My First Tintype - And a Warning!

James N.

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While making another post today I was reminded about getting my very first Civil War photograph, a ninth-plate tintype of a young Union infantry corporal. I bought him cheap at my then-favorite antique gun shop, and not knowing any better, since he was in a full case, slipped him into my shirt pocket. Imagine my horror when I looked at him again and found a piece of the emulsion had totally separated and was now covering his face! Panicky, I somehow managed to gently tap the case and move it away to one side. As you can see here, the loose trapezoid of background is still out-of-place but thank God, hasn't been moved further in the intervening half-century!

I discovered from this escapade just how fragile these can be, though I think this is the only time I've seen the film of emulsion actually separate from the metal plate like this. I've seen ones out-of-the-case all scratched up, but this is another matter altogether. It's completely cracked overall; dropping it would probably shatter or atomize what's left. To think this is likely all that's left of this particular young man's record of service is sad indeed. Remember that, unlike CDV's or other prints, all cased images are more-or-less fragile and all are also one-of-a-kind mementoes.

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Custers Luck

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James is there any right way to take care of these items? I have some and I do not know whats the best way to take care of them, is it best to keep them tucked away?
 

TerryB

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I sold one not too long ago with an absolutely identical case. I could never ID him and decided he wasn't a relative. I got a good price, so I'm happy. The case was in bad shape and the cover had come apart at the fold, like a badly bound book. You really have to be careful and don't expose them to light as much as you can or they'll fade. The soldier was most likely from northern Mississippi, and his uniform was very early war.
 

James N.

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James is there any right way to take care of these items? I have some and I do not know whats the best way to take care of them, is it best to keep them tucked away?

The only commonsense precaution I can think of (apart from the mentioned keeping them out of direct sunlight - and that includes flourescent light, too) is storing them in a relatively dry and stable environment with reasonable climate control so as to avoid the most extreme fluctuations in temperature. Here's another from my collection I've posted before showing tiny spots of rust in the emulsion. (Remember they're also called ferrotypes indicating the iron content of the metal plates.) When I got it I took it apart intending to use glass cleaner on the glass. The emulsion had glued the plate to the glass and when I started to pry them apart, I could see some of it being pulled off the plate and adhering to the glass, so I quickly stopped. Again, too bad because otherwise this is a great half-plate tintype of a young cavalry or artillery sergeant!

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James N.

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Civil War Ambrotype.jpg


I'll also mention another fairly obvious hazard for ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes: they are easily scratched and should if at all possible always be kept in their cases. I've posted this fellow many times here, but this unlikely-looking North Carolina Confederate officer best shows how ambtotypes can have their emulsion scratched off the glass plate. In this case it was because this undersized plate slipped around beneath the brass mat which rubbed against the emulsion causing those obvious black marks where the backing is showing through. Daguerreotypes are the most fragile of all - their shiny surface is not really "fixed", and is extremely easily scratched, as I discovered when I attempted to "dust" one with a Kleenex! They should NEVER be disassembled or removed from their cases; remember, I told you so.
 

James N.

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these are great James, OK one more question. they had to hand color these , do you know what or how in the heck they did that?

The gilding like on buttons, buckles, watch chains, women's jewelry, etc. is probably a clear lacquer with finely-ground chips of gold in it, sinilar in consistency to some gold paint for modeling I've used. The "reds", greens, blues, etc. must be thin washes like watercolors: they color but don't obscure the detail beneath them. I doubt any of these were water-based, and were likely some kind of thinned oil. It probably took a photographer considerable trial-and-error to learn how much to apply without covering over the subject, especially like on cheeks, etc. For some reason, Daguerreotypes can have especially realistic coloration.
 

Custers Luck

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The gilding like on buttons, buckles, watch chains, women's jewelry, etc. is probably a clear lacquer with finely-ground chips of gold in it, sinilar in consistency to some gold paint for modeling I've used. The "reds", greens, blues, etc. must be thin washes like watercolors: they color but don't obscure the detail beneath them. I doubt any of these were water-based, and were likely some kind of thinned oil. It probably took a photographer considerable trial-and-error to learn how much to apply without covering over the subject, especially like on cheeks, etc. For some reason, Daguerreotypes can have especially realistic coloration.
thanks for the info, I have always wonder, it had to be a real talent in its self, some that I have are pocket whatch size , not a lot of room for mistakes.. just amazing.
 

Missouri Rebel

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I have this image which has a lot of crazing, and the emulsion is starting to lift. I have had it for a couple of years and it seems to be stable. I have never removed it from the case, don't even know if it's id'd inside. A friend and fellow collector told me he uses Archival Spray Adhesive on images like this.
http://www.dickblick.com/products/krylon-spray-adhesive/
I have never tried it myself.
 

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civilwarincolor

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When I got it I took it apart intending to use glass cleaner on the glass. The emulsion had glued the plate to the glass and when I started to pry them apart, I could see some of it being pulled off the plate and adhering to the glass, so I quickly stopped.

I think the real lesson for all of us here is unless you are trained, just don't mess with it. It lasted this long without you meddling! Just try to keep it safe, you are only this generations caretaker.

I remember when I was about 14 my Grandmother died and my Dad put her favorite rocking chair in my room temporarily until he found a place for it. The chair was covered with fabric which had been tacked in place by the upholsterer. I decided I would replace the original fabric (the horror!) and took a pair of scissors and cut it all off. For the rest of the time I lived at home the chair never got farther than that. My Dad was pretty ticked off at me for doing it. Not sure what became of the chair, but my folks no longer have it.
 

James N.

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I have this image which has a lot of crazing, and the emulsion is starting to lift. I have had it for a couple of years and it seems to be stable. I have never removed it from the case, don't even know if it's id'd inside. A friend and fellow collector told me he uses Archival Spray Adhesive on images like this.
http://www.dickblick.com/products/krylon-spray-adhesive/
I have never tried it myself.

I learned ( maybe I should say "I was taught..." ) a lesson about foriegn matter on tintypes, too. I owned a very nice one of a Federal sergeant whose chasseur-style pantaloons barley showed when matted in the case. I removed it ( no problem ) and took it to a commercial photographer who had photographed several of my images before and had done work that appeared in Lawrence Jones' annual Confederate Calendar. When I picked up the tin and photo print, I noticed the emulsion was now all "pebbly" or crinkled-looking, not unlike the cracked surface of a dry creek bed. I asked what had happened to my sergeant!

It seems that in order to add depth to the dry emulsion, he'd smeared it with Vaseline! The dry emulsion cracked after it was again damp; he said he'd successfully done this to tintypes before. Needless to say, I was upset, since he'd destroyed the value of a fairly rare image. He agreed to swap with me for the only one in his own collection - this sixth-plate of two Union cavalry "pards". I didn't even keep the copy print of the chasseur since I no longer had the photo itself. While this "worked out" ( sort of ), I'd rather have had the sergeant like he was in the first place!

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By the way, welcome to the forum!
 

Missouri Rebel

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Thanks..I am sorry about your loss. I bought an ambrotype of what appears to be a Missouri State Guardsman in civilian style clothing wearing a bandolier with a gilted sword . The image was found at an estate sale in central Missouri and listed on ebay. The plate was cracked/broken which I was cool with. when the seller shipped the image they put scotch tape on it in places and wrapped it in that squishy rubber matt stuff people put on shelves. When the image showed up it has little spots on it from the rubber matt thing. Wow!! I style have it, would love to clean it, but have fear of further damage.
 

civilwarincolor

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It seems that in order to add depth to the dry emulsion, he'd smeared it with Vaseline! The dry emulsion cracked after it was again damp; he said he'd successfully done this to tintypes before.

the seller shipped the image they put scotch tape on it in places and wrapped it in that squishy rubber matt stuff people put on shelves. When the image showed up it has little spots on it from the rubber matt thing. Wow!! I style have it, would love to clean it, but have fear of further damage.

Unbelievable stories from both of you! I thought you were going to say that this was the result of the heat from the lights, instead of Vaseline. Why would anyone make any changes to another persons personal property without approval?

I have handled numerous antiques over the years and occasionally one will be difficult open or operate. Often the owner will say something like "Just give it a good twist!" I always refuse and hand it back asking them to do it. I just don't know what I would do if someone broke a piece of mine and I certainly would not want to be responsible for damaging someone else precious item.
 

James N.

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Unbelievable stories from both of you! I thought you were going to say that this was the result of the heat from the lights, instead of Vaseline. Why would anyone make any changes to another persons personal property without approval?

This was a big point in my story too; and that this fellow was no fly-by-night rube who'd never handled something like this before - I trusted him. ( In fact the photo of the two "pards" is an example of his otherwise excellent work. ) Unfortunately back in the 80's when this happened there were no "scanners" like I have today, otherwise I could just plop it on the screen and "let her rip". I needed the sergeant photographed outside of his case because otherwise the little slit on his jacket and his slightly-bloused pantaloons didn't show; in fact, I didn't recognize what he was until I disassembled the case. Of course the mat can minimize or hide all sorts of interesting detail, for example the cuff braid on the probable Confederate below; also notice the scratches in the emulsion of this ambrotype made by the mat. Still, extreme caution and common sense should be used when attempting to see it - that and knowing when to stop.


Civil War Confederate Ambrotype.jpg
 

James N.

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I have a double armed Union Cavalry trooper that has a small piece of emulsion that has flaked from the side of his image. The rest of the image is pristine. It does happen.

I could kick myself over an image like this - I once saw at my favorite fiea market a similar tintype of a cavalryman, holding a Volcanic across his chest! ( In case you're not up on handguns, that's a very rare and desirable one that looks like a baby Winchester, for which it was a prototype! ) But it similarly had a big chip out of the emulsion to one side of the fellow's head, somewhat like in my photo at top. I waited and hoped the asking price would go down, but as with things like this, waited a bit too long; it disappeared from the table. I saw it again only a month later in the next issue of Military Images magazine, obviously retouched to cover the missing emulsion!
 

Cumpston1862

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I could kick myself over an image like this - I once saw at my favorite fiea market a similar tintype of a cavalryman, holding a Volcanic across his chest! ( In case you're not up on handguns, that's a very rare and desirable one that looks like a baby Winchester, for which it was a prototype! ) But it similarly had a big chip out of the emulsion to one side of the fellow's head, somewhat like in my photo at top. I waited and hoped the asking price would go down, but as with things like this, waited a bit too long; it disappeared from the table. I saw it again only a month later in the next issue of Military Images magazine, obviously retouched to cover the missing emulsion!

Ouch! The one that got away always hurts and really defines your future buying habits don't you think?

At least it did for me.
 
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