Notes on Post-Victorian Ferrotypes
The story of the invention, introduction and spread of the ferrotype in Victorian Britain is fully described in Audrey Linkman's excellent article "Cheap Tin Trade: The Ferrotype Portrait in Victorian Britain", Photographica World, June 1994, reproduced here on this site with the kind permission of the Author and the original publishers, the Photographic Collectors' Club of Great Britain.
On this page we try to make some sense of different formats and presentations of ferrotypes which family and local historians may encounter, mainly from post Victorian times. The page is a work in progress and we would welcome contributions, particularly to help identify some of the formats shown.
The ferrotype enjoyed some popularity in Britain in the 1870s and 1880s, particularly when a small postage stamp sized ferrotype was set into a carte de visite sized mount to become the American Gem portrait. After this period of popularity the ferrotype, or tintype as it was also known, continued to be produced by itinerant, travelling and other while-you-wait operators, in some cases up to the 1950s. A small number of photographic manufacturers and suppliers offered ferrotype cameras and plates from the 1890s well into the 20th Century. These included:
Ferrotype semi-automatic cameras
Below we set out some of the different semi automatic ferrotype cameras marketed in the UK. The dates when these were advertised, combined with the description of the media used may help in some cases with dating surviving ferrotypes. These complicated cameras included storage of plates or buttons, an exposure mechanism and various containers for chemicals to develop, fix and wash the exposed plate. We do not have any figures for the numbers of the various different cameras produced during this period. More information on all of these camera can be found in Colin Harding's excellent article, Photographs While-You-Wait, Photographica World (1994-1995) issues 69, 71 and 72.
In the British Journal of Photography 6 Jan 1905 p xvi, Jonathan Fallowfield advertised:
Fallowfield's 1907 Takuquick Ferrotype Camera, Victoria size, complete with developing box, the complete kit could be purchased for £5.5.0.
Fallowfield's Auto Cell Ferrotype camera, 1907, taking 30 sheathed ferrotype plates 2½ x 2 inches, claimed by the manufacturer to be capable of producing up to 30 portraits per hour
Ferrotype Plates and Envelopes
In 1906 Sharpe and Hitchmough of 101 and 103 Dale Street, Liverpool offered ferrotype supplies. These included
Ferrotype Plates "Special" Buffalo 14 x 10 inches, black or chocolate, per doz. 3s 6d; per box of 200 sheets £2, half box £1.1s, quarter box 11s.
American cut-up ferrotype plates. Per box of 8 doz., black or chocolate
Ferrotype envelopes, new designs
New designs of ferrotype envelopes from Sharp and Hitchmough, Liverpool, 1906.
Surely the ultimate in ferrotype kit. The manufacturers of this 1915 Wonder Cannon Automatic Button Camera claimed that it took and finished ferrotype button photos at the rate of more than 6 per minute. It was by the Chicago Ferrotype Co of Chicago Buildings, Whitechapel, Liverpool; Chicago; New York etc.
Identifying and dating different presentations of ferrotypes
Some indications are given below of 19th Century ferrotypes. Measurement of a surviving example and comparison with the media column of the camera table above, then checking the advertised dates column may give a "not before..." indication of date. The illustrations of mount designs above may assist. Printed information about the photographer on the mount of backing paper is seldom to be found. Image content will ultimately play perhaps the biggest part in dating ferrotypes, but this can be very difficult on very small sizes.
Two examples of 19th Century unmounted ferrotypes. The above two unmounted ferrotypes measure respectively 2 x 2.1 inches and 1.9 x 2.8 inches. The subjects and the photographers are unknown. The first, of a man in a cap has been produced by the wet collodion process - the mark across the top of the plate shows where the liquid chemicals have not flowed evenly over the whole of the surface of the plate. Dry plate ferrotypes were first introduced in 1891. The second ferrotype of a child, supported by a woman who is mainly out of shot, is a chocolate plate. Both of these have clearly been unevenly cut by hand from larger plates. This again suggests a 19th century origin as pre-cut plates and cameras to match were readily available in the 20th Century. (although larger ferrotype plates 14 x 10 inches were available at least until 1906)
These three ferrotypes of unknown young people, by unknown photographers,are broadly similar to the American Gem, but the mount is much smaller than the carte de visite size of the Gem, being 1.8 x 2.8 inches. The ferrotypes are held in place by paper cover sheets stuck onto the reverse. The ferrotypes are larger than those encountered on many of the American Gems and measure approximately 1 inch or 1.1 inches x 1.5 inches. From the images themselves these seem to be 19th rather than 20th Century. The overall size of the mount matches some versions of the midget carte de visite. We have yet to discover a contemporary name for these midget carte ferrotypes.
The three larger mounted ferrotypes above are all of unknown people by unknown photographers. The clothing of the subjects would put these in the 1920s/30s. The central example appears to have been tinted. The text in the background on the right hand image shows that the camera used reversed the image. The mounts have serrated patterned edges and are 3.1 x 5 inches, so midway between a conventional carte de visite and a cabinet photograph. The actual ferrotypes measure 1.75 x 2.5 inches. Below the three mounted examples is an unmounted ferrotype 1.75 x 2.5 inches taken from a similar mount, which was falling apart. This depicts two ladies in overcoats, apparently from the 1920s. Half way down the right hand edge of the plate is a small circular indentation and on the reverse is a corresponding slightly raised pinhead shape. These would have enabled the operator to load the plates into the camera with the correct orientation by touch. All of these very dark Tintypes have been lightened slightly in Photoshop in order to make the images visible. To date we have not discovered a contemporary name for this type of presentation of a ferrotype.
This ferrotype is a larger size again from those above. It depicts two ladies in summer outfits from the 1920s, one holding a box camera. The subjects and the photographer are unknown. The serrated edged mount measures 3.75 x 5.25 inches and the ferrotype behind the mount is 2.4 x 3.4 inches. Again this is a dark image which has been slightly lightened to improve visibility. To date we have not discovered a contemporary name for this type of presentation of a ferrotype.
The ferrotype above is in a dome top mount with bronze decoration 3.6 x 5.6 inches. The ferrotype measures 2.5 x 3.5 inches. The photographer is unknown but the subject is identified in manuscript on the reverse of the mount "1860-1936 William Crowninshield Endicott son of William Crowninshield Endicott & Ellen Peabody his wife." Endicott was an American, but he had relatives in England - his sister was married to the UK politician Joseph Chamberlain. The phrase "Lets Make Whoopee" on the face of the mount was made popular in a 1928 song, so this can be dated to the late 1920s, early 1930s. Although this carte was purchased in the UK, it could have originated in the USA. To date we have not discovered a name for this novelty type of presentation of a ferrotype.
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