Here is a brief guide to finding and buying tintype photographs. Where to buy tintype photographs is not always easy, but it can be with a few bits of insight. First lets see what's so fascinating about tintypes in the first place.
What is Tintype Photography?
Preceded by Daguerrotypes and Calotypes, Tintype photography is one of the earliest forms of photography beginning in around 1851, and reaching peak popularity during the 1860's. Using a method called the collodion process developed by Fredrick Scott Archer (1813-1857). Tintypes are a one-of-a-kind image where a direct positive is exposed on a thin sheet of iron with a light sensitive colloid.
Tintype Photographic Method
Take a look at this video by "Tested", with Will Smith and Norman Chan as they venture to a modern day tintype studio in San Fransisco to explore the tintype process.
Sadly "Photo Booth San Francisco" closed its doors in March 2014.
Where to Get Your Own TinType Portrait Taken
The Penumbra Foundation located in at 36 E 30th St, New York, NY is the last surviving Tintype portrait studio in the country as far as I am aware. Portraits start at $95 for a 4 x 5 image.
The Penumbra Foundation is a non-profit photographic arts organization whose mission is to bring workshops and greater education, lectures, and events to a diverse and evolving international photographic community. Our scope spans photography from its 19th century invention to the present age.
Where to Buy Authentic Tintype Photos
Due to the mass amounts of tintypes created during the mid to late 1800's, they are incredibly affordable to buy to this day 150 years later. I have purchased batches on tintypes before on eBay that came out to as little as $2 per piece.
Ebay is the easiest place to find tintype photos. Average cost for a single photos is about $5-$10 for non-rare portraits. Often they are sold in batches of 2-3, a dozen, or you can buy a whole pile.
Easy to purchase
10,000 + listings
Difficult to tell condition of item
Competitive bidding on rarer items
Unlikely you will discover anything rare at a low price
Your Local Antique Store
I guarantee you any antique store of decent size will have tintypes if you search hard enough. Many antique stores consist of numerous and plentiful zones where other antique dealers rent out the space to display their items. So the fact that all you see in the window is some fine china and a dusty dress is not indicative of an uneventful search.
Where You Might Find Them
Try looking in display cases, often in a small pile laying flat behind other larger items. If there's more than a few available they may be placed upright in a small box similar to a trading card case. If the box is filled with paper photos (likely Carte de visite) search anyway, there's usually a few tintypes mixed in there. If all else fails ask the cashier if any booths have tintypes. They always know who is most likely to have them and will guide you to the right booth to look around.
Get the Best Price
Any dealer who's invested enough as to rent space in a store is sure to have tintypes passed through their hands many times. Though the prices are hit and miss, many overvalue their tintype stock and many are happy to take a few bucks.
TIP: If you find something you really like and it's worth more about $50, you can request the cashier to call the antique dealer who owns that photo and negotiate the price.
Low exposure, increased chances of finding rare pieces
No competition, if see it you can buy it
Ability to touch, feel, and fully inspect photo
Ability to negotiate on price
Very time consuming
Stingy sellers can overprice
Hard to know value without tintype knowledge
What Makes A Tintype Valuable
Here is a brief list of things to look out for if your hoping to score on a valuable tintype. I will amend this article with explanations for the following late this week.
Civil War Soldiers (MOST VALUABLE)
Anyone with a gun or weapon
Profession (any thing where you can tell a persons job by their wardrobe)
Quirky (people smoking, laughing, acting playful, or role playing)
Anything uncommon (fake pets, props, eccentric characters, etc)