Tintype of casual man with cigar

What it is:

Tintype measuring approx. 2.5 x 3.75 inches.

What I know about it:

Undated and unidentified, but it comes from the same antique photo album as the family from Milwaukee.


A tintype is essentially a photo on metal rather than paper, though it’s a bit more complicated than that.  With a photo on paper, you pass light through the negative onto chemically treated paper, creating a positive image.  With the tintype, you chemically apply the negative directly to a thin sheet of metal that has been coated black, the black background reversing the image into a positive one like we see above.  By the way, the metal is iron, not tin, hence the type’s other name, ferrotype.  These were among the cheapest, fastest and easiest photos to produce back in the day, and the process was popular with traveling photographers, street photographers, carnival or seaside amusement photographers, etc.  They also had the advantage of being durable and easily mailed.  As with this one, they were typically produced in a size that matched the CDVs that were then popular, but they were also produced in other sizes, particularly “gem” sizes that were either mounted into CDV-sized paper frames, or inserted into lockets.  They are popular with some collectors, though personally I prefer photos on paper.  I don’t know why, exactly, since there can be some interesting images, like this one.  I suppose the cheapness of the process shows in many of them, and frankly when they are this old they are often rusty (as is the back of this one).  But there are advantages to them, too.  Their affordability means that many tintypes contain images of poorer, “everyday” people, as well as people who are dressed a little more casually (as with the man here), since it allowed for the picture taking to be a more spontaneous event.  Additionally, the process of assembling a tintype means that each tintype is a unique, one-of-a-kind image, like a modern Polaroid.   In any case, I don’t have very many tintypes in my collection, but there are a few nice ones.  One other comment about this image:  I have always been amused by the old custom of tinting the cheeks pink, even on macho guys like this.

One comment on “Tintype of casual man with cigar”

  1. I can’t believe I missed this the other day. What a great photo! Thank you for the information about tintypes. I, too, am amused by the pink cheeks on this macho guy!

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