are called 'Union Cases.'
Over the years photos and the case parts have often been mixed
and matched. This was often done in the 1800s as a way to make
the photo look nicer, just as people today will put a family
photo in a different frame to go with the newly painted walls.
If the paper seal is intact on the back of the photo, the encased
photograph is in its original state. If the seal is broken, the
collector must determine if the parts and photograph are from
the same period. If the oxidation pattern on the photo is the
same shape as the brass mat, the case is either the original
case or one from the same period.
Many more modern tintypes are found in metal frames not original
to the tintype. Today's collectors often purchase a frame separately
as they think the tintype will look nice in the frame. The general
rule is to place the financial value for the late 1800s tintype
itself and not the frame. If you think the frame is particularly
attractive and is worth a few bucks extra bucks that is fine.
Just realize that there's a decent chance the frame is not original
to the tintype and has little effect on the value of the photo
itself. If it is known that the frame is original to the photo,
then the frame would legitimately increase the value.
It's as with an original 1955 Green Bay Packers team photographic
print. If the photo is in its original 1955 wooden frame, then
the frame is an integral part of the value. However, say the
photo originally came unframed and was put in a frame in 1995.
Whether a Target department store half-off special or hand carved
out of ash, the 1995 frame has little affect on the value of
the photo self. You may realize this when you turn to resell
the Packers photo and discover that many bidders are only interested
in the photo, not the frame. The winner may plan on removing
the photo and throwing away the frame.
Political ampaign button of Abe
Lincoln: In the 1800s, tintypes and
ambrotypes were often used as campaign buttons or badges. The
above is an ambrotype of Abraham Lincoln.
campaign button back
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