A tintype, also known as a melainotype or ferrotype, is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel. This type of photography enjoyed its widest use during the 1860s and 1870s, and is currently considered a novelty art form. However, one occasionally finds authentic vintage tinytypes, and they help frame a story about life, culture, and fashion in the late 19th century.
This is exactly the case with Greg Therriault, the previous owner of the Ivy Cottage in Eastville, Sag Harbor, New York. Located at the tip of Long Island, Therriault discovered what seemed to be pieces of iron nailed onto the wooden floorboards of a back bedroom in the cottage. He peeled back the iron to find representations of colloquial Sag Harbor in the late 19th century. Time Magazine did a short cover story on the finding, for the photographs hold great historical and cultural value. The tinytypes he found represent the demographic composition of the small coastal village in the Suffolk County as well as the diversity of the Sag Harbor community and the Eastville enclave. “They speak to the ethnic integration of the village, as citizens from various backgrounds and descents – free Afro-Americans, White European immigrants and Native Americans – all worked, lived and interacted with each other on a daily basis.”
Upon further examination, it was found that names and dates stamped on the photographs are making it possible to retrace families’ affiliations. In addition, two photo albums were also found in old houses nearby with other tinytypes and cabinet card portraits. These findings are giving more clues to the history of Eastville, and the community is cherishing them for the treasured finds they are. The collection is currently housed with the Eastville Community Historical Society. “The residents of Eastville were represented by three cultures and they lived together and were a part of each other’s lives,” says Donnamarie Barnes, who is the project director and photo curator of an exhibit of these photographs at the Eastville Community Historical Society.
Eastville Community Historical Society will exhibit copies of the original tintypes and cabinet card portraits until Oct. 17, 2015.