An eBay vendor from central Illinois recently posted a sixth-plate tintype of Lincoln with a Buy-It-Now price of $500. The tintype had a copper frame and was housed in an embossed leather case with red velvet liner. It was copied from the Hesler photograph taken in June 1860. The same pose later was re-printed by George Ayres in 1891 and by King Hostick and the Henry Georg Studio of Springfield in the 1950s. All versions known are paper photographs. The vendor claimed this was an original tintype acquired through a purchase of a collection of tintypes assembled over the course of the last fifty years. He offered a money back guarantee. Someone pulled the trigger and made the buy. The vendor had one other item listed; namely, a newly-produced tintype of a period albumen showing Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack and other frontiersmen. He was representing that exactly for what it was… a new copy tintype. Apparently, making tintypes is what this guy does. Despite his guarantee, suspicions are aroused because the image was previously known only as a paper photograph, the quality is much too good to be a copy image dating from the 1860s, the surface of the emulsion doesn’t have the right look, and the image is flawless, despite being housed in an unprotected copper mat for the last 150 years.
A colleague contacted the vendor and was offered another example of the Hesler portrait (an alternate pose done at the same sitting) as well as a tintype of the “Solitary Pine” pose which we picture here. Apparently, this vendor has a second eBay account under a different name. We checked that out and saw a fake Brady CDV of Lincoln and a questionable post-mortem CDV of Jesse James, both albumen photos. Then, a third account/seller appeared with a tintype of Robert E. Lee! eBay seems to be “ground central” for a proliferation of fake CDVs and cabinet cards, most of which are color laser copies mounted on old boards. A careful hands-on examination of these spurious items by anyone familiar with the quality of the originals should reveal their tainted origins.
Still, many people will get hurt. Collectors should be aware that daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes are currently being made using the old, original techniques. Without knowing their origin and provenance, many of these will be problematic. Deal with reputable dealers. Be skeptical. Even if an online vendor offers a guarantee, use caution. It’s not worth the hassle of chasing someone down, located in the middle of nowhere, who may not return emails, phone calls or letters. The postal authorities won’t bother with claims under $25,000. Are you prepared to hire a lawyer you don’t know to prosecute someone else you don’t know and have never met who may not even live where you think they live? Be prudent and pick your spots. Don’t let the allure of a “good deal” entice you to act rashly.