Wooden Field Cameras of the United States: 1870's-1930's

From 1870-1930, an explosion in field camera design occurred in the United States.  Rival firms patented designs for beds, reversing mechanisms and plate-holders at a breakneck pace.  The result is documented here: a database of wood and brass wet-plate and dry-plate field view cameras manufactured in the United States between 1870-1930.  Leather-covered hand and stand cameras have not been included; a database of them would have an even greater number of models and variations.

[above: a Rochester Optical Co. American Challenge Swivel Bed Camera 4x5" (1881-1887)]


[above: an E. & H.T. Anthony Fairy Camera Variation 2 5x8" (1896-1898)] made of Circassian walnut rather than mahogany

Using this website

What does a "Variation" mean?
     Some models of view cameras were manufactured over many years, sometimes by different companies, or in different factories.  These factors give rise to variations in appearance, design, or details.  Some of these variations can be followed from year to year in advertisements or catalogs.  Others are merely mysterious deviations in construction.  Still others arise from the use or mixing of old parts to create a camera which, in the view of the maker, was just as much the desired model as would be a camera that matched the catalog exactly.  As significant differences of either type are observed, and to keep them straight, I have called attention to them, by arbitrarily naming them Variation 1, Variation 2, etc. or even Variation 1A, Variation 1B, etc., attempting to list them in approximate chronological order of their likely period of occurrence. These designations only serve to separate the photos and engravings shown here, and may change over time if a new, earlier variation is discovered.

About the dates:   
     Approximate dates of manufacture are given. 
Dates of manufacture have been compiled from original catalogs and literature present at the George Eastman House and catalogs in private hands.
  If a model has been specifically introduced (as stated in company literature) or if a complete run of catalogs shows a definite starting or ending date, that date will be indicated without qualification.  A starting or ending which merely represents the first or last appearance in a catalog, which may not be from a complete run of catalogs, will be indicated as circa (c.).  Some manufacturers have few extant catalogs, in which case, the dates for their models may be wildly inaccurate.

Two ways to browse:
 1) by manufacturer (links on left side of page): choose a manufacturer and click the thumbnail of the model;
    2) by catalog: choose a catalog here - within the catalog images are hot spots linking to the model shown in the catalog.




Wanted: Original cases, especially canvas.  Big $$$ paid for 1890's original canvas or wooden cases that you would like to sell.  Also, any camera in these pages that is illustrated only with engravings and not photographs. 


Examples of View Camera Construction:  a number of trends in woods used, finishes, hardware, general construction, construction details, lenses, carrying cases can be discerned during this period of view camera variability.

Lenses and Shutters:  realizing that the cameras have attached to them a variety of lenses and shutters from the era, separate indexes and thumbnails have been provided for lenses and shutters, as well as information on their appearance in catalogs and patents.  For the most part, these images of lenses and shutters leave something to be desired, since they were pulled from existing images that were much larger.  Some of them are also out of focus, since the original purpose of the image was to illustrate the camera.  While pulling catalog data for lenses or shutters, it seemed logical to pull data for other lenses or shutters advertised from the same company; these entries refer to lenses or shutters for which no photos yet exist, but usually an engraving is available.





An Old Interest - A New Posting:
Images of H.H. Bennett, Kilbourn City, Wisconsin: Scenic stereographs of the Wisconsin Dells, Devil's Lake, Milwaukee, Chicago, Wisconsin and Minnesota; miscellaneous images of the Bennett family & identified portraits.  H.H. Bennett is one of the premier stereograph producers, who worked from the late 1860's through the 1900's, leaving a legacy of more than a thousand views.






Site Updates ~April 2014 and following:

Updates to catalogs include both an .html version (web page) as well as a .pdf version.  The .html version consists of a web page containing many files: one image file for each pair of catalog pages scanned.  The .pdf version consists of one file only; this file contains water-marked images of the entire catalog, and requires the Adobe pdf reader or equivalent to view it.

Recent Acquisitions:
Sunart Photo Co. (precursor to Seneca Camera Mfg. Co.) Vici View and Vidi View
Early plate holder box by Scovill Mfg. Co.; 
◊ E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. Fairy Camera split in Fairy View Variation 1 and Fairy View Variation 2 (Variation 2 is in the elusive Circassian walnut);
◊ Update on Scovill Mfg. Co. Ne Plus Ultra (A-D) and Ne Plus Ultra (No Letters) with two new examples;
◊ Update on Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Co./Blair Camera Co. Utility Variation 1, Utility Variation 2 and L.M. Prince & Bro. Prince's Improved Utility with two new examples;
Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Co./Blair Camera Co. Champion split into Champion Variation 1 and Champion Variation 2;
◊ Gundlach-Manhattan Optical Co. Korona Royal;
◊ Two new examples of Rochester Optical Co. New Model, Improved, Variation 2 (thick frame);
◊ Anthony Champion Variation 1 split into Champion Variation 1A, Champion Variation 1B and Champion Variation 1C, and emphasis of its relationship to Anthony's Amateur Equipment 1-8;
ФЕД (FED) Командирский (Commander) Leica copy c.1930s; no wood, but brass (1 out of 2 isn't too bad);
◊ New example of Anthony Novel Variation 2;
◊ Another example of American Optical Leader Camera (formerly American Optical Waterbury-type Camera);
Unknown Field View Camera No. 14, similar to Anthony Eureka School Camera and also Unknown 13;
◊ New example of G. Gennert's Burlington/Nancy Hanks;
◊ New example of Rochester Optical Co. Ideal Variation 2;
◊ The Scovill & Adams Co. Triad Detective Camera;
◊ New example of the Folmer & Schwing Co. Sky Scraper, Improved View Camera;
◊ Another example of the Scovill Mfg. Co. Ne Plus Ultra (A-D) in a stained finish
No. 0 Graphic - a tiny roll film focal plane shutter masterpiece
No. C Ordinary Kodak
◊ New model, kind of: Canadian Camera & Optical Co. Glencoe View Camera (actually Rochester Optical Co. Empire State Variation 2)
◊ New example of American Optical Compact View Variation 1
◊ 7x17" example of Folmer & Schwing Banquet Camera
◊ New example of American Optical Flammang's Patent Revolving Back Camera, Rear Focus, 5x7 with red Russian leather bellows
◊ Another example of the Kemper Kombi
◊ A second example of the tiny 3x4" American Optical/Scovill Petite View Camera
◊ An apparently unused example of Scovill Mfg. Co. Waterbury Variation 1
◊ A Kodak No. 2 (4x5) and some of its round snapshots
◊ A tricked-out Rochester Optical Co. Ideal Variation 1 4x5 outfit with two backs and an Eastman-Walker Roll Film Holder
◊ Another unique design from Schultze Photo Equipment Co. - Champion ? View Camera
◊ Seneca View Improved split into three: Variation 1, Variation 2, and Variation 3

◊ 14x17" Scovill & Adams Co. Acme with fancy spring back
Early? Seneca Camera Mfg. Co. view with rotating lens board
E. & H.T. Anthony Fairy View - in Circassion walnut
◊ Sunart Vidi View Camera
◊ Gundlach-Manhattan Opt. Co. Wizard Variation 4 View
◊ Tiny 4x6" E. & H.T. Anthony Victor in original case
◊ Yet another variation of the Rochester Opt. Co. New Model - New Model Variation 1.3 transitional between Variation 1 and Variation 1.5, which itself is transitional between Variation 1 and Variation 2, and earlier than Variation 3 and Variation 4
◊ Another example of the Imperial View
◊ A Putnam Marvel Vertical 4x5", a new example of a Scovill Mfg. Co. Favorite sold as a Putnam Marvel
◊ Another example of the American Optical Co. Star View in 5x7"
◊ Another William T. Gregg English-style View Camera (not from England but from New York City)
◊ A second example of the rare Rochester Opt. Co. (or William H. Walker & Co.) American Challenge Wood Base 5x8" Camera of 1883
◊ The American Optical Tourist Pocket Camera was placed in a canvas bag, as illustrated and stated in advertisements
◊ Comparison, timeline and breakdown study of the Scovill Acme (Back Focus Cone) View Camera and the almost identical but later American Optical Landscape View Camera.

◊ Two examples of what probably is the American Optical Landscape View Camera, formerly called Unknown Scovill View Camera.
Eastman Kodak Co. No. 1 View with its canvas case in near mint condition.

Folding Kodak No. 4 Improved (B&L Iris Diaphragm Shutter).
Gundlach-Manhattan Optical Co. Korona Royal Series VI.
Blair Camera Co. Champion Variation 1 in original canvas case.
◊ A second example of Scovill Ne Plus Ultra (No Letters), with original wooden case.
◊ A second example of Century Camera Co. Century View No. 2 with original canvas case.
◊ Another example of Rochester Optical Co. Universal View Variation 2 with original short form canvas case.
◊ A 5x8" version of E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. N.P.A. Variation 3 was added to the 8x10" version already there.
◊ Another 4x5" example of Rochester Optical Co. New Model Variation 1 (Beveled Bed) - this one has a rounded-end metal label on the front.
◊ A 4x6" E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. N.P.A. Variation 2 was added to the 8x10" version already there.
◊ A rare Scovill & Adams Knack Detective Camera.
American Optical Co. Dry Plate Equipment (No. 1-8) Outfit No. 4 with original wooden case.
American Optical Co. Universal Safety Shutter.
◊ The super-rare and expensive E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. Bicycle Camera.
Conley Camera Co. No. 1 Conley View Camera with original canvas-covered case.
◊ A new type of Schultze Mfg. Co. view camera re-sale: an E. & H.T. Anthony Champion Variation 1B with a Schultze metal label on it.
◊ Another instance of the Blair Camera Co. Unknown No. 3 - there are two of them now (one single swing and one double swing), and why does it not match anything in Blair catalogs?
◊ An early Rochester Optical Co. New Model Stereo having beveled base rails like the New Model Variation 1.
◊ A second example of a Folmer & Schwing Div., EKC 7x17" Banquet Camera - this one with a Folmer & Schwing film holder and the original Folmer & Schwing canvas case.
◊ c.1937 Folmer-Graflex Pre-Anniversary Speed Graphic in original small-form leather case.
Manhattan Optical Co. Long Focus Wide Angle Wizard.
◊ 11x14 Blair Combination RB Variation 1.
Scovill Ne Plus Ultra (A-E) No. C - an ebonized 5x8 including a single-lens lens board for normal mono photos and also a two-lens lens board for stereo pairs, with wooden case.
◊ Re-organization of the confusing group of camera models advertised as Anthony Amateur Equipment (No. 1-8B), separating them into Variation 1 (cameras having non-folding beds) and Variation 2 (cameras having folding beds), including tables to clarify the models in 1882, 1885 and 1887-89.  Addition of a c.1882 Outfit No. 5.
◊ Another Scovill Dry Plate Outfit (No. A-D) with case and American Optical/Scovill drop shutter, the exact combination seen in another Dry Plate Outfit example.
Century Long Focus Grand, a leather-covered box with a full view camera inside.
Early Seneca View Improved Variation 1.  Had to re-number the variations to make room for this unanticipated early variation.

Early Seneca Camera City Variation 1.  Seen in 1907 catalog.  Now all Seneca view cameras have been seen in the early hardware style that has the forward-back swing thumbscrew in a slot halfway up the side of the camera.
◊ Yet another American Optical Leader, this time having its ground glass hinged at the bottom.  This makes the Leader almost as common as the Waterbury, the cheaper Scovill product that it resembles.
◊ Rare scientific camera: American Optical Walmsley Photomicrographic Camera.
◊ Added a period canvas case to the Scovill Pocket Bicycle Camera - a canvas bag was advertised to have come with each camera. 
◊ 11-18-2015: Expanded description of American Optical 1871 View Camera Boxes into three models: View Camera Boxes, Number 1 (Model #1-7), View Camera Boxes, No Number (Model #21-28, later #51-58), and View Camera Boxes No. 2 (Model #40-50 & #130).  This was precipitated by the identification of an American Optical
wet plate camera that is likely Model #42, photos of which are shown under the View Camera Boxes No. 2 (Model #40-50 & #130) page.
◊ 11-20-2015: Flandreau 5x7 size added to the 4x5 size already shown.


Dime novel cover, below: It is 1888.  You skillfully blend into the crowd in your impeccable striped jacket and stylish top hat.  Your steely gaze transfixes your unsuspecting quarry as your finger poises in anticipation over the shutter button.  No-one notices, least of all the criminal, as you document the crime using your trusty Blair Hawkeye Detective Camera.