early as 1853, a French teacher named Adolphe Alexandre Martin
(1824 -1886) had suggested using the newly-invented collodion
process to produce a direct positive image on a black varnished
metal plate to provide an aid to engravers who worked on copper
and steel. In America, Professor Hamilton L. Smith (1819-1903),
picked up on Martin's idea and experimented with making collodion
positive photographs on thin sheets of japanned iron ['japan'
was the name given to a glossy black varnish that was baked on
to the surface of a material].
February 1856, Hamilton L.Smith patented the "use of japanned
metallic plates in photography." Two American companies started
the production of japanned metal plates for photographic pictures.
Peter Neff, who held Professor Smith's patent, called his
manufactured plates 'Melainotypes' ("melaino"
= dark or black] and his rival Victor Griswold names his
plates 'Ferrotypes' ["ferro" = iron]. By the
early 1860s, the inexpensive photographs which were made on these
thin sheets of iron, were popularly known as ' tintypes.' There
was no actual tin in the photographic plates, but the word ' tin
' was associated with thin sheets of metal and cheapness.
'tintype' became very popular in the United States during
the American Civil War period. Thousands of American soldiers
sent their 'tintype' portraits, which were unbreakable and relatively
light, in the post to their loved ones.
] A tintype ( ferrotype) portrait of a young man
taken around 1862 in the American Civil War period.
Two American tintype
portraits taken in the early 1870s.
'Tintype' in England
England in 1856, Daniel Jones, a photographer in Liverpool,
together with William Kloen, a commercial traveller from
Birmingham, had proposed the idea of producing photographs on
unbreakable material such as metal, but their suggestion was not
taken up by established photographers. When the 'tintype'
was introduced from America in the 1860s, professional photographers
in England, who were enjoying commercial success with the carte
de visite portrait, were reluctant to adopt what they regarded
as an inferior product. Very few high street studios offered to
take ferrotype photographs. However, 'tintype' photography
did have an appeal for travelling traders who had no previous
experience in photography. The actual process was simple and straightforward
to use, materials and equipment were relatively cheap and, as
tintypes could be produced quickly, these itinerant traders could
offer a 'photographic portrait while you wait' service. 'Tintype'
photography became the process preferred by street photographers,
travelling fairs and beach photographers.
Ferrotype Studios in England
England during the 1860s, the ferrotype or tintype
portrait could not compete with the carte de visite format
which dominated the British market. In the early 1870s, American
photographic firms made an attempt to popularise the ferrotype
portrait in England. In 1872, Thomas Sherman Estabrooke of
Brooklyn, USA, established a ferrotype studio in London's
Regent Street and, towards the end of the same year, The Photographic
News published an extract from Edward M Estabrooke's manual
,"The Ferrotype and how to make it". A small
number of photographic studios in England produced ferrotype portraits
in the 1870s, but they did not threaten the postion of the carte
de visite as the most popular form of commercial photography.
Two tintype portraits taken
at English Ferrotype studios in the early 1880s
American Gem Portrait
ferrotype process did not involve the use of a negative
and, as in the case of the earlier daguerreotype, only
a single, unique version of a particular image could be produced.
Duplicates were not possible. In contrast, a studio producing
carte de visite portraits was able to print dozens of identical
copies from the glass negative which held the original image.The
carte de visite format also allowed the photographic portrait
to be mounted in a photograph album.
which specialised in carte de visite portraits often employed
special multi-lens cameras that could take up to a dozen pictures
on a single photographic plate. In America, in 1860, Simon
Wing patented a camera that could be used to produce dozens
of images on a single iron plate.Wing's "Patent Multiplying
Camera" could take up to 72 tiny portraits on a thin metal
plate. The plate could then be cut up with metal shears to produce
dozens of small pictures measuring 1 inch by 3/4
inch ( 2.5 cm x 2 cm ).
postage stamp sized portrait could be mounted on a card of the
same dimensions as a carte de visite and insertred in a regular
photograph album. These tiny ferrotype portraits on specially
decorated or embossed card mounts became known as "American
Gems" in Britain.
the late 1870s and early 1880s, American Gem studios appeared
in the major towns of England and Scotland. In 1878, James
Frederick Lowrie established an American Gem studio in London's
Fleet Street and in the early 1880s he opened branch studios in
Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. A rival photographer,
Joshua Jewell, established American Gem studios in Manchester,
Bristol and Newcastle.
Tintype in Brighton
Barrett was born in London in 1842, but in the mid-1870s he
was living in the United States where he probably became familiar
with the ferrotype process. He returned to England with
an American wife and a young son and settled in Brighton. Around
1880 he was a partner in the firm of Barrett & Upton,
which acquired Joe Parkin Mayall's photographic studio
at No 6 North Street Quadrant, located at the bottom of Queens
Road. Within a year Henry Barrett was the sole proprietor of the
North Street Quadrant studio. Henry Barrett produced American
Gem portraits at his Brighton studio in the early years of the
An American Gem portrait
of a young child taken at Henry Barrett's studio at 6 North
Street Quadrant., Brighton ( Courtesy of Brighton's Local
History Study Centre ).. [ SEE ILLUSTRATION
AT RIGHT ]
Cabinet An American
Gem Portrait of a youth iwearing a bowler hat.(c 1880) The
back of the card mount carries a printed label giving the
studio address as No 6 North Street Quadrant. This small
tintype portrait was probably made at Barrett & Upton's
Brighton studio or taken by Henry Barrett himself. ( Courtesy
of Brighton's Local History Centre).
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