Have you ever wondered why your ancestors are not smiling in those pictures you inherited? Very early pictures usually showed people not smiling. There are several theories as to why most people in those images look so stern. Sometimes one had to sit very still for a good while, because exposure times could be as long as twenty seconds.
Other reasons for serious looks could be that a lot of people had lousy teeth and didn’t want to smile as well as the idea that a portrait should be distinguished and solemn. That’s some of the reasons people in very old photographs look so harsh. Needless to say, some people didn’t like to have their picture taken back then either.
Tintypes were used between 1858 and 1910+. However, they were most popular during the 1860s and 1870s. Tintypes, also called ferrotypes or malainotypes (melainotype), were were made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel. They were one of a kind images and the image was almost always reversed left to right. (That’s why that confederate soldier was wearing a jacket that buttoned the wrong way and also why your great-great grandmother had her wedding ring on the wrong hand!!)
At first, tintypes were made in a formal studio setting. Later, they were most commonly made by photographers working in the open air at fairs and carnivals, as well as by itinerant photographers.
Because the lacquered iron sheet that the image was on didn’t need to dry, a tintype could be developed and fixed and given to the customer several minutes after the picture had been taken. Some photographers added color to their tintypes. You may often notice rosy cheeks or gold jewelry highlighted by paint. The tintype photograph saw more uses and captured a wider variety of settings and subjects than any other photographic type.
The tintype was particularly popular during and after the Civil War. Very sturdy, it was used to document the soldier’s daily activities and many after-battle scenes. Following the Civil War, the Wild West was photographed by many of these same Civil War photographers working out of their covered wagons as they traveled across the country.
Both of the images below were in very bad condition. They were wrinkled and the images were peeling off the iron plate from decades of sliding around in a drawer. It is important to note that they were not actually printed on tin as the name of the process suggests. Instead, they were call tintypes because photographers used tin snips to cut the images.
These two tintypes were taken on the couple’s wedding day in 1882. There was never a picture of the couple taken together, so I decided that they should be together! Weren’t they thrilled to finally be together?
NOTE: Tintypes need the same care as other images. Keep them in a safe environment out of direct light, heat and humidity.