Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A family tintype portrait from the 1890s

Image © and courtesy of Patti Browning

A few months ago Patti Browning sent me a detailed scan of a full plate tin/ferrotype in her possession which she was trying to date. This outdoors family portrait, probably by an itinerant photographer, was a very interesting photograph to investigate. It also taught me quite a bit about the need to look very carefully at the physical aspects of a photograph, not merely the subject matter. Rather than repeating myself, I thought I'd send readers over to Patti's blog Consanguinity to see a detailed image and an analysis. Patti and I both would be very keen to hear from anyone who can spot any further interesting features, or who might have further comments to make.


  1. Ah Brett, thank you for featuring my photo on your blog! I definitely second your words about anyone who'd like to comment on anything they see in the photo that we may have missed. I'm so glad my photo helped you learn more about something you're obviously so passionate about.

  2. Greta mentioned you in her Follow Friday post over at Greta's Genealogy Blog. I love old photos and have plenty of them so I'm looking forward to following your blog!

  3. Nice to have you as a reader, Michelle, and I hope to see some of your old photographs featured on your blog too. Regards and best wishes, Brett

  4. Brett, I lightened the photo up to view better. So I am guessing here...but would the 'traveling photographer' have made a generic backdrop to where folks in the area could come to get a photograph taken? That is kind of how that appears to me.

  5. Hi Holly,

    Thanks for your comment. The original image is available via Patti's blog article and gives a far better impression than this small version.

    I'm aware that photographers, even itinerant ones, did often use painted backdrops, but for various reasons, some of which are mentioned in the commentary that Patti posted, I don't believe that is so in this case. Usually one would be able to see some evidence of the foot of the backdrop. In this photograph one can clearly see the fence posts embedded in the ground, the shadows on the grass blades underneath the fence, the similar grass behind the fence visible through the palings.

    The lack of any distinct boundary between the sitters through to the background, and the overall three dimensional nature of the background just doesn't lend itself to the idea of a backdrop - at least to me. However, it's a good point that you have made. One must always be on the lookout for such possibilities.

    Regards and best wishes, Brett

  6. Brett,
    It is a strange one indeed. I can see the ground beyond the fence, why it was done the way it was...who knows I have never seen one quite like that. I was able to recently scan copies of a daguerreotype photo and a couple of tintypes of my husbands ancestors. Wonderful to have!
    My 'other' blog- Ravenna Historical Society http://ravennahistory.blogspot.com/will feature 1 or 2 photographs from the museum archives per month, would love your input if you can visit!

  7. I certainly will visit the site. Whether I am able to offer anything useful will be another matter altogether. Regards, Brett

  8. Nigel Aspdin thought he detected that the mother in this family group was holding what could be a vache a eau - otherwise known as a canvas bucket to the remainder of us with an inferior French vocabulary - in her right hand. Patti kindly send me a much more detailed scan of the tintype for me to check out, and I've posted the relevant portion of the enhanced image here for readers to decide for themselves.

    However, my bet is on it just being the folds of the dress. What do you think?


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