Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sepia Saturday 181: Gem Tintypes, Preservers and Wing's Multiplying Camera


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

The Sepia Saturday image prompt this week shows a cased daguerreotype of a young Texan woman, judging by the clothing and hairstyle probably taken in the 1850s or early 1860s. My contribution is not a daguerreotype, or the superficially similar and slightly later ambrotype, but it does have a superficial resemblance to both formats.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Portrait of unidentified woman, undated, c.1862-1865
Gem ferrotype mounted with preserver on carte de visite mount
Image © and collection of Brett Payne (Allen Album)

This tiny gem tintype (aka ferrotype) is mounted within a gold-coloured foil or pinchbeck preserver (aka matte), which is then attached with two small lugs to a carte de visite mount (58 x 97mm), itself pre-printed with an ornate oval frame. It was one of 47 cartes de visites in an album which I purchased a few years ago, portraits from New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario and Darlington (England). The pinchbeck preserver appears to be an imitation of those used for cased daguerreotypes and ambrotypes prevalent in the 1840s and 1850s, and still present in the 1860s, along with the carte de visite.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Detail of gem tintype and preserver

These foil-edged, card-mounted gem tintypes are not uncommon, but the subject of this diminutive image is rather nice - a clear image of a young woman with spectacles, ringlets and slightly rouged cheeks. Her hair is combed flat with a central parting and hangs in ringlets, almost entirely covering her ears, the fashion suggesting it may have been taken in the early to mid-1860s. The preserver measures 19.5 x 26mm, implying that the tintype is the standard ¾" x 1" gem format, although the oval-shaped portion of it visible is only 15.5 x 21mm.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Reverse of carte de visite mount
Taken by George W. Godfrey & Co. of Rochester, New York
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The reverse of the card mount shows the two lugs which have been pushed through slots cut in the card and folded over towards each other to secure the portrait. Printed on the back are the following details about the photographer and process used:

Made with Wing's Patent Multiplying Camera
ONLY
At GEO. W. GODFREY & Co.'s
SUNBEAM GALLERY
Over 81 Main Street, Rochester, N.Y.

This deceptively simple fragment of print provides a clue to the origin of the gem tintype format, which was to survive for many decades and undergo several reincarnations. George W. Godfrey was a moderately successful photographer who operated the Sunbeam Studio in East Main Street, Rochester from the early 1860s until his death around 1889, but it is the name Wing which resonates. In the words of renowned photographic researcher and collector Mike Kessler, "after Simon Wing, photography was never quite the same."

Image © and courtesy of The Spira Collection
Portrait of man with Simon Wing's Patent Multiplying Camera, c.1865
Tintype by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of The Spira Collection

The tintype was invented in France in 1853 and became enormously popular in a very short space of time in the United States, being cheap and simple to produce. In the late 1840s and early to mid-1850s, Albert S. Southworth of Boston and others had designed and patented a number of daguerreotype cameras which, using a combination of several lenses and a moving plateholder back, could produce multiple images on a single photographic plate. Simon Wing of Waterville, Maine and Marcus Ormsby of Boston purchased Southworth's patents and applied the technology to the then new wet collodion process used to produce ambrotypes and tintypes.

Image © and courtesy of Rob NiedermanImage © and courtesy of Rob Niederman
Uncut tintype sheets of unidentified husband and wife
Images © and courtesy of Rob Niederman

In June 1862 Wing patented his own "multiplying camera" to take up to 72 tiny images on a thin metal plate, which were then cut up into separate "gems," thus reducing the cost per portrait considerably.

Image © and courtesy of Google Patents
Improvement on Photographic Card Mounts
Patent No. 40,302 by Simon Wing, 13 October 1863

Image © and collection of Matthew R. Isenburg
Original box for Ferotype (sic) Preservers
Image © and courtesy of Matthew R. Isenburg

The gem portraits could be mounted behind preservers on cartes de visite, also designed by Wing, making them seem larger than they actually were, and in a style somewhat reminiscent of cased daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Henry H. Hinckley's Gem tintype album, c.1861-1874
Image © and collection of Brett Payne (Hinckley Album)

A popular alternative was to insert them into slots in a miniature album designed specifically for the format. The gem tintype album of Henry Hersey Hinckley Jr. (b. 1853) of Massachusetts, shown above (from the author's collection), includes portraits taken as early as c.1861-1862, although the compilation may have taken place at a later date.

Images © and courtesy of Rob Niederman
9-tube "Gem" wet-plate camera, by unknown U.S. maker
Images © and courtesy of Rob Niederman

Wing and other manufacturers made many versions of the "Gem" wet-plate cameras. Some, such as the one pictured above by an unknown U.S. maker, could be converted into a four-lens arrangement for taking carte-de-visite-sized portraits.

Image © and courtesy of George Eastman HouseImage © and courtesy of Mike Rosebery
Unidentified young woman (left) and man (right), c.1862-1865
Gem tintypes (20 x 25mm) on carte de visite mount (60 x 101mm)
By Geo. W. Godfrey & Co.'s Sunbeam Gallery, over 81 Main St, Rochester
Images © and courtesy of George Eastman House and Mike Rosebery

Several similarly mounted gem tintype portraits from the Sunbeam Gallery have been found on the web, with a variety of printed frames demonstrating that Godfrey used this particular format for some time. Similar to the manner in which Beard and Talbot had managed their rights to the daguerreotype and calotype patents in the United Kingdom, Wing sold cameras, photographic materials and "franchise" licences to a large network of studio operators, and assiduously pursued through the courts those whom he regarded as infringing his patents.

Image © and courtesy of the Library of Congress
Two portraits of unidentified men, c.1864
Gem tintypes (20 x 25mm) on carte de visite mount (60 x 101mm)
By E. Parker's Gallery, opposite Village Hall, Brockport, N.Y.
Image © and courtesy of the Library of Congress and eBay

These two gem portraits by E. Parker of Brockport have almost identical text on the reverse, indicating that they have been taken using "Wing's Patent Multiplying Camera" and providing further evidence of the franchises already put in place by then. A pencilled inscription on the back of the older man's portrait gives a useful date of February 1864. Kessler (1994) describes the arrangements thus:
When a photographer bought a Wing camera, he also bought a territory for a number of miles around. No other Wing cameras would be sold in the area for as long as the purchaser remained in business. If the photographer couldn't afford to buy the package outright, Simon would set him up with a pay-as-you-go program, with a percentage of the profits to be returned to the company until the debt was paid off.

Image © and courtesy of PhotoTree.comImage © and courtesy of PhotoTree.com
Portrait of unidentified young woman, c.1864
By Maynard & Nelson of Milford
Image © and courtesy of PhotoTree.com

This gem tintype in a very similar style was produced at roughly the same time at "Maynard & Nelson's Picture Gallery, over the P.O. Milford," almost certainly with one of Wing's competitors' cameras, and most likely a target for the never-ending series of prosecutions.

Image © and courtesy of Mike MedhurstImage © and courtesy of Medhurst & Co.
Private Michael Malone, "D" Co. NY 14th Heavy Artillery Regt, c.1864
Taken by George W. Godfrey & Co. of Rochester, New York
Image © and courtesy of Mike Medhurst

By mid- to late 1864, Godfrey was already trying out alternative, simpler methods of mounting the gem tintypes, even though they were still being taken with his Wing camera. This example of a Union soldier's portrait in uniform at the Sunbeam Gallery in Rochester is mounted cartouche-style behind, rather than on top of, an embossed card. It is particularly useful because the subject has been identified from a pencilled annotation, and a revenue stamp is affixed of the back, thus making it possible to infer a fairly accurate date.

Malone enlisted at Rochester on 4 September 1863 and was killed at Blicks Station, Virginia on 19 August 1864. The blue revenue stamp, cancelled with a single stroke with a black pen, signified that a 2c Civil War federal tax, imposed on photographs costing 25c or less from 30 June 1864 until 1 August 1866, had been paid. While the portrait was most likely taken between the time of his enlistment and his company's deployment to Virginia in late April 1864 (Phisterer, 1912), it must only have been mounted after the tax had come into effect (Harrell-Sesniak, 2012).

Image © and courtesy of Cowan AuctionsImage © and courtesy of Cowan Auctions
President Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, c.1865
Copied by George W. Godfrey & Co. of Rochester, New York
Images © and courtesy of Cowan Auctions

George Godfrey continued to produce tintypes from the Sunbeam Gallery for a few years, although embossed and printed cartouche-style card mounts appear to have rapidly replaced those attached with foil preservers. The portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln shown above are typical examples and were probably produced in large quantities in 1865 after Lincoln's assassination.

Image © and courtesy of Rob Niederman
Wing Prototype Multiplying Box Camera, 1914
Image © and courtesy of Rob Niederman

Although the popularity of gem tintypes started to decline somewhat after the end of the Civil War, they were still produced in significant numbers throughout the 1870s and 1880s, and remained the format of choice for many travelling photographers. Simon Wing's cameras remained fundamentally the same until the late 1880s, when he and his son Harvey introduced a number of new designs, including the Ajax Multiplying Camera (c.1900) and the Wing Prototype Multiplying Box Camera (above) patented in 1914. Although only two of Harvey Wing's prototypes were ever produced, it is remarkable that the inherent concepts of these multiplying cameras were revived once again for the Polyfoto camera twenty years later, which I wrote about here on Photo-Sleuth three weeks ago.

I'm very grateful to The Spira Collection, Mike Kessler, Rob Niederman, Matthew R. Isenburg (via Marcel Safier), George Eastman House, Mike Rosebery, the Library of Congress, PhotoTree.com, Mike Medhurst and Cowan Auctions for the very useful scans of and information provided about items in their collections.

Update

Image courtesy of Mike Kessler

By kind courtesy of the author, the late Mike Kessler, I am now able to offer you a PDF of the Summer/Fall 1994 issue of the Photographist containing the excellent article about Simon Wing as a direct download (click on the image above). Many thanks to Rob Niederman for facilitating this. It's an important resource to have available online.

References

Antique & 19th Century Cameras by Rob Niederman

Anon (1870) Who Infringe the Sliding Box Patent, The Philadelphia Photographer, Vol. VII, p. 45-46, courtesy of Archive.org.

Phisterer, Frederick (1912) 14th Artillery Regiment, Civil War, in New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed., Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, courtesy of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs (2008).

Griffiths, Alan (nd) Revenue stamps during the American Civil War, on Luminous Lint.

H., Christine (2012) Civil War Revenue Stamps, on The Daily Postcxard, 19 October 2012.

Harrell-Sesniak, Mary (2012) Dating Old Family Photographs with Civil War Revenue Stamps, on Genealogy Tips from GenealogyBank, 14 November 2012.

Kessler, Mike (1994) After Simon Wing Photography Was Never Quite the Same, in The Photographist (Journal of the Western Photographic Collectors Association), No 102 (Summer 1994), p.6-47.

Safier, Marcel (2012) The Gem & Carte de Visite Tintype

43 comments:

  1. I'm always learning something useful here to help me date and/or understand some of my old family photos. But I must ask: what do you look for in old photos that prompts you to purchase?

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    1. That's a difficult question to answer, Wendy. I go through phases, when certain formats or subjects or places of origin appeal to me, and I suppose I like to have a representative selection of formats, although budget plays a significant role in my choices. This particular album was from the US, found on eBay, but I rarely buy from there any more as the postage has become so expensive ... and it's very slow.

      I'm not buying much at the moment, although I'm always on the lookout for studio portrait photos by Derbyshire Photographers. Despite my having compiled my index to Derbyshire photographers for over a decade, I still occasionally come across one completely new to me.

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  2. I was wondering what the coating and base metal of the preservers is.They seem to stay shining for a long time, is the coating actually rolled gold?

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    1. According to Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, "'Pinchbeck' is a form of brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, mixed in proportions so that it closely resembles gold in appearance."

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  3. Interesting post--another aspect of photo history that I didn't know about.

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    1. I learnt a lot while researching this article too.

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  4. All New To Me Too!What A Fine Post (as ever!)I do admire you work here!
    Several Interesting side-issues.....The idea of commerce & franchise came early to photography (hardly surprising given to cost of new technology & research).....Also seems like a step towards the magic of moving pictures.Very much cutting edge stuff:the lure of The New I guess, yet the frames hark back to framed oil paintings.....
    I must say the framing seems a tad garish to modern eyes....at first glance you notice the frame before the photo itself.You almost have to fight your way into inspecting the photo!

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    1. I've come across a few instances of these franchise arrangements in photohistory. The framing was a direct copy of those used for earlier photo formats which, in turn, were indeed derived from the ornate gilt frames on oil paintings. See this captivating sixteeth-plate daguerreotype from Rob from Amersfoort, which at 3.5 x 4 cm wasn't much bigger than the tintype.

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  5. There is so much to learn in this post... like 'daguerreotype' which I see here and there once in awhile. I remember those ringlets. In the early 80s I know a woman in church who wore her hair like that. She must have been a fan of the historic hairstyle.

    Hazel

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    1. Although I think it's a style that has probably seen many revivals, it's possible that one might be able to refine the date of this portrait even further from a knowledge of when this particular craze went in and out of fashion.

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  6. Fascinating article. Wonderful examples, I had no idea about the history or process of Gem types. I quite like the ornament on the surrounds.

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  7. Again you have come up with a post on a topic that is new to me. I had heard on Pinchbeck though.

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    1. I wonder if the term "pinchbeck" was used mainly in the United Kingdom, and they referred to it merely as brass in the United Sates? I'll keep my eye out for that now.

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  8. Those photographs with the fancy, drawn frames remind me of this photo necklace - http://petapixel.com/2012/12/12/a-necklace-that-turns-your-neckline-into-a-mini-photo-wall/ I think it's the little loopy chains.

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    1. Kristin - I hadn't seen that, what an amazing idea, and an extraordinary piece of jewellery. Thanks for the link.

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    2. That certainly is an amazing piece of jewellery.

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  9. What an interesting post. I learn something new each week on your web site. Thank you.

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    1. I think we all learn a lot each week - that's what keeps us coming back to Sepia Saturday.

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  10. I should be making a folder to save your posts in. So much valuable information with your love of photography and photos you always uncover the most interesting things. Often I'll see something I have no idea what it is, and then I think I bet Brett knows, and I think he's already posted about it. I watched American Pickers the other night and they had an old Radio-Opticon Projector, (I man have spelled it wrong)it was interesting too!

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    1. I hadn't come across the Radioptican before, but I've enlightened myself now with your help, thank you - an early projector for postcards, similar to a magic lantern but, as I understand it, using ordinary printed postcards.

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    2. Kaern - I've just figured out why the name was familiar to me. The Stereopticon was a similar device used to project lantern slides, a rather fancy magic lantern with two projecting lenses.

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  11. Overflowing with facts and illustrations - a gem of a post! (please don't ask me to take a test though). The young lady with spectacles looks so wistful doesn't she?

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    1. Yes, I think you've got it - wistful is the word I was looking for.

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  12. I enjoyed the beauty of these tintypes photographs; absolute treasures. Photos were very precious and a lot of thought to show them off beautifully went into their presentation. Great collection.

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    1. It's amazing what you can find on the net, given enough time and patience.

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  13. I'd never seen a Multiplying Camera before. Very smart! I also appreciate the polyphotos, it reminds me of the Beatles album A Hard Day's Night.

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    1. Of course. Now why didn't I think of that - a wonderful example and I even have that album.

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  14. This was fascinating and I learned so much. Thank you!

    And to see a photo of a woman wearing glasses seems to unusual. Men wearing specs seemed common, but I can't remember any shots from this time period of women in glasses. Not a vain woman.

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    1. Yes I agree that it's unusual to find a photograph of a woman wearing glasses this early, although presumably many did so.

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  15. I recently saw a tiny photo album, maybe 2" x 4" wide, that held gems. Two gems per page. I desperately want it for my collection but the $275 is hard to part with, so I had to leave it behind. The gems were not mounted in the protectors, just inside the pages. It was truly lovely, bound in red. Now that you have reminded me of it I will likely start saving my nickles and dimes to try to buy it. :-)

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    1. Whowerethey - I think you should pass on that particular one. I have seen similar gem photo albums on eBay (even some with IDs) for considerably less than that.

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  16. Informative as ever,
    I seem to really like this format,
    though I'd be hard put to choose
    between the foil preserver or the cartouche style.
    I like everything that glitters...
    but the cartouche offers a more harmonious presentation with the photo, if a tad less flashy.
    One must be grateful to all of those people you were so inventive and left us a legacy which everyone can enjoy now, even on a cellphone.
    I wonder what they would think of it
    if they could see it...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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    1. I thought it was quite charming too, and a pity perhaps that it didn't last a little longer, but it was a relict from an earlier era that was bound to appear rather dated, I suppose.

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  17. I always learn something from your posts. Very interesting.

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  18. I've now added a link to Mike Kessler's excellent article about Simon Wing, after whom "photography was never quite the same."

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  19. Hi Brett. Really love your post! I have been trying to research a photo I'm pretty sure is from the 1860s and is one of the old formats but it looks different. It is kind of silvered, if you know what I mean. It is really hard to see the face of the girl as it is almost in negative form, although it is not negative I think. It has that same kind of brass looking mount. I have posted it here if you are interested at all: http://greatgrandmaswickerbasket.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/the-oldest-photo-i-own.html

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    1. Hi Bel - Thanks for your comment, and apologies for the delay in responding - I've been away. I think your photo is an ambrotype, but I'll comment more fully on your blog. Regards, Brett

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  20. The perfect article for me. While visiting a friend I noticed a tintype on his bookshelf. On closer examination I was shocked to see it was the same tintype that i had of my great aunt from MS. He bought the tintype at an estate sale in Des Moines, Iowa over 35 years ago. The picture was taken about 1864 in MS. They were identical and I wondered how that was done.Now I know. However the probability of the two tintypes reuniting seems beyond calculation.. Thanks of this page.

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    1. What an extraordinary, and pleasant, surprise for you, Mel. I'd be keen to feature the images and your story here on Photo-Sleuth if you're interested.

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  21. Forgot to mention that the tintype is 2 1/2 in wide by 3 1/2 in high, yield a 4 picture plate of 5 x 7. Wonder if this was an unusually large camera setup.

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    1. This is more or less a standard "sixth-plate tintype," which was the most common size used for portraiture from the 1860s to the 1890s. It was made, as you might expect, by taking six images on a full plate, either using a camera with six lenses, or a camera with a moving lens or back, and then cutting the plate into into six. These were substantially larger than Gem tintypes.

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