Mid-19th Century (British?) Soldier with rifle, Gutta-percha case

My latest cased image acquisition. In contrast to the daguerreotype pair I just purchased, this is a tintype in a brass mat and frame in a gutta-percha (thermoplastic) case.

Case in Gutta-percha
Case in Gutta-percha

The case on this was even lovelier than I expected – there are no major chips or cracks, and the lock is in good working order. Oftentimes the clasping mechanism has become bent over the last 150 years and either tries to form a hermetic seal or refuses to hold the two halves together at all.

When you buy something like this, you never know entirely what you’re getting. Sellers don’t always describe everything with 100% accuracy, as much out of ignorance as anything else (rarely is it ill-will – lots of people just don’t know a lot about what they’re selling). This was described as of a post-Civil War US Army soldier. The fact that it is a tintype and not an ambrotype or a CDV would lend credence to that theory, as tintypes were immensely popular after the war, and although not exclusively an American phenomenon, their greatest popularity was in the United States. However, several things about the uniform suggest that A: it is not American, and B: it is potentially pre- or inter-war. In researching US Army uniforms, I found several uniform stylings from the 1840s-50s that bear a resemblance to the jacket he is wearing. But in my understanding of US Army uniforms (hardly encyclopedic) there was never a pith helmet issued. The rifle appears to be a percussion-cap rifle, which if American, could be an 1840s Harpers Ferry Arsenal product.

Another possibility is that this is a cadet at one of the private military academies. I can rule out The Citadel, VMI, and West Point as possibilities as their uniforms are sufficiently different, particularly in the cuffs of the sleeves.

Soldier Tintype, mat, frame and glass packet
Soldier Tintype, mat, frame and glass packet

This photo was taken out-of-doors as can be seen from the grass in the foreground stopping at the canvas backdrop.

You can also see on the scan of the tintype out of its packet that there are scuff marks from the mat. They appear to match the mat, but this is not definitive. The case just feels wrong for the image – it seems to be earlier than the image, and much fancier than you would associate with a tintype. My instinct tells me that sometime after the image was made, someone decided to do a case-ectomy and swap the original case, be it leather or a paper sleeve, for this one. The scratches to the emulsion also seem to suggest that this image was not in a case for its entire life.

British Soldier Tintype, out of packet
British Soldier Tintype, out of packet

One thought on “Mid-19th Century (British?) Soldier with rifle, Gutta-percha case”

  1. I agree with you that something else was in the case earlier (an ambrotype or dag of a forgotten love or maybe a cracked image.) What a beautiful case it is! Thank you so much for sharing.

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