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I’m guessing that most people received candy in their Easter baskets this year. Well, the Easter Bunny knows I like something a little different (and less cavity-inducing). Even still, I was surprised to find this little gem hiding in my basket!

This is an ivorytype. It is a photograph embellished with oil paint. As a result, the photograph appears very similar to a painted miniature portrait. The process varies based on time period and geographic location. Ivorytypes were invented in London by John Jabez Edwin Mayall during the mid-1850s. Initially, photographic images were transferred to thin ivory sheets or faux ivory plates made of hardened albumen gelatin. To transfer the image onto the “ivory,” a gold-toned positive collodion transparency was placed over top.

In 1858, Frederick Wenderoth invented the American ivorytype, which he called the Toovytype. While the look is much the same as the English version, the process differs quite a bit. In the American process, a salted paper print was varnished or glued beneath clear glass with wax. Painted paper was then placed behind translucent wax areas. Wenderoth altered this process to accommodate a direct image transfer to white glass.

For some fun primary source material on ivorytypes/Toovytypes, check out the August 5 and November 18, 1864 articles in the British Journal of Photography.

My photograph corresponds to Wenderoth’s latter Toovytype design. The image is fixed onto a white glass plate with fine oil-painted details on top. The framed photograph is relatively small by today’s standards, measuring only 2 ¾ by 3 ½ inches. In comparison to a painted miniature, it is somewhat large. The frame has an attached hanger, as well as a brown linen easel on the back.

Photographic processes like the ivorytype negatively affected portrait painting. Ivorytypes could be obtained for a fraction of the cost of a painted miniature portrait. The ivorytype was an accessible compromise for the public, which is why it appeared in my Easter basket 150 years later.  

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