Posted 5 months ago
Lots of collectors say they love the ‘hunt’; well, that describes me. When a camera appears on my ‘Most Wanted’ list, the fun (so to speak) begins.
This is a 1870s wet plate camera designed to shoot four images on a single tintype plate. Made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company, it’s smaller than others of the time and rarer. It also the filthiest camera in my collection; then again, it will stay that way. In the world of really early cameras, restoration and cleaning is a ‘no no.’ The so-called ‘filth’ is actually dried collodion – nasty stuff when ‘wet.’
This was an eBay win from long ago, and before the camera arrived, I asked the seller about its provenance. Much to my surprise, he related a story about how it was found over 40 years ago - in a "one-holer" outhouse in Etna, Maine!
While waiting for the camera, I began to wonder if it acquired some "personality" after unceremoniously residing in the most "privy" of all places. Within a week the camera arrived. As layers of bubble-wrap were carefully removed, brief glimpses of four lenses could be seen, then polished wood, then ... brown residue ... uh oh ... "sniff" ... the camera smelled. Yikes!
Literally holding my breath, a tentative but not to close examination, allayed my fears. I gazed upon layers of early photographic chemistry that dripped from who knows how many plate holders onto the rear standard. A great sign because I consider collodion stains a badge of honor. And fortunately, it was the musty odor of 100+ years of accumulated dust I smelled. < Sighs of relief! > This camera was a "shooter," and in remarkable condition considering where it was ‘sitting’ all those years.
"Shooters" in good condition are noteworthy cameras, experienced workhorses earning their keep day in and day out. Gazing at this "one holer" Scovill, it’s still easy to visualize the photographer going through a traditionally messy collodion ritual; mixing chemistry, patiently coating plates, quickly loading plate holders, taking pictures, and developing an image before the stuff could dry.
Satisfied with the results, the itinerant photographer would move on and repeat the process - dripping more layers of goo onto the camera. Unlike dry-plate cameras, the wet plate process exacts a toll on the apparatus. No matter how careful and nimble fingered a photographer was, collodion got on everything and, over time, decays the wood - and you can see the results in the second picture.
I still wonder about the scenes that might have softly illuminated the ground glass in 19th century Etna, Maine. Who used it? What did the camera see? And more importantly, how did it end up in an outhouse?
CW’ers … let’s hear about your memorable collecting moments!