At Renninger's Antiques Market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, I purchased some old photographs from a vendor. I paid five dollars for this tintype. Once I started examining it, I wanted to know: When was this photograph taken? Who are the people in the photograph?
Using the internet I have discovered the following. Gill's City Gallery was a photo studio run by William L. Gill from 1859 to 1882.
The names Henry Stehman and John Stehman are written on the paper holder. The two men in the photograph certainly look like brothers. Having asked several people, the consensus is that these men are somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-eight years old.
There was a Henry B. Stehman who was born in 1852 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who went on to become a famous doctor who treated lung diseases and who founded a sanatorium in Pasadena, California. While I don't have definitive proof that the man on the left is this Henry Stehman, the other evidence supports this possibility. If Henry was twenty-five when the photo was taken, then the photo was taken in 1877, a date that is consistent with the years of operation of Gill's City Gallery and the use of the tintype process.
Unlike many photo processes, which have a negative and can easily produce multiple copies, tintypes are one-of-a-kind. Often a multiple lens camera was used to simultaneously take four images onto one metal plate. The developed image was then cut with tinsnips into four separate photos, hence the name "tintype". With a black border on the left and top, the Stehman portrait looks like the upper left corner of a larger plate that was imprecisely snipped from the larger sheet.
A photograph has an uncanny ability to capture personality and detail whether it's a tintype from the 1870s or a digital image from 2011.
Image from flickr.