DEFINING THE PHOTOGRAPH TYPES
by Karen Utter Jennings
Defining types of photographs will help you discover which photos you may have in your collection. I cannot possibly include all of the information known about each type; this is a simple overview.
Daguerreotypes are images attached to glass plates. There were wet plates and dry plates. The finished photo was placed in a double frame of decorated foil-like brass to protect the glass. Many times artists added color to jewelry, lips and cheeks of the person in the photo.
Calotypes are images produced on paper. Since these types of photos were not popular, most of the surviving photos can be found in museums or other intuitions. They are defined as faded, pale images, sometimes appearing yellow and very discolored.
Ambrotypes are negative images developed on glass with a dark coating on the back. These images were covered with another layer of glass, and then sealed behind a mat for protection. It was enclosed in a metal case.
Tintypes are also called ferrotypes or melainotypes. They were printed on thin blackened sheets of iron, then coated with photo chemicals and varnished for protection. These came in sizes from 8x10 to postage stamp size, or “gems.” To test whether you have a tintype, hold it to a magnet and if it sticks, it is a tintype.
Albumen prints are early paper photos made from paper coated with ammonium chloride and egg whites. From the process, the photographer could make multiple prints. If you look closely at these types of photographs, they appear glossy with a creamy coloring.
Carte de vistes are also called card photographs and come in varying sizes. They were popular for folks visiting others in their homes, where they would leave their visiting card. The government taxed the common card photographs. Look at the backs of these and you might find revenue stamps.
Stereographs are easy to identify. They are two matching images mounted side by side. They have a 3-D look when they are viewed through a stereoscope. If you find the photographer printed on the backs of these, research to find the date of the images.
The early black-and-white snapshots are identified by their shades of sepia or gray tones. They are printed on card stock and come in varying sizes, depending on the size of the negative.
Photo postcards were printed on paper with postcard backs. They are also known as “real-photo” postcards, a person could send a picture and a message to others. Look on the postcard side for the stamp box and other design elements. Travelling photographers usually have their imprint somewhere on the photo card. In the old photo below, you can see the traveling photographer's imprint. This photo is of Leander Scott (L.S.) Utter & his family. L.S. Utter was my great, great-grandfather's nephew who lived in Barry County, Missouri.
Autochromes are those photographs taken from 1904 to the late 1930s. They were created using a process of dyed starch grains to create the image on glass plates. To identify them, the dyed
grains may give the photo a hazy look.
The color paper prints were produced between 1941 and the present. These prints come from 35mm film. To identify the era in which they were taken, look at the details of the photo, such as people’s dress and hairstyles or the styles of homes and other elements in the picture.
Finally, there are the instant photos, taken from about 1947 to the present. These photos are easily defined as having a white border and a glossy picture. They are layered and have thick plastic backings. These photos tend to fade, so you might scan all your instant photos to other media, and store the originals in a dark and cool environment.
The source I used to help write this column is a great book, “Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs,” by Maureen A. Taylor. (Cincinnati, OH: F&W Publications, 2005).