In 1856, Hamilton L. Smith, while a professor of
chemistry and physics at Kenyon College in Gambier, patented the ferrotype in
America, popularly know as the tintype. In its 19th century heyday, tintypes
were the equivalent of today's digital photography in that they provided
inexpensive images quickly.
images of the Civil War were tintypes. Recorded on a thin metal (not tin) plate,
the relatively permanent and indestructible images could be mailed easily, and
many survive today, providing an excellent and detailed "snapshot" history of
America and the world from the mid to late 19th century.
Some tintype cameras allowed four images of the
same view to be made simultaneously. Then the metal plate could be cut into four
Common tintypes are about 2¼ x 3½ inches, but it was the size of the camera back
that determined how large the resulting image would be.
Most tintype images today have rough edges and are
not evenly cut, which is part of their charm.
of the greatest advances of tintype was that it brought photography to the masses.
It was relatively inexpensive. Prior to tintype, photography was reserved
for the wealthy. Tintypes became so popular that they were produced for a
century and were still being shot broadly as late as the 1950’s - frequently at
Did You Know?
was also curator of specimens that formed the foundation of the collections in
the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
- Smith wrote several textbooks and also
devised a system for describing diatoms and desmids.
- A very popular use of tintypes
was to photograph the dead.
- The term "tintypes" may be
linked to the tin shears used to cut out the images.
- To tell if you have a tintype,
see if it will attract a magnet. The iron in tintypes is a
- The tintype is more accurately
called a ferrotype.
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