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Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback

Tintypes, Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes

(c) cycleback 2003, 2005 all rights reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 and presentations.

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 for viewing.

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 1900s.

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.

 

Sizes

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 Historical Society.

* 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 envelopes.

 

 

IDENTIFICATION

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.

Daguerreotype: 1839-60.
Ambrotype: 1854-1860
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:

 

 

TINTYPE
(aka ferrotype)

1860s tintype with worse than usual cut

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


DAGUERREOTYPE

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

 

 

 

AMBROTYPES

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

 

 

CASES

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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