Introduced in the 1850s, the tintype was invented by Frederick Scott Archer. It was the first
photographic process accessible to almost everyone in America. Very few tintypes were made
outside of America. The Daguerreotype was introduced in 1839 but only the rich had access to
How the tintype was used and how it evolved is an American story, deeply rooted in its ability
not only to capture the likenesses of loved ones, but to tell stories, entertain and captivate.
The tintype is a positive that cannot be reproduced. It uses collodion with a halide and silver
nitrate to form silver iodide that is suspended in the collodion on a metal plate. Referred to as
a wet plate process, the tintype (originally on japanned iron) or ambrotype (on glass) had to be
made on site while the plate was still wet.
Tintype photography became obsolete after about 30 years, when the introduction of gelatin
and then celluloid film eliminated the need for a portable darkroom to produce the image. The
formulas and niceties of tintype photography were largely forgotten until such individuals as
photo historian Mark Osterman reintroduced the process in the early 2000s.