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Henry Clay Stereoscopic Camera, 1892-99 (not all vintage cameras are pristine)

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    Posted 9 years ago

    (337 items)

    I’m often asked about the condition of the cameras in my collection and why they look so good. Are they restored or do I restore them? Neither ... I’ll do preservation but not restoration. The cameras I post here on CW are 100% original but they get some leather conditioning TLC (i.e. preservation / archival conditioning to slow leather rot ... that sort of thing). And after 30+ years of collecting, I’ve been fortunate to find exceptional examples of lesser condition cameras. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen and the camera shown here is one such example. (Oh well, at least I have one of the 2 or 3 known to exist.) Anyhow, I thought to post this camera on CW to show that some of my cameras are not in excellent condition. But in a way, I really enjoy how these cameras were used and exhibit lots of personality.

    Shown here is a rare Henry Clay Stereoscopic that dates to about 1898. As you can see, it is not pristine and the body leather is just hanging in there. In the grand scheme of things, and in spite of the bad body leather and some missing parts, this is actually a pretty nice Henry Clay. It’s an oddity because the American Optical Company made exceptionally fine equipment yet nearly all Henry Clay cameras have really poor outer body leather (if any). The only preservation work done to this camera is an application of some archival goopy stuff (takes about a week to make) that stabilizes dry rot. Otherwise, it sits on display as shown here.

    As far as the obligatory history stuff (I know you all live for this), the camera was offered from 1892 to 1899 and priced at $80 in 1898 (about $2,205 in 2013 currency adjusted for inflation); a rather expensive piece of equipment for serious amateurs. In a review appearing in the 1892 issue of the American Annual Of Photography And Photographic Times Almanac, the American Optical Company described the allure of stereoscopic photography:

    “It is commonly known that of all pictures, those which are arranged to give the stereoscopic effect when viewed in a stereoscope, convey the true impression of perspective and solidity. It seems strange, indeed, that of the myriads of instantaneous pictures made, so few are taken with reference to their future use in connection with the stereoscope, for it is only by that means that the idea of animated life can be conveyed. I can only assign as the reason the present almost universal use of hand cameras, and that none of them have, up to this time, been arranged for stereoscopic pictures.”

    So why bother? In a nutshell it’s a historically important camera as the first of its kind that filled a hole in my collection.

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    1. SEAN68 SEAN68, 9 years ago
      very beautiful!!
    2. Bootson Bootson, 9 years ago
      Great post!

      I found an old Stereo Realist viewer last week that had a few slides with it.

      I have seen them before, but not for a while, and was struck by the wonderful 3D quality of those 60 year old images.

      It is strange that there isn't popular modern day iteration.
    3. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Bootson ... I believe that stereoviews, popular in the 1950's and '60s, probably fell out of favor as TV became popular. There were other attempts such as the 1953 6-lens Lentic (120 rollfilm) and the 1980s 4-lens Nimslo (35mm). Both created images using the lenticular method but neither had staying power because of costs and the time it took to get pictures back. We're now seeing attempts in the digital world but nothing is holding (3D flatscreens, 3D smartphone displays, etc.). Supposedly Amazon's new Fire Phone has a 3D display of some sort but I don't know the details.

      Thanks aghcollect and geo26e!
    4. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, kerry10456!
    5. shareurpassion shareurpassion, 9 years ago
      That's a beautiful camera. Lots of great info here. I have my grandfathers browning and I remember opening it once, years ago, to find that it has a roll of film inside. I doubt this film has any images left on it, but do you suppose there may be a chance of that?
    6. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Hi shareurpassion ... thanks for stopping by. It is possible to develop old film. There are people who understand the specific steps that can be taken to reduce age related fogging during the development process. However, this assumes that the film was fully wound onto its take-up spool and sealed to avoid being exposed to light when you opened the camera back.

      Thanks Phil and DrFluffy!
    7. shareurpassion shareurpassion, 9 years ago
      Ah, I don't remember, it's been a very long time since I opened it. Thank you rniederman, for taking the time to let me know, I appreciate it.
      I would love to see is the film does develop.
    8. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Eric!
    9. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, vetraio50!
    10. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Bootson!
    11. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, michaeln544!
    12. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, David!
    13. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Michael!
    14. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, shareurpassion!
    15. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Perry!
    16. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Moonstonelover21!
    17. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, f64imager!
    18. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, ho2cultcha!
    19. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Rivertrout!
    20. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, fortapache!
    21. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Manikin!
    22. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Moonstone!
    23. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, pops52!
    24. Carymark Carymark, 9 years ago
      Hello, Nice vintage camera! I didn't even know they made stereo cameras that long ago. Growing up my father took a billion trillion 3D stereo photographs of us. He had the Kodak Stereo camera with the Kodak viewer that I still have today. He was the only person that I ever even saw using one when I was growing up. I did see one like it at Harry Truman's home in Independence, MO when I went on a tour. Only camera that he ever used until he died. Nice part about the 3D slides were they were on Kodachrome film and when I pull out the family pictures they are absolutely perfect. No fading and the colors are perfect.
    25. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Hi Carymark ... thanks looking and the compliment. Stereo photography was first practiced as early as 1841. The earliest techniques had a single camera move on a frame to get a 3D effect, or two cameras mounted side-by-side. By the mid-1850s, specialized cameras with stereo lenses were being made. I have posted several stereo cameras here on CW; the earliest is an 1860s wet plate stereo view camera:

      Otherwise it would be terrific if you posted here on Show & Tell pictures of your father's camera and some of the images he shot. - Rob
    26. Carymark Carymark, 9 years ago
      Interesting! I would post my Dads camera, but they are pretty common. I see people selling the Kodak stereo cameras and viewers all the time on Ebay. If I posted a picture you would not get the 3D effect otherwise I would. I have found that I can digitize one of his 3D slides taking a picture right through the viewer lens with my iphone 5 and it comes out very good. Kind of a non professional way to do it, but I was very surprised at how they came out. I have had negatives made from the slides and printed and the iphone pics look really just as good.
    27. Rhiannon77, 9 years ago
      This is a beautiful camera!
    28. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks again, Sean!
    29. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Rhiannon77!
    30. rniederman rniederman, 9 years ago
      Thanks, Fairshadow!
    31. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      Thanks, tom61375!
    32. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      Thanks, sugargirl and sanhardin!
    33. modernprimitive, 8 years ago
      Hi, I wonder if you can help me. I have come across a huge collection of late 19th-early 20th century stereoview photographs, some of them expressly taken for my grand-grand parents of their fields and homes, and others from different cities, monuments, etc, like Paris, London or Madrid. I would love to digitize some of them and I don´t know if is there any scan for these kind of antique images.
      I have been able to scan some of them with a good scanner, just as a solo picture, not both in 3D, but most can´t be scanned properly because the lid doesn´t close and when the light scans the images, the result is a blurred redish image.
      I have another scanner for 35 mm slides, since I have tons as well, and works great, and I wonder if is there any scanner in the market that may scan glass stereoviews pictures?
      Any help will be much appreciate it!
    34. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      Hi modernprimitive ... I am checking with a friend who does this a lot. He has a camera and image auction website and posts pictures of glass stereoviews, transparencies and so forth. Thanks. - Rob
    35. modernprimitive, 8 years ago
      Hello rniederman, thank you very much in advance! I very much look forward to hearing from you.
      Best, Ruth
    36. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      Hi Ruth ... the approach is to put the glass views on a light box and photograph the image from above. The camera is held in place on a copy stand to ensure it is parallel to the image. Most art stores sell light boxes. Hope this helps. - Rob
    37. modernprimitive, 8 years ago
      Thank you very much Rob!!! Pleased to meet you!
    38. rniederman rniederman, 8 years ago
      And if you do make copies of the glass stereoviews, please consider posting them here on Show & Tell.
    39. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, Camera_turk!

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