Preserving the Past

With Photography


Tim Smith became interested in photography and what the photo could tell you after first seeing the book by Charles Elliott, Fox Hill, It's People and it's Places.  He also was introduced to Civil War images in the Hampton Library, which heightened his interest in old pictures, and how they were made.

Prior to 1860, most images were done in a process called Degarotype (or silver paint).  This was a silver plated image, in terracotta cases, mounted in tin. This type was a very expensive at the time, and only wealthy people usually had this type.  Few images of this type are found.  The process was dangerous for the processor who put themselves at risk of poisoning.

Tintype was a process which used varnish coating.  The image will be lost if the varnish flakes off.  When handling this kind of image, gloves should be worn.  If you are trying to make a copy of this image, you should be aware that one shot on a scanner equals thirty years of life on the photo; take a picture of the image to obtain a negative to make copies of the desired image.  This will insure a longer life of the image itself.  You can then scan your copy on a computer and can made any needed repairs or flaws on the image to clarify the image; i.e. spots, cracks, missing areas of photos.

Ferrotype or tintype was a less expensive way to duplicate images; this process became very prevalent from the Civil War period up to about 1890.  This process was more affordable for the common man.

Ambertype, a process that appears to have no image on it until black background is placed behind it.

Pictures can give a lot of information to the researcher; i.e. Soldier photo, militaria photo, can tell what unit, state, country, rank, and war.

In the images pre-Civil War and after, you will notice that there are few moving subjects in images, this is due to the process of obtaining the photo.  The photographer used a clamp on a stand to hold you still, therefore, images with animals that are earliest images are not usually seen, photo would be distorted or not develop.

During the Divil War, Carda-de-vistas were common; several antebellum images can be found on this process.  Six images with one shot could be processes.  Very popular with Officers, both Union and Confederate.  The casemate has examples of this process on display.  they were hard board images/early cardboard, in sepia tone color, yellow/tan.

Also at this time, some color images were being seen.  On Amber and Ferrotypes, color could be added by a "Colorist".  Gilded on the image, the colorist used charcoals to color your image, which could be quite an attractive enhancement, if the colorist was talented, disastrous if they were less than talented.

Traveling photographers in the year's 1905-1920's made visits to churches to take pictures, schools, fire houses, and fraternal orders.  These are very common images still available to researchers.  Even though they are common, all images should be treated with care to preserve the image for future generation's enjoyment.