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© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Cased Image File
1840-ongoing
 PR 12

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Cara McCormick; database migrated to Archivist Toolkit by Jennifer Gargiulo, 2016

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on December 05, 2016
Finding aid written in English.

Historical Note

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre invented the daguerreotype process in France. The invention was announced to the public on August 19, 1839 at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. American photographers quickly capitalized on this new invention, which was capable of capturing a "truthful likeness." Daguerreotypists in major cities invited celebrities and political figures to their studios in the hopes of obtaining a likeness for display in their windows and reception areas. They encouraged the public to visit their galleries, which were like museums, in the hope that they would desire to be photographed as well. By 1850, there were over 70 daguerreotype studios in New York City alone. The popularity of the daguerreotype declined in the late 1850s when the ambrotype, a faster and less expensive photographic process, became available. A few contemporary photographers have revived the process.

Ambrotypes were made from the 1850s and up to the late eighties, the process having been invented by Frederick Scott Archer in collaboration with Peter Fry, a colleague. Ambrotypes are direct positives, made by under-exposing a collodion negative, bleaching it, and then placing a black background - usually black velvet - behind it. Though they slightly resemble Daguerreotypes, the method of production was very different, and Ambrotypes were much cheaper. Ambrotypes became very popular, particularly in America.

Another variant of the Ambrotype is the Tintype process. The tintype, also known as a ferrotype, is produced on metallic sheet (not, actually, tin) instead of glass. The plate was coated with collodion and sensitized just before use, as in the wet plate process. It was introduced by Adolphe Alexandre Martin in 1853, and became instantly popular, particularly in the United States. The most common size was about the same as the carte-de-visite, 2 1/4'' x 3 1/2'', but both larger and smaller ferrotypes were made. The smallest are called "gem" tintypes, about the size of a postage-stamp, made simultaneously on a single plate in a camera with 12 or 16 lenses. They were often made by unskilled photographers, and their quality was very variable. They do have some significance, however, in that they made photography available to working classes, not just to the more well-to-do. Whereas up till then the taking of a portrait had been more of a special "event" from the introduction of tintypes, we see more relaxed, spontaneous poses, as well as more outdoor scenes.