Skip to main content

Collection Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs

Ambrotypes and Tintypes

The invention of wet collodion photography processes in the 1850s allowed the development of two new kinds of photographs--ambrotypes and tintypes. These new formats shared many characteristics with the earlier daguerreotypes but were quicker and cheaper to produce. Primarily used for portraiture, each photo is a unique camera-exposed image and was available in the following standard-sizes. The most common size was the sixth plate.

  • Imperial or Mammoth Plate - Larger than 6.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Whole Plate - 6.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Half Plate - 4.25 x 5.5 inches
  • Quarter Plate - 3.25 x 4.25 inches
  • Sixth Plate - 2.75 x 3.25 inches
  • Ninth Plate - 2 x 2.5 inches
  • Sixteenth Plate - 1.5 x 1.75 inches

The price of ambrotypes and tintypes ranged from 25 cents to $2.50 in the United States. (What cost $.25 in 1861 would cost almost $6.00 in 2009. What cost $2.50 in 1861 would be almost $60 in 2009.) During the American Civil War, southern photographers, such as George S. Cook, charged as much as $20.00 for a sixth-plate portrait.

Cased images typically include the image plate and a cover glass wrapped together in a brass mat, placed inside of a leather or thermoplastic case.

Ambrotypes

James Ambrose Cutting patented the ambrotype process in 1854. Ambrotypes were most popular in the mid-1850s to mid-1860s. Cartes de visite and other paper print photographs, easily available in multiple copies, replaced them.

An ambrotype is comprised of an underexposed glass negative placed against a dark background. The dark backing material creates a positive image. Photographers often applied pigments to the surface of the plate to add color, often tinting cheeks and lips red and adding gold highlights to jewelry, buttons, and belt buckles. Ambrotypes were sold in either cases or ornate frames to provide an attractive product and also to protect the negative with a cover glass and brass mat.

View all ambrotypes in the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Online Catalog: Ambrotypes

Examples from the Liljenquist Collection

Tintypes

Tintypes, originally known as or ferrotypes or melainotypes, were invented in the 1850s and continued to be produced into the 20th century. The photographic emulsion was applied directly to a thin sheet of iron coated with a dark lacquer or enamel, which produced a unique positive image. Like the ambrotype, tintypes were often hand-colored. Customers purchased cases, frames, or paper envelopes to protect and display their images.

Tintypes and ambrotypes found in cases and frames can be difficult to identify. A magnet will be attracted to the iron support, but if a sheet of metal is used behind an ambrotype, one could be fooled into thinking that the image is a tintype.

View all tintypes in the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Online Catalog: tintypes

Examples from the Liljenquist Collection

 Back to top