Monday, March 9, 2020

Natal Photographers and their work: tintypes

This is a tintype of Mr Birch, studio unknown. Tintypes (ferrotypes) were introduced circa 1856 and quickly became popular, surviving as 'beach' and fairground photos till 1950. Cheap to produce the plate was a piece of metal. 36 exposures could be taken from one plate. It was a very portable method and itinerant photographers used the tintype as they moved around the mining areas such as Kimberley. As the tintype was the province of the travelling photographer it can show our ancestors away from the stolid formality of the studio as they appeared on an outing at the seaside or at the fair.

As with ambrotypes and daguerrotypes each was a unique picture though the quality was inferior to photographs produced by those methods.

A thin blackened sheet of iron was coated with a wet collodion emulsion. All chemical operations took place inside a specially designed camera. The camera would be multi-lensed. The plate was quickly processed, taken from the camera, cut up into individual tintypes and handed, still wet, to the customer. It cost only a few pence. Sometimes they were framed or mounted (in an equally thin metal frame) to bring them up to the size of a carte, for use in an album. The image was reversed. Many tintypes look a bit murky, black and dark grey being the predominant colours. Although at first they may be mistaken for ambrotypes, they are always much smaller, being snipped off the metal plate, and the contrasts are not as good. Still, they fulfilled a need and at a cheaper price were welcomed by customers.

These tintypes have been hand-coloured - very unusual.

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