Sunday, February 6, 2011

Civil War Era and Photography

Tintype Photographs
The American Tintype, Floyd and Marion Rinhart
Ohio State University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1999) 
As genealogists and family historians we look forward to finding photographs. They hold valuable information.  From dress to background details we can often pinpoint an era. One of my favorite finds as a genealogists are tintype photos.  In the US these photos were most popular around the civil war era, 1856 - 1867, but did not really disappear until after WWI.  Some would say as late as WWII. 

Due to its durability, it is likely that the family historians will sooner or later stumble upon a tintype (or several) in family photo albums, military records, or Native American territory records.  They were also used to track run away slaves, and may be found in slave master records or copies of them in local newspapers. 

He Was Left-Handed?
Tintype photography was affordable and could be offered in a variety of sizes. There was no tin used in tintypes, except perhaps the tin shears used to separate the photo from the plate.

Although affordable, there were a few disadvantages. In ridding themselves of glass plates, tintypes used mirrors in the camera to reflect the image resulting in what appeared to be on the right was actually on the left. This made most all of our ancestors left handed when holding a rifle.  So knowledge of the photography type is important when analyzing photos.

Tintype History
Not all photographers used the tintype, known as ferrotype in England.  It was definitely frowned upon by reputable studios due to the poor quality, and lack of craftsmanship.  But when Adolphe Alexandre Martin, introduced tintype to the US (1853-1856), the timing could not have been better for the ambitious entrepreneurs. Street vendors, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs offered their services to the “common” man, stripping photography from being reserved for the elite class. 

Street vendors who emphasized the versatility and durability of the tintype, were able to sell small photographs for lockets and larger ones for albums.  As the civil war ensued, there was a built-in market.  Photographs were made prior to enlistment as memorabilia for the wife and family, and much money could be made by visiting military encampments to photograph soldiers. 

Kathleen Brandt

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