The tintype is a 19th Century photographic process, in which a photograph is produced on a piece of lacquered iron. The process, also known as a melainotyope and ferrotype, was popularized in the mid 19th Century as a sort-of first version of the instant photograph. In recent years, as photographic technology continues to develop in alignment with the digital age, the tintype and other 19th Century processes have gone through a resurgence. Since starting The Tintype Studio this past summer, I’ve come to realize, through its history and social context, that the tintype process is as relevant today as it ever was, not only as a portrait medium, but also as an artistic one.
The tintype process was first conceived by Adolphe- Alexandre Martin in 1853, shortly after Fredrick Scott Archer invented the wet-plate collodion process, and was later patented in the United States and Great Britain in 1856. Almost identical to the ambrotype, which uses glass instead of metal, the tintype quickly caught on in America as the photograph for the masses. It was fast, cheap, mobile and much more durable than other processes available at the time. A tintype can be coated, sensitized, exposed, developed, fixed, washed, dried and varnished in less than 10 minutes. This nearly instant form of photography became accessible at outdoor fairs and carnivals to those who couldn’t afford to get a photograph taken in a private studio. The tintype was the most common photographic process until the creation of the gelatin based processes introduced by Kodak in the late 1880’s.