Posted 6 years ago
This is a really great camera I sold many years ago. It is a handsome design but I simply ran out of display space. The body is made of fine polished mahogany with lots of nice brass hardware and a rotating back to change picture orientations (portrait to landscape).
A little background ... An interesting design challenge for early large format view cameras was to figure out a way to reposition the ground glass (viewing) frame for portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) orientations.
It's something you don't think about when taking pictures. Cameras from the early 1900s through today are small and easy to turn on their side for those "Kodak" moments.
The earliest wood cameras were very heavy and had large square ground glass assemblies that could hold plates in either position. Another approach, for later and smaller 1880s apparatus, was to simply turn the entire camera onto its side. But most of the cameras were very large formats and it was impractical to have the equipment on its side.
In 1883, Mathias Flammang invented a way for a camera to shoot portrait and landscape pictures relatively easily. His approach was to mount the viewing back so that it could rotate on a large brass ring. Flammang’s rotating back was patented on August 21, 1883 (patent #283,589) and offered by the American Optical Company in their front and rear focusing body patterns. (A front focusing version of this camera is also posted here on Show & Tell.)
The American Optical camera with Flammang’s rotating back shown here is a large whole-plate (6½ x 8½ inch) format. The camera has a hefty, solid brass Prosch Triplex shutter. The lighter color wood finish and bottom hinged rear tilting design indicates this is possibly an early model, c.1885.
An unexpected bonus was also found on the camera. The name L.B. Kirsten, Pho. is impressed into the wood under the front standard - most likely the owner of a small studio or an amateur photographer operating in the eastern part of the United States.
Flammang's Patent Revolving Back Camera included a canvas bag and made in standard formats from 4 x 5 inches to 25 x 30 inches. Considering the large size of this whole-plate camera (15" high x 18½" deep x 11½" wide), I suspect that the 25 x 30 inch model must have been the size of a small tool shed. The model shown here sold for $45 in 1885. This was a very expensive camera to purchase at the time; which would be about $1,197 in year 2015 dollars!