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Unknown American Field Camera. c.1890s

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    Posted 5 years ago

    (329 items)

    For my first post of 2017, I thought it should be something unusual and special. As background, it took me nine years to acquire this camera after first seeing it in another collection and, as far as I can tell, it’s the only example the collector community has seen. It defied my attempts to identify it back then, and still does now. Yet what a wonderful design. There are no markings and I do not believe it is a prototype. Most concept and prototype apparatus are typically crudely built and non-working. This 4¼ x 5¼ inch format camera (close to the 1/2-plate dag format) has first rate craftsmanship and the brass hardware fabrication has a lot of precision.

    This rack and pinion, front focusing design mimics what is known as an English Compact body pattern, yet the hardware is more advanced and complex. (This design means that the front lens standard lies against the bed when being closed and, after the lens is removed, everything packs into the rear portion of the body.) There is an odd shutter-like assembly inside the lens housing, two unusual shutter blade controls, and a rather large accessory viewfinder.

    Brass hardware is substantially more robust than what is typically seen on cameras of this style. The disproportionate use of heavier brass and inclusion of “bindings” (hardware added to reinforce wood corners to prevent wood warping and splitting) is rare for American cameras.

    For those of you into traditional view cameras, this particular example has a full range of movements such as front rises/falls and front and rear tilts/swings. There is also an incredibly novel ground glass extension mechanism that also relies on excessively heavy brass.

    In summary, whoever made this knew what they were doing and what they wanted. There are no miscellaneous or unnecessary construction points. It's also known that some craftsmen working for major makers (i.e. Anthony, American Optical, Scovill, and Rochester Optical) built their own personal cameras using the factory’s fabricating equipment. This camera has traits from all of those competing makers. Yet nearly all one-off apparatus are unmarked. This could be such an example.

    This camera will probably remain unidentified, but it has character and is enjoyable to fiddle with.

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    1. scottvez scottvez, 5 years ago
      Great camera-- good luck with the continued search for an id!

    2. vetraio50 vetraio50, 5 years ago
    3. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Scott ... yep, I'm still researching the camera.
    4. Manikin Manikin, 5 years ago
      Super camera ! Happy New Year !
    5. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    6. vintagelamp vintagelamp, 5 years ago
      That is the most beautiful camera that I have ever seen! A work of art in itself!
    7. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      officialfuel (Michael)
      Caperkid (Roy)
    8. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    9. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    10. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    11. Sting, 5 years ago
      Something came to mind right away.
      This looks like an ideal camera for a safari. The compact format. The large viewfinder, like express sights on a fine rifle, will allow the photographer to find the subject matter quickly. Especially important if the subject matter wants to eat the photographer. It may have been custom made, again like a fine rifle, and if that is the case money was not an object and neither is the need for the maker to identify themselves. Just a thought.
    12. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi Sting ... good thoughts and observations are generally correct. Your comment about the viewfinder is spot-on. However, the camera does not have a leather strap that is characteristic of field cameras for 'hand' use. At one time I too thought this was a high humidity environment design but there would be more 'bindings' and a thicker bellows material. Additionally, so called 'tropical' cameras were typically made of teak to withstand humid conditions and bugs. Also, I have three other one-off custom cameras in my collection and this could be a custom build. Thanks for looking and commenting! - Rob
    13. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    14. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    15. filmnet filmnet, 5 years ago
      Just remember which 4/5 camera i use for 25 yrs Sinar F1. Great!!!
    16. filmnet filmnet, 5 years ago
      Lenses were $$$$$$ i got a lot $$$ with this Camera 1990 -1999
    17. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi filmet ... Sinar is a great camera. Do you still have it and able to post here on S&T? What were your favorite lenses? Large format photography is the best! Thanks. - Rob
    18. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    19. collector_1 collector_1, 5 years ago
      What a beautiful camera!!
    20. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    21. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks for the comment, collector_1!
    22. filmnet filmnet, 5 years ago
      Sinar and Rodenstock macro lenses, this Rodenstock was $1,400. now 3,500. I had to get this because i was 8inch from fruits. I was working for Oceanspray, my shots were used on the fronts of juices
    23. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    24. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, Nicefice!
    25. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, thegatherer!
    26. Walt_league, 5 years ago
      Outstanding, not only the design, but the condition as well.
      Either a prototype or homemade by an excellent craftsman.
      Quite a find either way!
      Any indication as to the lens and shutter maker?
    27. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi Walt_league ... Thanks for looking and commenting. As I noted in the description, the camera's build quality is too good to be a prototype. I've discussed this camera with the Technology Curator at the George Eastman House and several top collectors of early apparatus. We agree it is a noteworthy one-off American camera. One collector (whose knowledge is unsurpassed in the area of early equipment and whom I have a great deal of respect for) called it "outrageous" and “ready for abuse.”

      Fabrication of much of the brass hardware truly surprises me. Some pieces have amazingly complex designs that required great skills. And there is another feature of the camera that I've never seen before on anything else; steel screws are used for brass-to-brass construction while brass screws are used when mounting brass to wood.

      The shutter is not very impressive and merely two blades similar (if you are familiar with shutters) to a Unicum in design but without the clockwork mechanics. It is not a 'go-and-return' design (blades open and then automatically close) and makes me think it is nothing more than a way to block light when changing plates, keeping open for composing on the ground glass, or for really long time exposures. Regardless, it's an efficient design and interesting.

      The lens is a rather rare J. Dallmeyer No.1aa wide angle based on an early rapid rectilinear optical formulation. It matches timeline of the camera and throws a decent image that fills the format. The lens board is interchangeable and at some point this camera might have had other lenses.
    28. Walt_league, 5 years ago
      I am amazed at what true craftsman can do. Camera shutters and pocket watches which employ extremely small and delicate moving parts which still work after 100 years, blows my mind.
      I wish the vintage camera market would take off again so that I can sell off my excess. I will probably just donate many of the run of the mill ones to the local theatres in my area for use as props. One just requested the use of a press camera circa 1960's for a production of the musical "Nine". So I'll lend them a 4x5 Super Graphic.
    29. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    30. courtenayantiques courtenayantiques, 5 years ago
      very cool camera!
    31. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
    32. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Hi Walt_league ... I'm a bit late getting back to you, but it would be great to see some of your camera collection posted here.
    33. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
      Thanks, oldpeep!
    34. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
    35. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
      Thanks, Johnsmith!
    36. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
      Thanks, tim-tim!
    37. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
      Thanks, yougottahavestuff!
    38. rniederman rniederman, 4 years ago
      Thanks, Lisa!

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