Minnetrista Blogs

Historic Photographs Part 1: Ambrotypes

Several different types of photographs are represented in the Minnetrista Heritage Collection, including daguerreotype, ambrotypes, cartes de visite, snapshots and much more. This is the first of several articles describing different types of photos.

Ambrotypes are an early type of photograph, first used in 1851. Some critics have proclaimed the ambrotype to be inferior to its predecessor, the daguerreotype. It was, however, a cheaper and faster photographic process than the daguerreotype, which as a result, made it a popular choice of the general public. The ambrotype does share some of the similarities of the daguerreotype: they are unique, one-of-a-kind images; both often use special housing of the photo plate for presentation and protection (sometimes quite eHilaborate in design); both are relatively small images; and both have rather sharply defined images. Daguerreotypes were reversed images, ambrotypes are not. Because the solution is on the back of the glass plate with the dark background placed behind it, the image appears positive.

Additional flourishes, such as painting certain areas of the image to draw attention to a specific detail (such as jewelry or other objects), are also a trait shared by both ambrotypes and daguerrotypes. The daguerreotype is somewhat sturdier because it is copper and can withstand drops, falls, and general mishandling with little damage. Since the ambrotype haHistos a glass support, is more fragile. Perhaps this delicateness is another reason the ambrotype should be treasured and treated as an exceptionally special object. Look for these distinctive objects in your own family photographic collection.

The black fabric backing of this ambrotype has slipped below the image. Notice the top where the image practically disappears. This ambrotype from the Minnetrista Heritage Collection is an image of Edmund Burke Ball at age three.