Dear Helaine and Joe:
I have a tintype photograph of Hiason Milton Finch with a notation on the back – Hiason Milton Finch Pope Creek, Ohio, Oct. 29, 1863 – plus a lock of hair tied with a string. Finch was my grandfather. After serving in the Civil War (captured and imprisoned at Harper’s Ferry) he married in Iowa and had 19 children. He lived to be 89. Is there any value to this item?
J. S., Bethlehem, Pa.
Dear J. S.:
There are all kinds of “value” – there is monetary value, sentimental value, historical value just to name three. And of the three mentioned above, this photograph has two of the three, and to a lesser extent, the third.
We are not going to go into a long history of photography starting with Albertus Magnus in the 13th century and fumbling our way through the various uses of light-sensitive substances such as silver nitrate to capture images inside a camera. But we will mention that it was Nicephore Niepce who managed to develop photographic images on paper in the early 1830s.
The Niepce process required long exposure times, but Louis Daguerre managed to shorten these times and produced one-of-a-kind photographs on relatively thick copper plates. His process was announced to the world from Paris on Jan. 7, 1839, and just 17 days later, Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot announced his invention of photo salt prints on paper.
It was something of a battle between photographs on paper and photographs on metal or glass. The “ambrotype,” which is a positive image developed on glass, came along in the 1850s. There is some thought that the name “ambrotype” was taken from the Greek for “immortal impression.”
The “tintype” or “melainotype” as it was first called was first described by Frenchman Adolphe-Alexandre Martin in 1853. The process was the same as that used on the ambrotype, but on a thick iron sheet (thus its other name “ferrotype”) that had been coated with a dark lacquer that can sometimes peel with age and destroy the monetary value of the photograph.
Tintypes came in a wide variety of sizes and quality. Most tintypes are rather small, and while many were taken in a professional photographic studio, large numbers were taken in booths at county fairs, at other large public gatherings or by itinerant photographs who worked on the sidewalk.
If the tintype in today’s question is as large as the photograph sent by J.S., it is essentially a “half plate” size, which is generally 4 ½ by 5 inches. This one would appear to be 4 by 6 inches, which is large for a tintype and a seldom found size. The photograph was professionally done, and the subjects are nice-looking people.
The image appears to be in good condition, and this coupled with the size, the historic information, the lock of hair, and the nice-looking people make this a much above average tintype. Unfortunately, tintype values are rather low for run-of-the-mill examples, but this piece is desirable, and this priceless heirloom should be insured in the $150 to $200 range.
(Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.)
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