Historic Hood River
The Museum has many old family photo albums, and most of them start with a few tintype such as this. The tintype was an important step in the democratization of photography. The earlier daguerreotypes were expensive and fragile, involving a silver-plated polished copper plate which had to be sandwiched in glass to protect the fragile image. The tintype was made by exposing a wet emulsion on a backing of blackened iron (not really tin). From the 1850’s until they faded from popularity in the 1890s they were an affordable way for families to share keepsakes. They could be sent through the mail, so many Civil War soldiers sent tintypes back home.
It was very common for tintype portraits to be touched up as we see here. After developing the wet plate, the photographer would add a little blush to the cheeks and a dab of gold, in this case to the chain on his vest. The image was then varnished and ready to take home– an early “while you wait” photo process. The tintype was a direct (no intermediate negative) process, so if you have a tintype in your family album you can be sure no one else has a copy. This also means that most tintypes are laterally reversed, like looking at yourself in the mirror.
Most of the tintypes in the Museum’s collection are of unknown ancestors. We know little more than the location of the studio where it was prepared. If you have any tintypes in your album, try to identify the subject. It won’t get any easier.