This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Friday, November 19, 2010

19th Century Photo Process

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

I've been told that the two images to the left are Daguerreotype photos. These two people are unknown, but the photos were passed down from Daniel T. Watkins line, a branch of the family that lived in the Winston-Salem area of NC.  

Old Salem, NC had its own photographer and developer when Traugott Leinbach bought his first set of photography equipment for as little as $125 from a traveling salesman in 1845. He began producing Daguerreotype photos. He opened a photography studio in 1854 and ran it until 1860 when his wife became ill. They moved to Pennsylvania, and his nephew, Henry Alexander Linebach took over. He changed the spelling of the family name.  

A Daguerreotype was developed by Louis Daguerre as the first publicly announced photo process. Heated mercury vapor is used to develop the plate from copper with a thin coating of silver rolled in that has been sensitized to light with iodine vapor. This creates silver iodide crystals on the silver surface of the plate. The image is actually created on the surface of the plate and looks similar to a mirror. These first prints were mounted in glass because the image could be rubbed off by the finger and would oxidize in the air. 

Often, Daguerreotype photos are mistaken for Tintype photos and vise versa. A Tintype is made by creating a direct positive on a sheet of iron metal that is blackened by painting, laquering or enamelling and is used as a support for the photo. The process was first patented in the US in 1856 by Hamilton Smith. Tintype is also known as Melainotype and Ferrotype.

Tintypes were very popular as the process was simple enough for photographers to work outside at at fairs and carnivals since Tintypes didn't require drying. Instant photographs could be produced in only a few minutes after taking the photograph. The ability to buy an instant image as a memory appealed to many people.

The Difference Between Daguerreotype and Tintype
1) Daguerreotypes were produced for a limited amount of time, 1839-1860. Tintype production lasted longer, 1856 - early 1900s.
2) Tintypes were far more popular in America than daguerreotypes or unless your ancestors were in an area where a Daguerreotype photographer was known to exist, such as Salem, NC.
3) If the photograph can only be seen at certain angles, most likely, it is a Daguerreotype.
4) Daguerreotypes are more fragile while Tintypes are the more durable.
5) Daguerreotypes provide more detail than Tintypes and are considered to be higher quality.
6) Tintypes are made of lacquered iron in thin sheets and will attract to a magnet. Daguerreotypes are made of copper and will not attract to a magnet.

The image of the woman with the baby on her lap is a Tintype and I was able to attach it to a magnet. We believe the image is of my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth "Betty" Gray Harris (1827-1903). The child on her lap was her youngest daughter, Jane Harris, born about 1868.

The last photo of a child sitting alone is a Tintype of my 2nd great-grandfather, Michael Clingman Harris. We know it is him since his name is carved on the back of the plate. It also attaches to a magnet. He was born in 1865. Knowing his age, as well as his mother and sister, we can safely determine that the photos were taken about 1869. They lived in Wilkes County, NC, and although they were within driving distance of Salem, NC, I do not know where these images were taken.

Winston-Salem Journal, Focus on Arts: John Christian Blum House Celebrates Printing and Photography in Old Salem