In the early 1850s, innovations in photography allowed for the development of two new forms: the ambrotype and later the tintype (or ferrotype). Like the daguerreotype, ambrotypes, and to a lesser extent tintypes, were housed in small cases made of wood or thermoplastic. More affordable than daguerreotypes, they quickly became the most popular form of photographic portraiture.
In 1854, James Ambrose Cutting of Boston developed several photographic patents which expanded upon the wet-plate collodion process and led to the development of the ambrotype. The process consisted of sensitizing a polished piece of glass and exposing it to a light source, producing a negative image on the surface of the glass. The height of its popularity in America was short-lived and lasted roughly from 1854 to 1865, before being surpassed by the tintype. The tintype, unlike the ambrotype, created a direct positive image on the surface of a thin piece of iron coated with dark enamel. The tintype experienced its widest use from the mid-1860s to the early 1870s before being replaced in popularity by albumen paper-based photographic prints. The Athenæum’s collection primarily documents the work of Massachusetts photographers and demonstrates the range of the photographic work being produced in the mid- to late nineteenth century. This collection also contains a small number of cased photographic prints on other supports, such as paper and porcelain.
Special Collections Assistant