Preserving Tintype Images

In the United States, tintype images were very popular during the Civil War, as well as, into the early 20th century. There are three main factors of deterioration that affect tintypes: improper handling, corrosion from high humidity or exposure to moisture, and light damage so the overall goal is to keep it in a dry and dark storage environment. While we advise contacting a photographic materials conservator for more advanced damage, there are some basic tips for how best to care for these unique documents!

  • Do not handle the tintype or image without gloves. Cotton gloves are preferred as they will not cause an interaction with the chemicals used in the creation of the tintype.
  • This type of photographic medium is very susceptible to damage from moisture. Keep the tintype stored in a low relative humidity if possible (below 40%) to prevent the metal from corroding. If organic elements are present, such as paper or frames, store it at 50% relative humidity.
  • Keep the tintype from being stored or displayed in direct light (sunlight and artificial light!).

Framed Tintypes


By Pease’s Nantasket Tintype Gallery(Life time: unknown) – Original publication: unknownImmediate source: This tintype was digitized at Gawain Weaver Art Conservation, PD-US,

The best form of protection for a tintype is to cover the surface to prevent it from interacting with the environment. If the glass appears to be in good condition, leave it intact. If you are noticing rust stains, it is important that you contact a photographic materials conservator as soon as possible.

  • Try to ensure there is a space between the glass and the tintype surface.
  • Depending on the type of frame, you may consider contacting a framing conservator separately for further treatment.
  • Keep an eye out for any flaking on the surface of the tintype.
  • If you are having a tintype framed for the first time, be sure to use archival materials such a an acrylic or glass sheeting coated in a UV protected film. Continue to store it out of direct light sources once framed.
  • If you will be displaying your tintype, be sure not to hand it above any heat sources such as a fireplace or stove area.

Overall, making a digital scan of the tintype is an important form of informational preservation which can be used to make copies and as a guide for any future changes that may occur.

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