Posted 9 months ago
These are the two earliest cameras in my collection and I wanted to highlight one of the most significant design changes in the history of photography; the addition of a bellows. From this point forward, nearly all makers updated their designs to include a bellows which helped decrease the bulk, size and weight of cameras.
The earliest cameras were primarily solid body boxes or sliding box-in-box designs. They were extremely large and heavy. One of the earliest and best-known American designs is the “American Chamfered Box.” Although the maker is unknown, this c.1850 ½-plate camera is basically a rosewood veneered box with a lens at one end and ground glass and holder for plates at the other. Both the front and rear have chamfered corners.
The smaller 1853-54 ¼-plate camera (at the front), also covered in rosewood veneer and having chamfered corners, was made by Palmer & Longking. This design, also known by collectors as the “Lewis style,” is historically important because it includes the first commercially successful use of a bellows. Adding a bellows increases the focusing range for a wider variety of lens types.
At first glance the cameras look different, but they are very closely related. The Lewis styled Palmer & Longking is simply a variation of the solid body camera in which the box is separated into two parts (front and rear), mounted on a base, and connected by a bellows.
By the 1890s, an incredible variety of small, bellows folding cameras helped usher in a new generation of amateur photographers. George Eastman also used bellows in hundreds of his Kodak roll film cameras which became a huge part of his inventory through the mid-twentieth century.