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The tintype has been invented by a french - Adolphe Alexandre Martin (1824-1896) - who was looking for a solution in order to simplify the work of plate engravers.
In 1853, working on the ambrotype process, he decides to replace the glass plate by a black (or ) enamelled iron plate covered with collodion. He obtains a positive image which can be easily engraved and then printed. Martin notes in passing that the image is attractive to the eye but he does not realise the commercial potential of what he has discovered.

In 1855 Hamilton Smith (1819-1903), who is a chemistry professor at Kenyon College in Gambier - Ohio (United-States), is interested in the Martin's work and he decides to reproduce the same experiment.
One of his students - Peter Neff Jr - understands immediately the potentiel offered by this cheap process of images creation. He propose to his professeur to organise the industrialisation of this process in exchange for patent rights to the process.
Patent is issued in february 1856 under the designation of « Melainotype ». Later, another student of the Kenyon college - Victor Moreau Griswold - decides to compete with Neff in the production of enamelled iron plate. He decides to name his product « Ferrotype ».

Like ambrotype, the ferrotype plates are prepared with a sensitized collodion substance coated on thin metal plates. These plates are previously covered with a black enamel varnish. The obtained image is a direct positive one.

The process was simple, fast, cheap, giving good results. Due to this, the Ferrotype was an outstanding success which continued until the beginning of the second world war in Europe.

The Ferrotypes have been produced in different formats and presentations. In Europe, they were presented in decorated paper frames. In the USA, they were mounted in the same images cases than used for Daguerreotypes or Ambrotypes. The invention of multi-lens cameras with revolving backs allowed the production of tiny "Gem" tintypes, sold by set of 16 and presented in CDV format.

Like the other kinds of "hard" images, ferrotypes also could be hand-tinted and even beautifully overpainted by skilled photographic artisans. Nevertheless, this type of picture can be damaged by scratching and abrasion.  A beautiful tintype, perfectly preserved, is rare.

(ndlr : My friend Paul has the most exceptional Ferrotype I ever see... The one of Mrs Cotton).


United States, c.1860

Portrait of a young woman

Probably taken by an itinerant photographer



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