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Daguerreotype: A reverse image produced on a silver-coated copper plate. Duration: 1839-1860.

Ambrotype: A negative image produced on a glass plate, viewed as a positive by the addition of a black backing. Duration: 1854-mid 1860s

Tintype: A negative image produced on a thin iron plate, viewed as positive due to the undercoating of black Japan varnish. Duration: 1856-1920.



Solid-type photography, or photographic images on solid plates, was the dominant form of photography until albumen prints. The Daguerreotype was the first practical photograph and proved to be popular with the public. It was replaced in popularity by the cheaper Ambrotype, which in turn was replaced by the tintype and the albumen carte de visite. The tintype waned in popularity by about 1890, but was produced in limited amounts until 1920.

The solid-type is a different process than paper photography. With paper photography, a negative is made, and this negative is used to print the image on paper. With the solid-type process, a negative image is made on a solid plate, and that is the final product. Due to the backing, the image appears to the viewer to be positive tonally (dark to light), though it is still reverse left to right. While countless paper prints could be made with a negative, a solid-type is unique. If you own a Daguerreotype, for example, you own the only copy.

Solid-types were not mounted (pasted to a cardboard mount or like) like many paper photographs. They were often held in special cases, special cards or albums. Though it is not always desirable, the photographed can be removed.

Solid-type photographs come in many sizes. Full metal or glass plates were manufactured, then sold to the photography studio. The photographer could use the entire plate to make a large photograph, or cut up the plate to make several smaller photographs. The following is an approximate size range, though 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. The half plate is the next rarest

Full Plate: 6-1/2" X 8-1/2"
Half Plate: 4-1/2" X 5-1/2"
1/4 Plate: 3-1/2" X 4-1/8"
1/6 Plate: 2-5/8" X 3-1/4"
1/9 Plate: 2" X 2-1/2"
1/16 Plate: 1-3/8" X 1-5/8"
Gem tintypes: 1" X 1" or smaller

The following pages identify and describe the solid-types photographs.





Definition: A reverse image produced on a silver-coated copper plate.
Duration: 1839-1860.

The Daguerreotype is the easiest to identify of the three solid-type photographs. As the image is on a silver surface, it has a magical mirror-like quality. If you put a piece of paper with writing in front of the surface, the writing will reflect in reverse. Unlike other photographs, the image can only be seen at certain angles. The Daguerreotype image is superior to that of the tintype and Ambrotypes. The Daguerreotype has virtually no image grain and has rich black and bright whites.

The Daguerreotype is considered to be the most desirable of the solid-type photographs. It is historically significant as the first practical photograph, and the image quality is superior.

The manufacturer's symbol was stamped on full plates, before being sold to the photographer. This stamp is sometimes used to give a date to Daguerreotype. However, as photographer often cut the plate into smaller parts, the symbol won't appear on all Daguerreotypes.

In America, most Daguerreotypes were held in cases (see cased photographs). They can also be found as panoramas and stereographs.





Definition: a negative image produced on a glass plate, viewed as a positive by the addition of a black backing.
Duration: 1854-mid 1860s

The Ambrotype often resembles the tintype. If the image can be removed, they are easy to distinguish as the Ambrotype image is on a plate of glass, while the tintype is iron. The tintype is attracted to a magnate. The Ambrotype often has a 3-dimentional effect when examined closely, as the shadows (created by a black backing) and the highlights are on different sides of the glass. The tintype has a flat image. When a darker coral glass was used in the Ambrotype, the distinction can be more difficult. In the end, it may be necessary to remove the Ambrotype from its case, though this isn't always desirable if the case has its original seal (see cases). The Ambrotype does not have the mirror effect of the Daguerreotype, and its images are less crisp and more pearly.

The ambrotye was the popular successor to the Daguerreotype. While the image was inferior to the Daguerreotype's, it was much cheaper and easier to produce.

The glass plates do not bear dating marks as the Daguerreotype plates. Early Ambrotypes had a second plate of glass sealed to the image. This process was discontinued in the 1850's. The use of the darker colored coral glass began in the late 1850's. As noted, these often resemble tintypes.

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.

Ambrotypes were usually held in cases (see cased photographs).
In the late 1800, after the ambrotype, appeared similar looking photographs called the orotone or goldtone. These are much like ambrotypes but the glass was backed in real gold, giving the photograph a distinct gold colored background.


(aka ferrotype)

Definition: A negative image produced on a thin iron plate, viewed as positive due to the undercoating of black Japan varnish.
Duration: 1856-1920. Popular use: 1860-1890

The tintype and Ambrotype have similar and sometimes indistinguishable images, especially when the Ambrotype is made with a dark colored glass. In some cases, the only way to tell which type of photograph it is to look at the back of the image and see if it is made out of glass or iron. It is not always desirable or possible to remove a photograph from its case. Tintypes are attracted to a magnate, while Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes are not. The two photographs often have a distinguishable image appearance. The Ambrotype often has a 3-dimentional effect when examined closely, because the shadows and highlights are on different levels as the shadows are made by the black backing behind the glass. The tintype image, on the other hand, is flat and has a 2-D image.

The tintype is the most plentiful of the solid-type photographs. The process was especially popular in the United States. Tintypes were rarely originally held in cases, though they are often encased in modern days to make them more attractive.

Early tintypes were thick and heavy and usually bear the imprint of manufacturer. The earliest tintype plates had one of the following two embossments:


Chocolate colored tintypes were produced after the 1870's. While large sizes were produced for many years, tiny gem tintypes were made starting in 1863. These were often sold in bunches and put in albums or special cards that look like carte de visites. These tintypes in cartes often have the photographer's price list on the back. Later on, tintypes were given a protecting coat of varnish and were sold with out case or other holder. Tintypes from the turn of the century were usually small and of poor image quality.



Definition: A style of protecting and displaying solid-type photographs, where the photograph is held within a packet and case.
Duration: 1839-1867

Until a few years before 1870, many solid-types were held in special cases. These images are referred to as cased photographs. Most of these cased photographs were Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes. The cased photograph is made of several parts, and the totality was meant to beautify and protect the delicate image. The parts include the solid-type itself, a brass mat, a pane of glass, a preserver (also called a frame) and the case. The pane of glass protects the image from he outside elements. The mat frames and beautifies 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 are essentially the same as a modern framed and matted photograph or print. 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, embossed, leather covered boxes; or molded and embossed cases made of thermoplastic. The last are called 'Union Cases.'

The collector must note that, over the years, solid-types and the case parts have often been mixed and matched. This was or is done to make the photograph look nicer, or to make a newer tintype look old. If the seal is intact, 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.

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