Ambrotypes & Tintypes

by Dr. Lori Verderame

The earliest form of photography is the daguerreotype. The only problems with daguerreotypes was that they were expensive, labor intensive, and time consuming to produce.

Spotting an Ambrotype

In the early 1850s, daguerreotypes were replaced by a cheaper alternative called the ambrotype. Ambrotypes were the brainchild of Frederick Scott Archer. Ambrotypes became popular in the Victorian period from the late 1850s until the 1890s. An ambrotype image is a negative placed on a piece of glass which is then hosted on a black background. The black background makes the negative image look like a positive image. The black backgrounds are easy to spot when shopping for early photographs at antique shops, yard sales, and flea markets.
Daguerreo type
With ambrotypes, collectors look for the images of famous people such as celebrities or politicians, young children in groups, soldiers in uniforms, and famous events or historic sites. Ambrotypes, depending on condition and subject matter, command several hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars in the current trading market.

How to identify a Tintype

Patented in 1856, another type of early photograph is the durable tintypes or ferrotypes. Tintypes used a thin sheet of iron to host an image. The way to tell if you have an authentic tintype is to recognize a tintypes’ yellowish overall color or hue. Tintypes tarnish easily and many tintypes are often tinted or colored to enhance the look of the image. Ambrotypes typically feature a portrait of a little girl with rosy colored cheeks or an image of an Union soldier in a blue uniform. Collectors typically will pay between $35 to $350 for a good quality antique tintype in good condition. Tintypes are more common photographs of the Victorian era and thus, they are not as valuable as ambrotypes or daguerreotypes which are more rare.

If you aren’t sure if you have a daguerreotype, ambrotype, or tintype and you can’t tell the difference between these types of early photographs, don’t let it go until you know what it’s worth.

Get an online appraisal of your ambrotype or tintype from Dr. Lori.