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Kenrick A.Claflin & Son

939. (tintype) U.S. Light House Service Keeper c.1870. 1/6th plate.

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939. (tintype) U.S. Light House Service Keeper c.1870. 1/6th plate.

1939. (tintype) U.S. Light House Service Keeper c.1870. 1/6th plate. Offered is an incredibly rare tintype of a U.S. Lighthouse Establishment Keeper, but beyond that, where do we begin ? The image begs more questions than it answers, and is exceptionally rare for that fact. Exceedingly rare old 19th century nautical photograph. This tintype was discovered in a collection purchase from a dealer in Delaware. Measures about 2 1/2″ x 3 3/8″. Shows signs of age and wear along with smudge marks, scuff marks, scratches, nicks, dings, scrapes, spots, specks, superficial bend in lower left area, two small dings in top right area, emulsion lines, blistering, emulsion flaking, and rust. Light remnant marks of a prior old frame around subject. Poor to fair condition overall as noted. The subject is standing, probably in the photographer’s studio. Clearly visible is the gentleman’s cap, with the brass crossed buoy insignia visible to the camera. By the Uniform Regulations, this insignia was to be worn on the helmit of light-house depot and buoy depot keepers and “consisted of a gilt metal lighthouse with whistling and spar buoy crossed”. Note on his collar the gold embroidered “loops”, but without any marking within. If this man were a depot keeper there would be a “W” within, of if he was a lighthouse Keeper, there would be a “K”, “1”, etc within. None of the things that we see in this rare image are authorized in any of the Uniform Regulations, making this certainly an image worth having by a museum or collector. We have long suspected that, like cabinet views and other early forms of photography, there must have been some tintypes of Light-House Keepers produced but until now we had never been able to find any. Presently this is the only one known to us. Tintypes, also known as a ferrotypes, originated in the early 1850’s and became the choice for photographers before photographic paper was invented. The use of this form peaked in the 1861-1870 period and began to give way to other forms of photography by 1900. Tintypes were produced on a metallic sheet (not actually tin) instead of the more common glass plates. The sheet was coated and sensitized just before use, as in the wet plate process. These early metal plates were then placed in the back of a box camera and exposed directly though the camera lens. Because of this all forms of early photography resulted in a mirror image of the subject, as is this image. The most common size for a tintype was 2 5/8” x 3 ¼” [1/6 plate], but they were made in numerous sizes. Tintypes were the first inexpensive photographic print and as such, made photography available to the working class. Also, being quite rugged, tintypes could be sent by mail, and many photographers did quite a trade visiting the encampments during the Civil War. I would suspect that this image was captured in the early 1870’s. Measures 2 5/8” x 3 9/16”. Condition is very good, clear, good contrast, no scratches to image, but does show some corrosion to the lower margin and lower right corner. A rare item indeed. (VG). $1,250.