Friday, August 28, 2009


I have 2 tintypes in my collection of old family memorabilia. I found these buried among JR’s Grandma’s stuff. Stuff that included stacks of receipts, piles of letters bound by string and ribbons, photographs tucked into books, in the folds of letters, and enclosed in envelopes, things that make up the minutiae that represent what we know of her and her family’s lives.

I belive that the guy on the right is JR's great great grandfather.

Tintypes or melainotypes or ferrotypes (all the same thing. There was a little controversy about who and what invented the tintype in the U.S. that I'm sure included pistols at dawn) are photographs created by making a direct positive on a sheet of metal; usually on iron or steel never on tin. The name tintype may have been given to them because they were cut from the plate of steel or iron with a pair of tin snips.

Tintypes were the working man’s photograph. Developed in 1853 in France, tintypes made their way to the U.S. in 1856. They were popular from 1856 to 1880 when new Kodak technology made them obsolete.

I could have cropped this one a little better.

Tintypes were very popular with Civil War soldiers and their families. The equipment required was very portable. Photographs could be taken in the field or at home and given to the customer almost immediately. Put into a sleeve they were easily mailed.

Another use was to take pictures of infant or young children when they died as a rememberance. Sounds morbid but you have to remember that the infant mortality rate was very high. A mother wants to remember her baby. Finally. now, she had a way to do so. Sad but true.

Tintypes have no negatives so they are mirror images. If a person looks like they are holding a glass in their left hand they are really holding it in their right hand. Cool huh?

I suspect that these gentlemen were the 4 Norwegian brothers that immigrated to America in the 1850s. They are JR's ancestors. I have some cool stories about these fellows that I will relate later. JR's direct descendant and his brothers turned out to be quite the characters.

Any of you have crazy characters in your family?



  1. very informative, especially useful and fun to amateur photo-hobbyists suchas us.

    thank you very much for sharing this.


  2. Sure, we've got crazy characters, but we keep them away from the general population. JR's family is much more interesting!

  3. My entire family is comprised of crazy characters, present company definitely NOT excluded.

  4. That is so cool! Lovin' the hats! Ole!

  5. My dad used to have the coolest collection of antique cameras - sadly he ended up selling off most of them. I should show him this post!

  6. So neat that you have these.
    And so sad about the tin types of dead babies. I'd never heard that; makes sense. They take photos now in the hospital when a baby is born stillborn. Even parents that don't think they want them usually end up coming back for them. Very sad.

  7. I love those. I've never heard of that before.

  8. These are priceless. I love the poses.

    Everyone in my family is crazy. In my opinion...:) Including me.

  9. Those are real treasures that you have there. I really enjoyed what you said about them too. Cool!

  10. Those are pretty damn cool. Of course I've got nutjobs in my family. It's me you're talkin to.

  11. What a fantastic post. I'm jealous of your wickedness.

  12. I don't have any actual old photos of family members, just a few scans or copies, but I buy old ones that I find at flea markets for $1 of random people and scrapbook them.

  13. I have nothing but crazy characters in my family. Love the tintypes. You dig up the coolest stuff.