Ever since I learned about wet plate photography from my good friends at The Vacant Chair Photography Studio in White Bluff, TN, I have decided to collect daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes (D/A/T's) from the 1800's.
A word on collecting: I could go onto eBay and start spending like crazy . . . but where is the fun in that? I prefer to make it a hunt and have things come to me serendipitously. Like two finds from this weekend, when I had a visiting friend who likes to browse antique shops.
My first daguerreotype. The daguerreotype was the oldest process and the more expensive one, as the image is on a silver-coated copper plate. A daguerreotype can be identified most easily by holding the image at different angles and seeing if it appears normal, or as a negative image, or disappears altogether, due to the very reflective nature of the image. A daguerreotype is usually found sealed under glass, with both a mat and a "preserver," an ornate stamped metal frame.
The young boy or teen above is a daguerreotype. It is slightly tinted and that fact - along with the fact that it is a daguerreotype - leads me to think that this young man came from a family of wealth. The ornately stamped preserver is a style generally seen in the late 1850's. I will not open the sealed photograph, unless I can find someone skilled in doing so, as that could irreparably harm the image; there may be more identifying within.
Ambrotype in Union case. The other photograph I found is this ambrotype, which is set in a Union case. "Union" in this sense has nothing to do with the Civil War - rather, the Union case was one of the earliest resin-based thermoplastics, that were machine-stamped and used for storage of photographs. Yes, plastics - even in the 1800's. "Union" happened to be the name of the company.
I included my iPhone so you can see how small the image is (and the daguerreotype is about equivalent in size as well). The ambrotype is printed on glass, and again, I would not take this apart without professional services. This image is also slightly tinted (on the cheeks) and because of that and the case, I would believe this pre-dates the Civil War as well.
This shows the detail on the outside of the Union case. For the record, these images were found in Clinton, TN.
I also found some tintypes. A few weeks ago, I found one in Harriman, TN that shows a woman and her sewing, but is also cool because it is under glass with both a fancy mat and preserver, and has a revenue stamp on the back - between August 1, 1864 and August 1, 1866, tintypists had to collect a tax for each photograph they took, and after doing so they affixed this stamp and made a mark on it. The revenue derived from this was used by the federal government to help finance the Civil War.
The stamp helps to date the photo - as well as lend credence that this was a Union sympathizer, since it is unlikely that a Confederate would pay the tax!
I look for unique characteristics in each photo, whether it is the quality or a feature on the image. I am hoping to find much sought-after post-mortem photographs of this era - often when a person died it was the only opportunity to capture their image - as well as Catholic images. It will take patience and perseverance, but isn't that the fun of collecting, the hunt and discovery?
If you are a D/A/T geek like me - drop me a line.