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1891 Henry Clay Camera - a rare American camera

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Wood Cameras69 of 188Bullard Folding Magazine Camera, Series B, c.1898Rochester Optical Company Folding Premier Camera, 1892
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Posted 1 year ago

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rniederman
(159 items)

This camera is one of my favorites for a couple reasons. First, it is rare and historically important. But more importantly, this is the camera that moved me from being a casual collector to researcher / historian of early photographic apparatus. It was undocumented at the time I acquired it in 1997, and research took over a year to finally identify the specific model and date of build. The effort led me to contacting and getting to know many of the collecting elite as well as meeting the technology curator at the George Eastman House. The thing that struck me was how closely knit the camera collecting community was in helping each other out.

As it ended up, this particular Henry Clay camera dates to 1891 and is historically important as the first American self-casing camera (a camera that folds into its own case to protect fragile parts) to shoot glass plates. This original model sold for $50 in 1891; or the equivalent of $948 in year 2000 currency - a very expensive camera for the time. It’s quite rare with only a couple examples are known.

Yet my fondest memory was how it was acquired. I used to travel to Milwaukee weekly for work, and one day I stumbled upon an antique show during lunch. Inquiries to dealers about early cameras pointed me to a local resident who was known to have a decent collection. Better yet, he and his wife were florists with their own shop, so it would be easy to meet.

After a couple days of phone-tag and camera bantering, the seller brought two cameras to his shop. But if you were visiting the business at the time, seeing the two of us haggling in the middle of a dirt parking lot on a hot 90+ degree summer day with car trunks open would have looked like something a bit illicit.

Comments

  1. walksoftly walksoftly, 1 year ago
    Great story behind this one, love it!
  2. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, mustangtony!
  3. amandabuns amandabuns, 1 year ago
    That is a beautiful camera! Wow!
  4. PhilDavidAlexanderMorris PhilDavidAlexanderMorris, 1 year ago
    A great story and that is part of the camera now, the memories of acquiring it and also getting to meet the curator must have sparked more interest and at least a few answers to your questions. It looks like a real gem !~
  5. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, walksoftly!
  6. epson233 epson233, 1 year ago
    great story -- and absolutely a beautiful camera -- thanks for sharing
  7. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Eric!
  8. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, officialfuel!
  9. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, amandabuns!
  10. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Phil! ... Connecting with 'elite' collectors and getting to know the GEH curator was quite a turning point, and I've continued the relationships to this day. The GEH curator contacts me from time-to-time for opinions on some cameras. I also discovered a camera in the GEH collection that was relatively unknown but is now fully annotated.
  11. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Sean!
  12. scottvez scottvez, 1 year ago
    Rob-- I just added a full image view of the early steam automobile to my posting. Have a look!

    scott
  13. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, bratjdd!
  14. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, epson233!
  15. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Designer!
  16. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, egreeley1976!
  17. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, John K!
  18. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, sugargirl!
  19. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, AntigueToys!
  20. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Scott!
  21. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, sanhardin!
  22. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Chevelleman69!
  23. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, f64imager!
  24. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, michaeln544!
  25. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Longings!
  26. smsorensen27 smsorensen27, 1 year ago
    This is really really cool! We also collect cameras (we have a little over 50) but not any that are this old!! Super cool! Then oldest one I have is a 1909:

    http://www.camerahistoryproject.com/camera.php
  27. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, smsorensen27 ... appreciate you stopping by and adding some 'love.' I specialize in pre-1900 wood & brass cameras ... actually, this is one of my 'younger' cameras. It's always great to see more collectors join the CW community. As background, I've been popping a variety of different styles of cameras on CW for 3 years now (as well as some other stuff). Otherwise ... keep posting!
  28. smsorensen27 smsorensen27, 1 year ago
    Yeah I don't have any wood cameras yet. I am on the hunt for one!! But those ones tend to be a little bit more pricey on E-bay :) I am hoping to find one in a shop somewhere during traveling! :) But the wood cameras are really really nice looking
  29. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, petey!
  30. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, miKKo!
  31. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Hardbrake!
  32. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, egreeley1976!
  33. rniederman rniederman, 1 year ago
    Thanks, Henry!
  34. rniederman rniederman, 3 months ago
    Thanks, farmlady!
  35. Windwalker, 2 months ago
    great story and its nice to see all the time you put in to your camera's and to teach us all as well....thank you
  36. rniederman rniederman, 2 months ago
    Thanks, Windwalker!

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