Tintype photographs, introduced in the 1850s, enjoyed tremendous popularity for over 50 years. They provided a cheaper, faster alternative to daguerreotypes because the image was ready within minutes. Travelers and soldiers preferred their sturdy iron-plated images to the glass-plated ambrotypes. Today, authentic pieces can fetch $40 to $200 depending on the age, condition and content. The following tips describe which characteristics increase the value of tintypes.
Age and Content
Attempt to pinpoint the date. Older tintypes are rarer and used a heavier metal plate, but dating them proves difficult because they were popular for so many years and the surface could not easily be inscribed. Earliest productions bear the stamped patent along the edge, "Neff's Melainotype Pat 19 Feb 56."
Historicize the content. Hairstyles, clothing and household implements in the picture may clearly indicates the period. Photographs against novelty backdrops like the beach, boat or at Niagara Falls were likely taken between 1875 and 1890 by itinerant photographers traveling to county fairs. Chocolate-brown images with rustic themes like wooden fences and rural props found great popularity for a longer period from 1870 to 1895. Traveling photographers still made tintypes into the 1930s when visiting rural areas.
Know what kind of content most collectors seek. Any pictures of the Civil War era, especially those portraying uniforms, war scenes or artifacts, will be highly prized. A famous personage or an authentic slavery image will also command significant interest.
Size and Condition
Asses the condition and quality of the tintypes. Any wear, bends, folds, creases, scratches or missing corners will devalue the piece. Good quality tintypes have rarely lasted to the present because they were so easily and cheaply produced.
Measure the size. Several images could be exposed on one metal plate and then cut apart. Common sizes include full plate, half plate, 1/6th plate and 1/9th plate. Tiny one to two inch "Gem" portraits, popular from 1863 to 1890, greatly reduce tintype prices.
Examine any tinting, usually to add pinkness to cheeks and lips or highlight jewelry and buttons. People wanted their photographs to look like paintings. Some of the tinting that survived shows true artistic talent.
Genuine Versus Fake
Know the different framing styles. Each tintype had its own blackened iron plate and older ones came in a case. Many slipped into paper sleeves: printed sleeves were used prior to 1863 and then embossed sleeves replaced them. Civil War-era sleeves sported patriotic symbols. Locket settings were common, but few have lasted.
Understand that because prices for authentic pieces have increased over the past 30 years, commensurate with collectors' interest, the production of fakes has kept pace.
Look for distinctions between real and fake tintypes. Real photographs show a continuous range of tones but reproductions exhibit tiny dots or lines visible to the naked eye or through a small magnifying glass. New photographs masquerading as originals boast clarity that is too sharp and sitters that are more overweight and well-groomed.