Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cased Images

At almost every lecture, someone approaches me with a question about a small box or book-like
item they found in with the family photographs.

If you have one or two in your collection, treat them with care and respect. They are the earliest types of
photographs and provide you with a glimpse into life in the mid-nineteenth century.

Typically three types of images were placed in cases: daguerrotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes.

A daguerreotype is a sheet of polished silver covered in light-sensitive chemicals and exposed to light. The resulting portraits were initially crude and miraculous. Never before had individuals seen such a clear and unflattering portrait of themselves. The final product was a realistic portrait of an individual that could be obtained in a short period of time.

These images were one of kind. The technology did not exist to make multiple copies at the same time.

Popular in the mid-1850s, they consist of a piece of glass coated with a photo chemical known as collodion, a mixture of gun cotton and ether. The end result is a negative image until backed with a dark piece of cloth or fabric. The image is then viewed as a positive.

Just like the daguerreotype, ambrotypes were a one of a kind image.

Tintypes or Ferrotypes have a fascinating history. It was the first photographic process invented in the United States and its longevity is only surpassed by the paper print.

A tintype resembles a daguerreotype only because it is an image on metal.  Unlike the daguerreotype and ambrotype, multiple tintypes could be made at a sitting. A tintype was inexpensive to produce, and it took less than a minute to walk out of a photographer’s studio with one in hand.

My Preserving Your Family Photographs book explains how to identify each of these forms of cased images along with care instructions.  

If you think you may be in possession of a cased image and would like some help identifying it, please contact me at
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