- Tintypes | 5 Steps to Archivally Preserve YOUR Family Photographs
- Cabinet Cards & Cartes-de-Visite | 5 Steps to Archivally Preserve YOUR Family Photographs
Tintypes: 5 Steps to Archivally Preserve YOUR Family Photographs
Have you ever wondered about those curious photographs in your family archive that appear to be printed on a thin sheet of metal?
Well, these are tintypes, a popular 19th-century photographic process—actually on a piece of lacquered iron, not tin—used extensively for studio portraiture (see photos above & below), as well as for occasional exterior photographs (see photos at the end of this blog).
While seemingly “standard” poses were common, tintypes also often captured the “essence” or “personality” of the sitter in unique ways (see photos above) . . .
. . . and were sometimes posed or photographed with elaborate studio backdrops & props that truly made these unique images come alive (see photos above).
So, with that short introduction, let’s look at 5 quick steps to archivally preserve your tintypes!
Preserving Tintypes / Step 1: Scanning
Uncut tintype plates measured 6.5 x 8.5-inches and were most often cut up prior to sensitizing with photographic chemicals to yield smaller-sized plates: the common “sixth plate” (on left above) was created from a full plate that had been cut into six smaller sheets / a larger “quarter plate” (on right above) was created from a full plate that had been cut into four smaller sheets, and so on.
Each of these sizes can be readily accommodated in a number of museum-quality archival materials (explained below), but we recommend scanning them first.
Scanning these wonderful family treasures will allow you to print & work with the scan while safely—and archivally!—storing the original.
While small (see photo above), the tintype process often yielded a tremendous amount of detail, which will allow you to enlarge and print scans for your photo album and to share with relatives (see photo below).
If there is information on the back of your tintypes, consider scanning that too (see photos below), as temporarily adjusting contrast & color settings might make otherwise unreadable information much clearer.
Preserving Tintypes / Step 2: Safe Archival Storage
One of the best and most convenient archival enclosures for protecting your one-of-a-kind tintypes is the HD (High Density) Poly Envelope, which is available in sizes that perfectly fit a variety of tintype formats (see photos above & below).
These inexpensive museum-quality enclosures will help prevent dust, finger oils or moisture from coming into contact with your images during handling & storage. They’re also translucent, which will allow you to quickly & easily find any particular image you’re looking for. Lastly, storing your tintypes in archival enclosures is important as these thin metal plates sometimes have bent corners or edges that can scratch adjacent images if they’re not otherwise separated and protected.
If storing a number of family or collectible tintypes, you can organize groups of them in Open End Envelopes (see photos above & below).
Another way to store your one-of-a-kind tintypes is to place them in Crystal Clear Bags with a sheet of Acid-Free Card Stock added for additional rigidity and support (see photo above). You can also write important identification information on these sheets of card stock with an archivally-safe pencil or marker (more on that below).
As mentioned, tintypes come in a variety of sizes and formats, and are occasionally found in elaborate 19th-century cases. In the photo above, the large quarter plate tintype is lying on top of an archivally-safe Polyethylene Bag, which fits it perfectly (the pair of glasses and smaller tintypes were added for scale). These bags come in a variety of sizes, and are the ideal solution for protecting cased images.
Preserving Tintypes / Step 3: Creating an Archivally-Safe Album
You can also integrate your irreplaceable family or collectible tintypes into your photo albums by placing them in Print Pages (see photos above & below). Note that a pre-cut sheet of Acid-Free Card Stock has been added to each Print Page pocket for added stability and support.
Preserving Tintypes / Step 4: Protecting Antique Albums
There were a number of different 19th-century album designs that accommodated tintypes. If you have one of these, consider scanning the images within and then archivally storing the actual album (see photos above & below).
Here each album was placed in an archival Polyethylene Bag and then into an acid-free Artifact Box (on left) and a 3-Inch Drop Front Box (on right). There are many different sizes & designs of archival boxes available, each of which will perfectly fit whatever family photo albums you have in your archive or collection.
Preserving Tintypes / Step 5: Matting & Framing
If you’re thinking of doing this, consider using an 8-ply mat (see photo above) rather than a “standard” 4-ply mat, as tintypes have a certain depth—especially if they have subtle bends in them—and you don’t want the image surface to come into contact with the frame’s glass or glazing (please click here for information on our mat board sample kit, which includes samples of all of our mat board colors & thicknesses).
In the photo on the left the large quarter plate tintype is being “floated” in the center of the mat in order to show the entire plate. This is easy to do yourself with with Mounting Corners.
Preserving Tintypes: An Additional Gallery of Wonderful Images!
In closing, we hope you’ll contact us here at Archival Methods if you have any additional question on how best to preserve and share your family or collectible tintypes. Our experienced staff has all the answers you’re looking for, and these unique images deserve only the finest in archival care!
Lastly, for more information on tintypes from the Image Permanence Institute’s Graphics Atlas, please click here.