To the editor:
The McDuffie Museum’s Civil War display is ending at the end of January. You still have time to see the many images of soldiers and politicians taken during the war. The most valuable image on display is a signed carte de visite of Gen. Robert E. Lee. A carte de visite is just what you would guess it was, if you tried to translate the French words into English: Carte would be card, de would be of, and visite would be visit. Therefore, it would mean a visiting card that someone would present to a butler to announce a visit to the person being visited.
It would be a calling card, or a business card, with your picture on it. People began saving, or collecting, these cards. People not only wanted their own cards but those of famous people, from royalty to actors, which they put into albums next to their families. Civil War soldiers became the rage. Signed cards were the most desirable, and the rarest.
My most favorite of all the images on display is the little fellow shown here. He is on a tintype, a thin picture about 2½ inches by 4 inches. The advantage of using a thin, tin-dipped iron plate, instead of an ambrotype’s glass, or a carte de visite’s paper, was that it was not fragile, could be sent through the mail, and was easily carried. It was relatively cheap, and multiple images could be made on a single plate and cut apart. The process became popular in 1856 and was still being used through 1920.
The thin iron plate was blackened by painting or enamelling and was used as a support for a gelatin of silver crystals. The gelatin reacted to the light of the subject to produce an image on the plate. The tintype had a fast film speed permitting a short exposure time, a great advantage when taking portraits. When dry, they were sometimes put into cases, but tintypes in sleeves were the common way they were produced.
The boy, who looks like he’s about 3 or 4, is wearing a replica Confederate uniform. He is holding a homemade toy rifle with a sling. This image is exceedingly rare, and represents the hopes, and desires, and longings of the Southern people during the war. They wanted to display their pride in home and country. They felt then just as all people do when their country is at war.