Preserving Military History: A Company of Tintypes

military tintype

Preserving Military History: A Company of Tintypes

It is always an honor to preserve a piece of history. It doesn’t matter if we’re working on a personal project like restoring a photo of someone’s great uncle or a project where the piece was an actual part of our country’s history — it’s a remarkable feeling. We’ve worked on a number of those “actual” history projects over the years from framing president’s signatures to restoring oil paintings of army generals. It’s always exciting when we get to work on historical works because we get to learn more about how that person/place/etc impacted our world. 

The Maryland Museum of Military History brought in a project that did just that. The Museum had acquired a tintype display of an entire military company. It was common for Civil War soldiers to photograph themselves individually, but this collection had portraits of each member that were photographed in the same place and time. It is a rare find, but it had suffered damage over the years. Our task was to stabilize, restore, and preserve this piece for future generations. 

military tintype

Original framing and photo damage.

A Company Framed

The company on display was the B Co., 2nd Regiment, Maryland Eastern Shore Volunteers. According to The Maryland Line, “This unit spent much of the Civil War occupying the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. However, in June of 1863, they were ordered to Baltimore to protect the city and reinforce the Army of the Potomac in repelling the invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania by the Confederate Army under General Robert E. Lee…Although B Co. had suffered several defeats, their overall participation in the campaign was one small piece in a larger strategy that would prove successful to the Northern war efforts.”

This collection suffered normal wear and tear from sheer age as well as damage from improper framing and storage. The tintypes were fastened using double stick tape. The emulsion on the photographs was crazed due to humidity. A few tintypes had flaking emulsion and oxidation on the copper housing. Mary Lou and Amy developed a strategy to complete the restoration. 

military tintype

The restored piece.

Restoring History

The piece was photograph, both overall and individually. We then worked to remove the copper housing on each tintype for cleaning and repair. The flaking and missing pieces were carefully re-attached, and each tintype was re-secured in their copper housing using conservation materials. 

In order to provide the utmost protection, the tintypes were individually sealed against humidity and had a small piece of museum glass placed in the copper housing. We sealed the overall frame using conservation methods and materials, including Optimum Acrylic (a lightweight museum acrylic that protects art from harmful UV rays). We used a new mat and polished the frame to give it a freshened up look. 

This frame of B Co. is just one small object that The Maryland Museum of Military History has on display in their home at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore. There are amazing uniforms, memorabilia, stories, and more that tell the story of Maryland’s military history. You can learn more about B Co. in The Maryland Line.