Why are they called Tintypes? There isn’t any tin!

Posted by on Mar 14 2012 | History, Other, Photography

Well, I guess I forgot how easy it was to make a tintype; no cutting or cleaning glass and no pictures peeling off the plate. This was all about pouring the collodion and making a unique image in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee.

We started on Monday at George Eastman House with an illustrated presentation on the chemistry and history of the wet collodion negative and positive processes. Then we went down to the technology archive where curator Todd Gustavson presented a display of original tintype cameras, silver baths and other rare equipment.

Curator of Technology Todd Gustavson (far left) with group. 


After lunch we went to Scully & Osterman Studio where they met my wife, France. I gave a demonstration of making a tintype that included tinting and burnishing the picture. The group then practiced the techniques of pouring collodion onto tintype plates and applying the developer.

Pouring Collodion on the Plate.


On Tuesday we all met at Scully & Osterman and after a morning recap on theory the group I gave a demonstration of mixing iron developer and France demonstrated mixing iodized collodion. The group spent the rest of the morning shooting 4 ¼” x 5 ½” plates. After a lunch break they continued to make 5” x 7” tintypes into the afternoon. The students varnished their own plates themselves before shooting the next image. At the end of the day I discussed the basics of identifying antique lens types, explained how a wet plate conversion back works and demonstrated a simple traveling darkroom made from cardboard.

Wednesday we shot all morning. After a great lunch we continued shooting into the afternoon. For the last day in the studio we shot 6½” x 8½” whole plates. Some of the students actually used an original four lens tintype camera that exposes four images simultaneously on the same plate. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Museum and viewed some really beautiful examples of vintage Melainotypes, ferrotypes and tintypes.



Oh, the term tintype evolved to be the name for all collodion images made on thin sheets of metal; none of which were made of tin. Cheap things in the nineteenth century were often made of tinned iron that was coated with a shiny black finish applied to the surface to prevent rusting. Since Melainotypes and ferrotypes were the cheapest images you could buy and made on black finished sheets of iron…the term tintype seemed to fit nicely. By the way, we didn’t use tin either, we made our tintypes on aluminum.

Our next collodion workshops are Ambrotype Making here in Rochester in May and the Ambrotype and Tintype Workshop at Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock England in July.

Check out more images on our Facebook album for this Workshop.


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    Mark Osterman is the Process Historian in the Kay R. Whitmore Conservation Center at George Eastman House. Best known for his depth of knowledge in the area of collodion photography, Osterman is also internationally recognized for his research and teaching of photographic processes from Niepce heliographs to gelatin emulsions. Osterman's curriculum, once reserved for the international conservation community, is now available to the public through a series of hands-on workshops at Eastman House and other venues in the U.S. and abroad.

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