I reunite identified family photos that I find in antique shops and second hand stores with genealogists and family historians. If you see one of your ancestors here and would like to obtain the original, feel free to contact me. Donations of pre-1920 photographs are also most welcome. I hope you enjoy your visit!
Sunday, December 11, 2011
The Girl in the Ambrotype
This ambrotype of a young girl is probably the oldest photograph in my collection. The ambrotype was first used in 1851 and was patented by James Ambrose Cutting in 1854. Eventually, it became the photograph of choice, overtaking the earlier Daguerrotype in popularity. The Ambrotype is actually a negative image on glass made positive with a black backing. Most often it is cased, as you see above. Ambrotype use died out around 1880, though never as popular as it was in the mid-1850s, due to the invention of tintypes and cdvs.
Since we know this is an ambrotype because the image is on glass, we can say it was made between 1851-1880. You can differentiate an ambrotype from a daguerreotype with two tests. First, the ambrotype will not have a mirror like image when you look at it from different angles. And secondly, a daguerreotype image is created on metal, so a magnet will stick to it. An ambrotype will not attract a magnet because it is glass.
We can further narrow down the date on this item, though. Assuming it is original, we can say that the case is probably an early one. In the last half of the 1850s the mat and preserver (made of brass) became highly ornate. As you can see, ours is quite plain. It probably dates to 1855 or earlier. Costume experts might be able to narrow down the dates even more. This is probably the only likeness in existence of this particular sitting. Ambrotypes, for the most part, were one-offs.
I found this ambro at an antique show and sale in Red Deer, Alberta about 20 years ago. The problem with ambrotypes is that they are so often unidentified. This one is no exception. It is highly unlikely that I will ever learn the background story of this young girl.
If you would like to learn more about Ambrotypes and see some great ambro images, I would suggest searching out Beautiful Ambrotypes by Paul Cox.