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Ferrotypes (also known in the USA as Tintypes) are photographs made onto black-enamelled iron plates by the wet-collodion process. The black background made the transparent areas of the negative image appear black, and the dark, silvered areas were whitened using mercuric bichloride, and so appear light - in the same way as glass Ambrotypes.

French photographer Adolphe A Martin was the first to use this process, in 1853. A dry ferrotype process later replaced the wet-plate system. As the process could be carried out inside the camera (or in an attached developing tank) and needed no drying time, dry ferrotypes were popular with "while-you-wait" beach and street photographers[1]. Some cameras were advertised specifically for this purpose, such as the Mandel-ette. It was also attractive that the plates were very much cheaper than glass plates, and also lighter and less fragile. They could be sent through the post; Edward Estabrooke (1903) refers to a size of ferrotype exposure called 'letter-type'.[2]

Since the image must be viewed from the silvered side of (non-transparent!) plate, the image is left-right reversed (mirror-imaged) - a feature shared with Daguerreotypes.

The process was used in the US until the early 1940s.

Many ferrotype cameras are essentially box cameras, with an attached developing tank. Some have a bellows or focusing lens. There are also cameras by several makers of a 'cannon' design. These are usually for very small 'button' plates. Other tintype cameras cover larger formats, in the same sizes as glass plates. The thin metal base material allowed developed ferrotypes to be cut with a guillotine. Multi-lens cameras were used to make many pictures on a single ferrotype plate.


  1. Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Focal Press, 1976 edition, p.588
  2. Estabrooke, E.M. (1903) The Ferrotype and How to Make it Anthony and Scovill Co., New York, 12th edition 1903. p24. Available in various formats including PDF at the Internet Archive; supplied by the New York Public Library.


  • Streetcameras (pdf), pictures of an assortment of ferrotype cameras, collated by Franz Edtberger on his website (archived)