Posted 5 years ago
Something not often thought about is how images in the 19th century were enlarged. Today we take such things for granted, but prior to 1900 it wasn’t easy and the concept of enlarging negatives was relatively new in the 1880s.
What looks like a fancy piece of polished furniture is actually a surprisingly beautiful c1890 “Amateur Enlarging Camera” by S. Wing and Company, Charlestown, Mass. The camera was designed to enlarge 4x5 inch negatives to 5x7 inch prints; or 2½ inch Kodak images to a 3½ inch circular image.
As a side note, Kodak's famous "you press the button, we do the rest" marketing campaign was taking off like a rocket in the 1890s. The popularity of snapshots is probably the reason this enlarging camera was built.
Pre-1900 enlarging cameras are somewhat scarce, and the Wing enlarging camera is especially rare – actually, the camera shown here was recently acquired and the only known example of any Wing enlarging apparatus. As such, it is unexplainable why amateurs did not embrace the idea of making enlargements.
Aside from its rarity, Wing’s Amateur Enlarging Camera is exciting because it might represent the first attempt at a solid body design. Prior to this camera, ‘enlarging cameras’ (also known as process cameras) were complex, professional large bellows apparatus reaching over 6 feet in length. Yet by the 1920s, amateur, solid body enlargers were almost common.
In contrast, Wing’s enlarging camera was strictly made for amateurs; and at about 26” in length, it was lightweight and extremely easy to use. Inside the finely crafted box is a lens tube affixed to a board in the middle. To make an enlargement, a 4x5 glass plate was held in place at one end by a pair of brass pins and a 5x7 sheet of film or paper was placed inside a holder at the opposite end. There was nothing else to do but expose the negative to a light source.
As background, cameras made by Simon Wing are rare and highly prized by collectors worldwide. Wing first learned to make daguerreotypes at the age of twenty and became accomplished in other photographic processes throughout his career. However he is best known for a chain of studios and incredibly innovative multiplying cameras. Interestingly, Simon Wing also helped organize the Social Labor Party in 1892 and was its first presidential candidate. That year Grover Cleveland (D) won the election with over 5.5 million votes. According to two different sources, Simon Wing received a total of 21,000 or 70,000 votes.
Refer to the following link to see a rare 4x5 field camera by Simon Wing: http://www.antiquewoodcameras.com/wingv.html