Did you know that within History Colorado’s collection there lie hundreds of photographs made using some of the very first photographic techniques?
The Early Photography collection includes about 650 ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and tintypes. These formats were the first photographs to become widely available in the United States. As the word tintype suggests, daguerreotypes and tintypes were photographic images created on sheets of metal — copper coated with polished silver in the case of daguerreotypes and iron for tintypes. Ambrotypes were photographs produced on a piece of glass.
We’ve recently digitized these early photographic holdings. Our curatorial staff are hard at work cataloging the images and making them available on our new online collection. Head on over to http://www.h-co.org/collections and search for “ambrotype,” “daguerreotype,” or “tintype” to browse through what is currently available online. We’ll keep updating the online collection with more of these digitized images as they’re cataloged, so check back often!
Here’s a sneak peek at what you can view online right now:
This portrait of Walter Sweetland on the left shows how daguerreotypes (Read more about daguerreotypes on our blog) were protected by cases of leather, wood, or early plastics. The print on metal has been covered with a sheet of glass for protection, and a decorative cushion faces the photograph on the opposite side of the case. As you can see by the slight blush in Mr. Sweetland’s cheeks, early photographs were often hand-tinted with color.
Tintypes were very popular during the Civil War. A soldier could get a portrait taken quickly and give it to a loved one before going off to fight. As seen in this portrait of an unidentified soldier on the right, the photographs were also frequently gilded by hand to highlight jewelry, buttons, and in this case the gold braid and buckles on his uniform.
Were tintypes the precursors to modern-day photo booths or selfies? This portrait on the left of an unidentified couple certainly makes that seem plausible. Photographers could set up on street corners or at fairs and produce tintype portraits quickly and cheaply. This also sometimes resulted in less formal photographs, more like a snapshot than a studio portrait.
If you’d like to see any of these amazing early photographs in person, feel free to visit the Stephen H. Hart Library & Research Center during our open hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. We’re free and open to the public, no museum admission required. You can find more about visiting us — including where we are, where to park, and where to check in — on our website.
Photo Research & Permissions Librarian
Daguerreotype of Walter Sweetland, 85.277.13 (Scan #10051588a&b)
Tintype of an unidentified Civil War soldier, 86.70.279 (Scan #10051200)
Tintype of an unidentified couple, 84.408.9 (Scan #10051009)
Contact the Library
Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203