In the very early days of this blog, I wrote about Treemount Seminary (you can check out that original post here). The school was a private boarding and day school founded in Norristown in 1857. The school existed for 43 years and educated about 5,000 students. For decades after the school closed, an active alumni association continued to keep its memory alive through annual reunions.
I revisited the Treemount Seminary papers this week while working through our school collection. This morning I found a small box, donated to the Historical Society of Montgomery County in the 1940’s that contained tintypes of students from the school.
Most of the tintypes are identified with a last name on the reverse, and most were taken by Thomas Saurman, whose shop was located at Main and Green in Norristown. According to Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, Saurman himself was a graduate of Treemount.
Tintypes were a popular form of photography for the second half of the nineteenth century. They were cheaper than competing forms of photograph such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Their cheapness and their small size made them perfect for sending to family or collecting pictures of your friends.
Tintypes were also known as ferrotypes, are made through a process similar to how ambrotypes were made. They used a wet collodion process to create a direct positive image that was reversed. No negative was made, so only one image could be produced from each exposure, no copies. The main difference between the ambrotype and the tintype was the material the image appeared on. Ambrotypes used polished glass while tintypes were produced on metal.
The process of creating a tintype was invented by Hamilton L. Smith at Kenyon College in 1856. The plate was a thin piece of iron that had been lacquered black or dark brown. The image was not was sharp as an ambrotype, but their affordability made up for this shortcoming.
The rosy cheeks you see in so many of the photos was added by hand, and was typical at the time, not just for tintypes, but for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
The paper mats you see around the images were also typical. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes had to be kept in cases to protect the glass plates. Tintypes sometimes have cases, but the paper mat is more typical.
Henry C. Trexler's tintype
These tintypes were owned by Harry C. Trexler, a graduate of Treemount Seminary and came to the historical society through his brother Frank.
Ruoff, Henry Wilson. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Biographical Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1895.
Ritzenhaler, Mary Lynn and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, 2006.
This week, I processed a collection of papers donated by Jean Brown Hall in 1984. The collection has receipts, genealogical research, and many photographs. There’s something arresting about old portraits – the clothing, the hairstyles, the faces themselves are fascinating. I thought this week, it would be nice to look at some of the pictures of children from this collection of materials from the Jackson, Rutter, Potts, and allied families.
The award for biggest bow ever goes to Katherine Jackson, seen here with her brother Millard, Jr. Note that both are wearing high button shoes. Those must have been a struggle to get on.
This cute baby is Charles Rutter Campbell of Pottstown. Below is the same boy at 3 years and 3 months.
This dapper lad is Millard Jackson, presumably the father of the children in the first photograph above.
One of the most interesting photographs in the collection is this picture of Mray Iris Campbell, 15, wearing a dress that belonged to her great-grandmother Mary Anna (Potts) Rutter. The look on her face suggests that 15 year-olds haven't changed much.
My personal favorite from the collection is this portrait of Nina B. Rutter at the age of 17. It is one of the only photos in the collection that is dated, 1898.