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Photography Question 
Jessy Hallam

Old, Old, Old Tin Photos!

I was going through my grandma's photos and came across some old tin photos. I can't find anything online about how best to care for them. Right now they are wrapped in pieces of paper in a card box! Would a regular acid-free photo album work? Or should they be kept in something else? Even if it's not something in which I can flip the page and see them all, I just want them to be safe and preserved.

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7/21/2006 1:05:29 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Jessy,
The Melainotype Ė also ferrotype, also tintype - was introduced by Adolphe Alexandre Martin in 1853. Easy to make, they were a thin (under-exposed and under-developed) silver-based positive image affixed to a painted metal plate (not tin). Popular name is tintype because the thin metal sheets were cut to shape with tin shears.
Modern black and white negatives and prints are silver-based also. The silver image must be affixed to something and in modern materials the glue used, both print and negative, is clear unflavored gelatin. In the case of the Melainotype, the silver image is affixed to a metal plate with callondion. This resembles clear nail polish. You can buy it today - it is the clear glue in that bottle of wart removal and anti-thumb-sucking stuff you paint on a thumbnail.
First know that the Melainotype was rugged and was often made into a postcard. What can happen? The metal backing has high iron content and will rust. The black is paint. The callondion is nitrocellulose, otherwise know as gun cotton. It burns aggressively. Old cine film are made of this material and are always stored in fireproof lockers. Callondion will become brittle, and it will break down. The silver image tarnishes over time and exposure to airborne sulfur. The faded image can usually be chemically restored.
Best handle these with care. Make digital copies. You can fabricate a copy stand or use a flatbed scanner. Keep away from open flame.
Donít be afraid to handle them, as you and others will appreciate them very much.
Alan Marcus

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7/21/2006 3:48:02 PM

Nancy Donnell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/23/2004
  Wow Alan, that was awesome information.

Thanks for taking the time to post it! I really enjoyed reading it. Facinating.

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7/25/2006 12:32:54 PM

Mike  Johansen   Alan, I'd like to 2nd that comment. Wow, the stuff I don't know!!

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7/25/2006 3:31:58 PM

marisa basso   I was talking to a photographer last year about these types of photos. He is a retired photographer who used to restore these photos. The proper name for these photos is : DAGUERREOTYPE photos. I will try to track him down. He had told me that the technique for restoring these photos is not worth the potential health and safety issues in restoring them because you need to do some kind of a acid wash wtih chemcicals that are very hard to get and in most states you need a licence to get these chemicals from companies. I will look into it and see if I can find him, and ask him again what is involved. I want to say sulfuric acid? I am not sure. If you look up : DAGUERREOTYPE in Google you can find links on it. It is interesting in the makeup of the photo. Do not get your fingers on them! It will deteriorate the photos. You want them in an air tight space. I will try to get more info from this person I was in touch with. All I know is that he developed severe skin problems over the years from doing that kind of work, and it also does a number on your lungs if you dont do it correctly. What I did with a friend of mine was I bought a shadow frame (frame with depth), and I mounted it from behind onto acid free board, I sealed the glass inside the frame with a sealant to prevent moisture from getting in and keep the environment dry. I than put the mounted photo onto the board, put the board and photo in the frame and than I sealed the board in the back with a custom cut piece wood enclosure. This way she has a permanent archive sealed inside a airtight frame. I suggessted that she redo this in time though to make sure the matteboard was not deteriorating. Again, I am not any expert or have any real knowledge on this kind of photography, but I do have a book on it. If you are interested, libraries have books on it. Online there is alot of info on it. Good luck!

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9/9/2006 1:49:43 AM

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