This photograph was sent to me a few days ago by Mary, one of my newly found American cousins. Thanks Mary 🙂 It was sent with the message “My mom had this in the John Dinnis folder” So I have been looking around for clues to try to determine whether or not this could be a photo of a young John Dinnis.
John Dinnis is the gg grandfather of myself and Mary, he was born in 1815. I have one other photograph of him, sent by another branch of the Dinnis family.
At first glance the person looks similar, the hand placement, eyes, nose etc show it might be the same man. Mary mentioned it is a ‘tintype’ which is a term I was unfamiliar with. Thankfully Mary also referred me to a website “All About Tintypes” where I learnt the following:
- Tintypes were patented in the USA in 1856 and remained popular until the 1930s.
- They were also called ‘ferrotypes’.
- They were quick to produce, cheap and durable.
- They are photographic images struck directly onto a thin iron plate.
- They came in a variety of sizes, from 1×1 inch to 6 and a half x 8 and a half.
- Between 1864 – 1866 a revenue stamp had to be on the back for tax purposes.
- The best way to date these is by the clothing worn in the picture.
As luck would have it there is also some information in the ‘Advice’ column of the December 2015 issue of ‘Family Tree’ magazine. This is a British publication, so focuses on different things. It mentions the tintype was scarcely recognised this side of the Atlantic until the 1870s. If it is John Dinnis he would have been living in Brighton, England at the time of this image. He would have been in his fifties in the 1870s, and I think he looks younger than that. It’s really hard to judge.
This magazine article also states:
“The higher class of photographer regarded them as cheap novelties, best left to beach and fairground operators who often pedalled these on-the-spot photographic souvenirs”.
Although our photograph is taken indoors, it appears they were also popular as outdoor photographs. John Dinnis lived right beside the beach in Brighton and perhaps there was a photographer who had a studio in the area. Time to go to the street directories of Brighton in the 1850s – 1870s.
I ended up spending most of the morning reading about Victorian photography in Brighton, trying to find the difference between daguerreotypes and tintypes. I get so easily distracted, I’m not even sure the difference is relevant to this post so I’ll leave that for now but leave a link below in case you want to learn a bit more!
The most interesting thing I found was on a website called spartacus-educational.com (link is below) where there are pages devoted to The History of Photography in Brighton. Here I learnt about William Constable, who opened Brighton’s first photographic studio in 1841. This was at 57 Marine Parade which is on Brighton’s seafront and within easy walking distance of Middle Street where John Dinnis was living in that year.
The interesting thing is that William Constable made three visits to America, the last one being in 1840. It was here that he learnt about the new art of photography, observing the early American dagguerreotypists and seeing the commercial potential of producing and selling photographic portraits. This is where the difference between the dagguerreotype and tintype becomes of interest, although the processes are very similar.
This article comes to the conclusion that
“It is therefore possible that when William Constable returned to Brighton from America in 1841, he already had some knowledge of the daguerreotype process”.
As we have seen, Constable opened his first studio in 1841 and he remained there until his death in 1861.
So, it is possible that the photograph/tintype is John Dinnis and it was taken in Brighton in Constable’s studio in the 1840s. John would have been in his thirties, which looks around the age of the man in the image. However, I don’t feel I can say definitely this is John Dinnis as on reading another book (How to get the most from Family Pictures) this still maintains the date for early tintypes in Britain is 1870. I can’t find another photograph of a man, indoors wearing a top hat, holding a cigar, at least I assume it’s a cigar.
So to summarise what I think I can see in the photo. A gentleman around 30 – 40 year of age, a full beard and moustache neatly trimmed, wearing a three-piece suit, the waistcoat buttons are in the middle, so it’s single breasted and the buttons are large. The collar of the shirt is small and neat and the tie looks like a bow tie. He is wearing a top hat and a frock coat. He looks to have cuff-links on the sleeves of his shirt. He appears to be holding a cigar. No doubt I will return to write some more about this!
- Family Tree Magazine, December 2015
- How to get the most from Family Pictures, Jayne Shrimpton