Digest>Archives> November 2002

Collecting Nautical Antiques


By Jim Claflin


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We believe this tintype to be a Maine lighthouse ...

Because of an unusual recent find we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about tintype photography this month instead of our promised subject of Coast Guard china. Next month we will take up the subject of Coast Guard china patterns. Shown is an incredibly rare tintype of a lighthouse keeper from Maine recently brought to my attention by Andrew Price of Price Nautical Antiques. The subject is standing in an outside photo tent (see grass beneath his feet). The tent curtains are visible in the background. Clearly visible is the keeper’s gilded lighthouse with crossed buoys hat insignia and brass coat buttons. His weathered appearance speaks of his long career on the sea.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
We believe this tintype to be a Maine lighthouse ...

We have long suspected that, like cabinet views and other early forms of photography, there must have been some tintypes of lighthouse keepers produced but until now we had never been able to find any. This was a wonderful find, thanks Andy.

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. The process was introduced by Adolphe Alexandre Martin in 1853 and became instantly popular, particularly in the United States, though it was also widely used by street photographers in Great Britain. 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. The most common size for a tintype was 2 5/8” x 3 1/4” [1/6 plate], but they were made in numerous sizes, the limiting factor being the size of the camera back. Final prints were usually varnished for protection. Because of the black undercoating provided by the tin, a tintype never had the brilliance which the Daguerreotype and Ambrotype had. It was however, the least expensive of the three and became the product of the “cheaper” portrait photographers. 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.

As to value of such an item, rarity makes this quite desirable to collectors in a number of categories. I would only be guessing but I suspect $300-450 would be a reasonable range to begin.

For more information on tintypes, take a look at The American Tintype by Floyd Rinhart, Marion Rinhart and Robert W. Wagner, Ohio State University Press, 1999.

Again this month, we continue with our listing of Edward Rowe. Snow’s many titles. Next month we will complete this listing for you.

Two Forts Named Independence (pamphlet) 1967

A Hike from St. John to Boston. pre 1967

Topographical and Historical Massachusetts

Fantastic Folklore and Fact 1968

True Tales and Curious Legends 1969

Atlantic Adventures: Boston to Bermuda

The Islands of Boston Harbor 1971 (reprint of 1936)

Ghosts and Gold 1972

The Lighthouses of New England 1973 (Reprint of 1945)

Supernatural Mysteries and Other Tales 1974

Columns from the Patriot Ledger

The Romance of Casco Bay 1975

Marine Mysteries and Dramatic Disasters of New England 1976

Boston Bay Mysteries and Other Tales 1977

Adventures, Blizzards and Coastal Calamities 1978

Tales of Terror and Tragedy 1979

Next time, we hope to take a look at four china patterns used by the US Coast Guard, and complete the listing of Edward Rowe Snow’s works. Please continue to send in your questions on the subject or a photograph of an object that you need help dating or identifying. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this specialty since the early 1990’s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may also contact him by email: jclaflin@lighthouseantiques.net or visit his web site at www.lighthouseantiques.net

This story appeared in the November 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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