Discover Vintage America -MARCH 2018

A brief history of photography

While cleaning out some files on my computer I noticed quite a few questions on cameras and photography. I thought that I would present a brief timeline on major inventions in photography, discuss the various types of photos created and the cameras that made each type of photo.


People generally have gravitated away from film cameras and now use cameras on phones or have digital cameras. In my opinion, the quality of a photograph is much better in a good old-fashioned print, but with a good graphics program you can manipulate digital images, highlighting the convenience of digital photography.

I am especially fond of black and white photos and it is not that difficult to set up a darkroom in a bathroom or any room that can be darkened and has running water. But with the advances in digital photography the art of taking a picture and developing it is almost a lost art. A digital camera is easy to use, but in my opinion most digital images basically look the same.


Much like the renewed interest in vinyl records, we are seeing some resurging interest in traditional photography. There is an art to being able to manipulate the settings on a camera, the use of different lenses and knowing which lens will work best to get the mood you want. If you take on developing your own film you can further manipulate the final product.

Collecting old photographs is a wonderful hobby and it won't drain your bank account. You are preserving a small piece of history with each photo you buy and properly store. Most of the photographs you see in antique shops and shows are daguerreotype, ferrotype (tintype), ambrotype and contemporary film to paper images.

As to price, the subject matter and condition are very important. Photos of famous or infamous people will bring a good price if made using one of the early processes. Keep in mind that these are easy to reproduce so purchase only from a reputable dealer. There are people who collect photos of modes of travel, children with toys, little girls with old dolls, the deceased. Subject matter can often sell for more than an old photo of an unknown subject.

Just the other day I came across an Eastman box filled with glass plates, unfortunately they are all exposed so now I have to figure out if I can reverse that process.
If you have old images you would like to share we would love to see them.
Happy hunting. Garage sale season is just around the corner.

P.D. Eastman

Photography timeline

Here is a timeline of important photographic advances. The technology for taking a photograph and developing it has been a long and winding road.

• 1727, Johann Heinrich Schulze discovered that silver nitrate darkens upon exposure to light.

• 1794, Robert Barker created and opened the first Panorama, the forerunner of the movie house.

• 1814, Joseph Niepce created the first photographic image using a camera obscura. This was a major advancement in projecting real-life images, yet eight hours of light exposure was needed and the image faded rather quickly.

• 1837, Louis Daguerre's first daguerreotype hit the scene. This was an image that was fixed; it did not fade and required 30 minutes of light exposure. This is why in daguerreotype images most people are not smiling.

Diamond Gun Ferrotype camera

• 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the collodion process so that images required only two or three seconds of light exposure. This is known as an ambrotype.

• 1857, Hamilton Smith gets a patent on the ferrotype process (tintypes) in America. A very underexposed negative image was produced on a thin iron plate. It was blackened by painting, lacquering or enameling, and coated with a collodion photographic emulsion. The dark background gave the resulting image the appearance of a positive. Unlike collodion positives, ferrotypes did not need mounting in a case to produce a positive image. A tintype is easy to detect. Since the image is on a thin sheet of metal you can often see some rust around the edges and the image quality is not very good.

• 1871, Richard Leach Maddox invented the gelatin dry plate silver bromide process, which means negatives no longer had to be developed immediately.

• 1880, Eastman Dry Plate Company is founded.

• 1888, Eastman patents Kodak roll-film camera.

• 1898, Reverend Hannibal Goodwin patents celluloid photographic film.


• 1900, First mass-marketed camera, called the Brownie, goes on sale.

• 1913/1914, First 35mm still camera is developed.

• 1935, Eastman Kodak markets Kodachrome film.

• 1942, Chester Carlson receives a patent for electric photography (xerography).

• 1948, Edwin Land launches and markets the Polaroid camera.

• 1960, EG&G develops extreme depth underwater camera for U.S. Navy.

• 1963, Polaroid introduces the instant color film.

• 1968, Photograph of the Earth is taken from the moon. The photograph, Earthrise, is
considered one of the most influential environmental photographs ever taken.

• 1973, Paul Simon writes Kodachrome song.

• 1978, Konica introduces the first point-and-shoot auto focus camera.

• 1980, Sony demonstrates first consumer camcorder for capturing moving picture.

• 1990, Eastman Kodak announces Photo Compact Disc as a digital image storage medium.

• 1999, Kyocera Corporation introduces the VP-210 VisualPhone, the world's first mobile phone with built-in camera for recording videos and still photos.




Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.