Tiny precious objects

One of the things that I’ve been working on here at CHS is selecting images for the upcoming photography show, Through A Different Lens. We’ll be showing photographs by three different Connecticut photographers, all women, and in telling their stories, we’ll also be telling the story of the history of photography. I wanted to share this little gem* of a tinype, a portrait of Emily C. Brainard, handcolored and presented in a brass mat on a paper mount.

Example of the brass mat on a daguerreotype. Lilla E. Kellogg? Photographer unknown. The Connecticut Historical Society collections. 2025 [accession number]

Example of the brass mat on a daguerreotype. Lilla E. Kellogg? Photographer unknown. The Connecticut Historical Society collections. 2025 [accession number]

Tintypes were very popular in the mid-1800s because they were inexpensive and easy to produce. Photography, developed** in 1839 with the introduction of the daguerreotype, was initially quite expensive. As with most technological innovations, inventors soon figured out how to make it easier for the practitioner and cheaper for the consumer. The tintype—not actually printed on tin but iron—was patented in the United States in 1856, and became the go-to for people seeking alternatives to daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, both much more delicate and expensive. During the Civil War especially, people were looking for ways of remembering loved ones who were far away, and if those memories could be captured cheaply and in a durable format, all the better!

Portrait tintypes were often handcolored to give the illusion of rosy cheeks, which is visible in the above example. Brass mats, used in daguerreotype and ambrotype packages, were used to present tintypes, even though structurally they were unnecessary. This little gem-sized tintype is also mounted to a carte de visite-sized mount with a pre-printed decorative frame. This size of the tintype was probably the cheapest available, and the over-sized presentation was probably to ensure that the recipient didn’t lose it.

Emily C. Brainard. Photographer unknown. The Connecticut Historical Society collections. 1863.

Emily C. Brainard. Photographer unknown. The Connecticut Historical Society collections. 1863.

This and other cool photographs will be on display from October 2013 to March 2014!

* Pun intended. Gem-sized tintypes were 1” x ¾”

** Pun intended.

Tasha Caswell is a Project Cataloger/Researcher at the Connecticut Historical Society

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