There’s a scene in Coming Home, my upcoming historical romance release from Highland Press, in which my hero is staring at a photograph of his former girlfriend. It’s something that seems so simple today, but this story takes place in 1867. What kind of photograph would he have had?
So I took a deep breath, and dove into my research.
One of the most important inventions of the nineteenth century was the development of photography. At the same time that men began to march off to war and wanted to leave their wives, mothers and sweethearts a memento, one photographic process replaced another and became cheaper, easier to produce, safer, and more durable.
Three photographic processes were especially popular at the same time: Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. These were one of a kind images which were almost always reversed left to right.
Period of Use: 1839 – ca. 1860
The earliest practical photographic process was the daguerreotype. Particularly suited for portraiture, the images created were so lifelike that some referred to the process as a “mirror with a memory.”
A daguerreotype was made by exposing an image on a sensitized silver-plated sheet of copper. As a result, the surface of a daguerreotype was extremely reflective. No negative was used in the daguerreotype process. The image is almost always reversed left to right. A photographer might have used a mirror inside the camera to correct this.
Period of Use: 1851 – 1880s
The ambrotype was also known as the “glass Daguerrotype.” It was a variation of the wet plate process, and was less costly than the daguerreotype. An ambrotype was made by slightly underexposing a glass wet plate in the camera. The finished plate produced a negative image that appeared positive when backed with velvet, paper, metal or varnish, making it the 19th century equivalent of the “instant photograph.”
Because of the fragility of the material, both the ambrotype and daguerreotype were usually enclosed in a glass case.
Period of use: 1858 – 1910s.
Also called Ferrotype or Malainotype, tintypes were another variation of the wet plate process. Photographers painted an emulsion onto a varnished iron plate, which was then exposed in the camera. The low cost and durability of tintypes, coupled with the growing number of traveling photographers, enhanced the tintype’s popularity
Tintypes came in a variety of sizes, were cheaper and sturdier than earlier processes, and could be mailed. Because of this, the tintype was extremely popular during the Civil War.