A Brief History Lesson in Tintype Photography

Tintype Photograph of Two Men

Photo: V_Nikitenko/Depositphotos

Physical photographs have captivated humans ever since the invention of the camera in 1816, with their ability to capture life's special moments. One of the earliest and often forgotten photo technologies is tintypes.

Tintypes are a kind of photograph created by generating a direct positive on a sheet of metal. Ironically, the name is misleading because tin wasn't actually used to create the photographs—instead, the images were usually developed on thin iron plates. The process was invented in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer, who made the mistake of not patenting his creation, leading to the process being widely recreated. Sadly, Archer was also unable to make any money from his invention during his lifetime and died impoverished.

However, Archer's creation outlived him. From the 1850s to the early 20th century, tintypes were widely used across the Western world, as they had a few advantages over other traditional photography techniques of the time. Their photographs did not have a reflection, unlike daguerreotypes, another popular form of photography. Tintypes also generated positive images and were significantly faster to develop, taking approximately 15 minutes. This made them especially popular for portrait photography, even though photography studios rarely used the technique after the 1860s. Thanks to the convenient and sturdy nature of the tintypes, they were often sold as popular souvenirs at events.

Today, tintype photography is rarely used, except for a handful of dedicated photographers. These photographers typically use aluminum instead of iron but keep many of the traditional processes. Some innovative photographers have even built businesses around this photography style, keeping the past—and Archer's invention—alive.

Tintypes are an early style of photography. Contrary to their name, the photos were often developed on thin sheets of iron rather than tin.

Tintype Photograph of A Nicely Dressed Man

Photo: V_Nikitenko/Depositphotos

These tintypes were more popular than other photography styles of the time because they didn't have a reflection and could be developed quickly, making them perfect souvenirs.

Vintage Tintype Photo Of Two Men, A Woman, And An Infant

Photo: V_Nikitenko/Depositphotos

h/t: [PetaPixel]

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Sarah Currier

Sarah Currier is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. Based in central Iowa, she is currently enrolled at Iowa State University and is working toward a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English. She loves all things creative, and when she’s not writing, you can find her immersed in the worlds of television, film, and literature.
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