Looking for an unusual Valentine? Try giving that special person a tintype of yourself.
The Smith and Son Tintype Gallery at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building can produce a perfect tintype of you - in costume, if you wish - in minutes.
Part of the 1976 Centennial Exhibition, the gallery has been operating for more than a year. "People love to give them as gifts," explains photographer Allen Janus. "The only difference in our tintypes from the original ones is that we use electric lights and take credit cards." An exhibition of Janus's photography will be on display soon at the Touchstone Gallery on P Street NW.
In the small studio at the Arts and Industries Building women can outfit themselves in a bustle dress ("very heavy, so dress lightly," cautious Janus) or a hoop skirt. A bonnet frames the face becomingly in velvet and lace. Men can dress as a Union or Confederate officer or a "gentleman" complete with top hat and frock coat. "Civil War buffs love us," Janus said. The young set is not forgotten. A Little Lord Fauntleroy suit accommodates a wide range of sizes, Janus said, pointing out its loose fit. A cap completes that outfit.
Tintypes followed the Daguerrotype of 1839, with the collodion process of working on glass being discovered in the 1850s. The name is something of a misnomer, as the tintype is done on aluminum plates, says Janus. "The only tin in tintypes is what goes into the happy photographer's pocket," he said, adding that this wry comment has been around for about a hundred years also.
The process was very popular during the Civil War, but soldiers were charged a whopping $1, when they earned only $13 a month. Actual processing cost less than a nickel, but the unscrupulous played on the sentiments of homesick soldiers.
Because of the studio's small size, the maximum number that can be shot is four, Janus says. Also, it's important to hold still for the required 20 seconds of exposure, so perhaps you can practice this skill before the actual session.
The cost is $8 for one person and $1 for each additional subject. That price includes the costumes. Frames are available at an extra charge. The gallery is open daily, 10 to 5:30.