“Those hideous, cheap-looking pictures…”
When Helmut Gernsheim wrote this about Tintypes in his History of Photography, it was quite understandable. He was writing from the perspective of the English Ferrotypes, which never became too popular or too good. Furthermore, his important history centered around the work of Fox-Talbot, Fenton, and many of the great names that stand as monuments to photographic achievement.
What a tough act to follow for the humble Tintypist.
If we take another view of the matter, suddenly Tintypes don’t look so hideous. As Tintypes became enormously popular in the U.S. during the Civil War and the 75 or so years following, they were used to depict every aspect of life in America. They were easier to make than Daguerreotypes or Ambrotypes, and the customer did not have to return for prints as with negative/positive processes. It was not the first instant process, but it was certainly the one more people could afford. Being easier to make and less expensive opened the door for a new type of photographer, an immense variety of subject matter and a different ways of looking at photographing almost everything.
Have a look at these 100 or so images and see how much people enjoyed being Tintyped!