Posted 4 years ago
As a collector and historian of vintage American wood and brass cameras, learning the lore and legacy of early equipment is as important as collecting. A couple years ago, I was fortunate to obtain the Anthony Bicycle Camera shown here. This is the only known example and is historically exciting as the first camera purposely built for bicyclists. Yet it is ironic to note that other companies overtook Anthony as leaders in designing and selling 'cycle' style cameras.
E. & H.T. Anthony introduced the tiny Bicycle Camera in 1885 when high wheel bicycles were immensely popular and amateur travel photography was coming into its own. To make it attractive to cycling enthusiasts, Anthony advertised a Bicycle Equipment outfit: Everything wheelmen would want; small camera with lens, camera mount, and even an optional telescoping brass rod that turned a high wheel bicycle into a make-shift camera stand.
Anthony stuck with the belief that cycling and photography were destined to be together and continued to advertise the Bicycle Camera until at least 1895. Scovill, Anthony's biggest competitor, also felt that the "two amusements are now often combined," and offered its own Pocket Photographic Outfit for Bicyclists in 1892.
Yet the marriage of bicycles and cameras was more or less a trial. Anthony's and Scovill's outfits were nothing more than small field view cameras, which although portable, had large cases and were cumbersome to set up and use.
The exceeding rarity of these first cameras is unexplainable; especially since Anthony advertised the Bicycle Camera nearly ten years. Could rarity be due to a lack of popularity or from inevitable events that destroyed the cameras such as crashes (often called headers when falling from a high wheeler) and tipping bicycles used as stands?
Bicycles and itinerant photography finally enjoyed a healthy and prosperous relationship by the mid-1890s from two key innovations: safety bicycles (widely regarded as the most important development in the history of bicycles) and small self-casing, folding cameras. Strangely, Anthony, the company that started it all, was not along for the long term ride.