It's been a few weeks since I posted, but summer vacation and writing an expanded article on Petzval lenses has consumed a great deal of my time. Anyway, I recently purchased a fairly rare John Roach Petzval portrait lens. Roach was one of the earliest opticians and dealers in Daguerreian equipment in the United States. He, along with Henry Fitz, were probably the best known opicians during the 1840's in America.
A short bio from the Smithsonian website:
John Roach (1813–1891) was born in Ireland. By 1833 he was in New York, identifying himself as an instrument maker. He joined in partnership with Henry Warner soon thereafter. Advertising in the American Railroad Journal for 1837, Roach & Warner offered to supply "Wholesale Dealers and Country Merchants" with surveying compasses and other instruments "of their own manufacture, warranted accurate and at lower prices than can be had at any other establishment." This advertisement reflects an appreciation of the westward expansion of the country, as well as a concern for price at a time when America was experiencing a severe economic depression. By 1841 Roach was again in business on his own, offering daguerreotype materials (this photographic technique had been introduced, in Paris, in 1839) as well as other optical and philosophical apparatus. He moved to San Francisco in 1855, and was soon the leading instrument dealer on the West Coast. At his death, he was succeeded by his longtime employee, J. C. Sala.
Roach's photographic pursuits seem to have been from about 1841 until the mid 1850's when he moved from New York City to San Francisco and was more heavily focused on surveying equipment.
John Craig's Daguerreian Registry has the following information on Roach:
Please keep in mind in the advertisements below you may find the word "camera" which would used at the time to refer to a lens.
In the book, A Treatise on Daguerreotype; The Whole Art Made Easy, Part I, by Levi L. Hill, published in 1850, Roach is mentioned as a reliable dealer. Additionally, a letter from Roach to the author is included in the appendix of the book. Those selections are shown below. Note Roach writes about providing both S.F.B. Morse and Alexander Wolcott with lenses.
Image Copyright AntiqueCameras.net
Image Copyright AntiqueCameras.net
Image Copyright AntiqueCameras.net
This half plate sized lens features a tangential drive for its rack-in-pinion focusing (knob missing), which is typical of European manufacture and was also the primary construction found on portrait lenses in the US prior to about 1850 when radial drive lenses began to appear.
Given the scarcity of Roach engraved lenses, its difficult to pinpoint the age of this lens, but a rough estimate would be 1848-1850 based on the serial number. I assume the glass for this lens was ground and polished by Roach and the tube was purchased and probably imported from Germany. In fact, the lens barrel appears to be very similiar to Voigtlander's barrels of the 1840-1860 period. You can see the Voigtlander lens in the post below to compare.
In 1855, Roach went west to San Francisco to focus on his engineering and surveying equipment which would have been in high demand at the time. He would spend the next 35 years producing high quality instrumentation in San Francisco. Some of those instruments can be seen on this site. Below is an advertisement from 1890.
July 28, 2013
Voigtlander Petzval Portrait lens. This lens dates to 1864. It is Voigtlander's # 3a lens which is made to cover the whole plate format (6.5"x8.5") when shot wide open. Using stops (none included) will help this cover 8x10 format. The focal length is 286mm with a back focus of 8 inches (200mm). Front lens is 3-1/8" diameter while the rear is 3-3/16" diameter. Flange has an inside diameter of 103mm and 125mm outside. Lens weighs just under 5 pounds. Stands 8.4 inches tall. Includes original flange and hood. Rack in pinion works fine once mounted to camera. Lens speed f/3.7.
In an 1864 catalogue, the lens is listed as the # 3 a, with the "a" meaning it came with waterhouse stops.
In an 1876 catalogue, this lens was back to being called the # 3 lens
July 15, 2013
Some sad news to report. Mike Kessler, a "founding father" in the world of photographica collecting, has recently passed. While I never met Mike personally, his contributions to the hobby have been noteworthy and important. One of his significant contributions, besides sharing his passion for photographica with a great many, was his production of, "The Photographist," a scholarly journal related to camera collecting and a periodical of the Western Photographic Collectors Association. Mike's research and writing is second to none.
Mike is also known for his discovery of the famous Plumbe Daguerreotypes that featured the earliest views of buildings in the nation's capital. Among the images were daguerreotypes of the United States Capitol, the White House, two views of the General Post Office, the Patent Office, and a monument commemorating the Battle of North Point, located in Baltimore.
Rest in peace and Thank you.
Mike among part of his beloved collection:
Image taken May 2010 by Rob Niederman
Mike also contributed an article to the new book, Antique Photographica edited by Bryan Ginns as shown in my post below.
Although difficult to segue from that sad news, I did want to add more content to today's post. Ebay continues to serve up some juicy early images. Two CDV's, featuring early cameras, recently sold for big money.
The first image features an "artist" among his tools. One of the tools is an American Chamfered Box Daguerreotype camera fitted with a Petzval lens (actually the lens appears to be a half plate lens on a quarter plate camera). This image sold for $ 1,378 based on its tremendous content. Image is circa 1860-1862 base on its lack of borders around the image.
Image Courtesy Ebay User mrchris1984
A second image features a photographer with his wet plate camera. The back of the CDV also features the following writing in pencil, "H. Courtney Your humble servant I paid $80.00 for this instrument - it is for large photos Got it from Kansas."
Based on this images borders, one thick and one thin gold line, this item is circa 1864-1869. Image sold for $ 1,581.
Image courtesy of Ebay User azarchive
June 30, 2013
Cowan's Auction house frequently brings fine photographic items to market. Two weeks ago, they auctioned an American made Daguerreotype Camera which sold for $ 10,800 (includes a 20% buyers premium). The Lewis style half plate camera features a non-chamfered front standard which indicates a late 1850's manufacture date. Matt Isenberg has dated these cameras circa 1857 in his essay on early equipment. From my own research, I believe these were made from about 1856 until about 1860. The end date of 1860, is based on four of these cameras I have examined that feature original lenses known to date a bit later than 1857 and much closer to 1860, including my own version of this camera which features a later CC Harrison lens which is c. 1859. The lens on the Cowan's camera is from Jamin and while I don't know if the lens is original to the camera, I do know that based on the lens' engraving, it was manufactured in 1861 or 1862.
Additionally, Palmer & Longking (later just Longking), who assumed William H. Lewis' (the original maker of this style camra) photographic business in the early 1850's, was still advertising Daguerreotype apparatus for sale as late as the summer of 1859. While certainly circumstantial, I am fairly confident in this assertion that these later Lewis style cameras were made until about 1860.
An advertisement from Longking that was published in Trow's New York City Directory published in June 1859 is shown below.
Image Couretsy and Copyright Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
Last fall, Kaminski's Auction house auctioned a 1/4 plate Daguerreotype of a young man with his American Chamfered Box camera. The plate was in very fine condition and featured a fine portrait of presumably, a photographer. While the estimate was for $ 5,000-7,000 USD, the final price realized a whopping $ 15,000 ! Toss in the buyer's premium of 20%, and the total bill was $ 18,000.
Image Courtesy of Kaminski Auctions
Image Courtesy of Kaminski Auctions
Of course this auction made me think about my own purchase of a 1/6 plate Daguerreotype from last year featuring a gentleman with his American Chamfered Box Daguerreotype camera. While in comparably rough condition, the plate was restored by Casey Waters to a very acceptable state. I wonder what this Dag would fetch at auction ?
Collection of AntiqueCameras.net
Before and after pictures of the restoration
Below is a brief video of the restoration results. If you are viewing on an Apple product, the video may not display - in that case, click here to see the video. Be sure to watch in 1080 HD !
I am constantly on the lookout for new reading material relating to collecting photographica. With little fanfare, a quality new book has just hit the market. Edited by early image dealer, Bryan Ginns, Antique Photographica: The Collector's Vision, is a collection of articles written by twenty image and camera collectors / scholars. In most cases, each author writes about their personal collection within an overall theme.
The book is of very high quality, produced on heavy paper stock with high resolution images. A visual treat. The content is a bit more weighted to early images, but if you have any interest in 19th century photographica, this is well worth the $ 53 price of admission. The hefty, hardcover book is 288 pages in length and 9x12" in size.
Click below to see the book on amazon.com
More new titles include Photography and the American Civil War. By clicking on the link below you can access pages within the book to get a flavor of its content. It is described on amazon.com as:
"Photography and the American Civil War features both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers (sometimes in the same family) preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles, and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (1863), this beautifully produced book features Civil War photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others."
And lastly, a new biography on Mathew Brady is set to be available on August 6th. Sample pages can be seen by clicking the amazon links below. It is described as:
"In the 1840s and 1850s, "Brady of Broadway" was one of the most successful and acclaimed Manhattan portrait galleries. Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Dolley Madison, Henry James as a boy with his father, Horace Greeley, Edgar Allan Poe, the Prince of Wales, and Jenny Lind were among the dignitaries photographed in Mathew Brady's studio. But it was during the Civil War that he became the founding father of what is now called photojournalism and his photography became an enduring part of American history.
The Civil War was the first war in history to leave a detailed photographic record, and Mathew Brady was the war's chief visual historian. Previously, the general public had never seen in such detail the bloody particulars of war--the strewn bodies of the dead, the bloated carcasses of horses, the splintered remains of trees and fortifications, the chaos and suffering on the battlefield. Brady knew better than anyone of his era the dual power of the camera to record and to excite, to stop a moment in time and to draw the viewer vividly into that moment.
He was not, in the strictest sense, a Civil War photographer. As the director of a photographic service, he assigned Alexander Gardner, James F. Gibson, and others to take photographs, often under his personal supervision; he also distributed Civil War photographs taken by others not employed by him. Ironically, Brady had accompanied the Union army to the first major battle at Bull Run, but was so shaken by the experience that throughout the rest of the war he rarely visited battlefields, except well before or after a major battle. The famous Brady photographs at Antietam were shot by Gardner and Gibson.
Few books about Brady have gone beyond being collections of the photographs attributed to him, accompanied by a biographical sketch. MATHEW BRADY will be the biography of an American legend--a businessman, an accomplished and innovative technician, a suave promoter, a celebrated portrait artist, and, perhaps most important, a historian who chronicled America during its finest and gravest moments of the 19th century."
Here are more book recommendations:
June 9, 2013
Daguerreotypes became such an integral part of society and an economical way for people's "perfect likenesses" to be remembered forever, they served countless purposes. One such purpose, was to have Daguerreotypes made of those who had just died, young or old. These images have become known as post-mortem photography or memorial portraiture. A far less common, but related use of Daguerreotypes, was to have them affixed to tombstones to remember the fallen when visiting their graves, however the images used were almost always of the person when they were alive.
A few examples can be found on the internet, please click pictures below to me more:
Image from Beth Santore
Image from Doreen of Ohio Blog
June 2, 2013
Given Voigtlander's role as photography's premier lens maker, it's interesting to note that finding precise records of their lens production from the 1840-1850 period has proven difficult. In over a year of research, I have to yet to find contemporary or modern sources that reveal this information in any detail. This is in marked contrast to the post-1850 period of Voigtlander's production which is fairly well documented and verifiable.
During my research, I had the chance to grab a piece of Voigtlander history by purchasing lens # 611. While any Daguerreian era lens is an exciting find, a 3 digit Voigtlander is a fairly rare beast - especially one in original condition. # 611 is a whole plate Petzval lens, about 10 inches tall and with a 3 1/2 inch diameter barrel. I've yet to make precise focal length and aperture measurements, but it's likely to have an 11" or 12" focal length with a working aperture of f/4.
You'll find Voigtlander lens # 611 below, followed by my latest research concerning production dates and serial numbers. I estimate that lens # 611 was produced in 1842.
Images owned & copyright by AntiqueCameras.net
May 25, 2013
Items from the Daguerreian era (1839-1859) are becoming harder and harder to locate, however, Ebay remains a good source items. Recently, a business card from Marcus Ormsbee was offered on ebay and sold for $ 338.00.
According to Craig's Daguerreian Registry;
"Marcus Ormsbee: First listed as a daguerreian in 1842, at 62 Milk Street, Boston, Mass. In 1843 he was listed in the Boston directories without a business address, and lived at 2 Head Place. From 1844 to 1846 he was listed as a daguerreotypist at 144 Middle Street, Portland, Maine; and from 1846 to 1848 at 112 Middle St., Portland, in partnership as Ormsbee and Silsbee (G.M.). In 1850-1851 he was listed alone at the same address. In 1851 he was listed as a daguerreotypist at 203 Washington Street, Boston, Mass., in partnership as Ormsbee and Silsbee. The new gallery was not opened as of July 1, 1851. From 1852 to 1854 he was listed as a daguerreotypist at 203 Washington Street, and advertised "Ormsbee's Patent talbotype, phototype and daguerreotype house, the largest in the world!" The gallery was located at the corner of Bromfield Street. In 1855 he was listed at 203 and 777 Washington Street, and lived on Third Street. From 1856 to 1860 he was listed at 203 Washington Street, with various residence addresses. In January, 1864, Ormsbee was mentioned along with Whipple (J.) as being among three or four photographers still taking daguerreotypes."
My additional research would reveal that Marcus was born in 1813 in Connecticut, according to 1860 census records. He married Harriett Knight of Dudley, Massachusetts in 1833. He also had two children, Herman W. and Louise, and lived out his remaining years in Brooklyn with the last entry from city directories being in 1888.
Based on the above information and from other ads from Ormsbee, the business card below, likely dates to 1852-1854. This coincides with the very height of popularity of the Daguerreotype and is also the time period most extant Daguerreian business cards were printed.
Image Courtesy of Ebay User kronos12344kxt
An ad from 1853. Can you figure out the puzzle ?
Ormsbee would have a long career and even had a few photographic patents issued to him. Patent 39,166 was for a rolling device to mount photographs, Patent 46,382 was issued for a picture frame and Patent 46,927 was for a print washing device.
However, it was Ormsbee's relationship with Simon Wing for which he is primarily remembered. In 1855, Albert Southworth, of Southworth and Hawes, patented a plate holder for cameras, # 12,700 that allowed for multiple images on a single plate. A very valuable improvement for studio photographers. This patent would be reissued and assigned to Simon Wing in 1860. Wing, in turn, issued Marcus Ormsbee exclusive rights to use this feature in New York City. Wing manufactured a camera featuring a multiplying back and would team up with Ormsbee and market what eventually became known as the "Ormsbee & Wing Multiplying Camera Box." The camera would only be sold to those willing to pay for the patent rights for its use, a very unpopular business practice that caused significant rancor among photographers.
Wing's patent rights would be challenged throughout the 1860's and photographers were seemingly infringing upon the patent by taking multiple images on a single plate. The legal question that ensued was the validity of Southworth's original patent given there was evidence that multiplying backs were in use as far back as 1846, possibly negating Southworth's original patent and Wing's assignment of that patent. There was also a question as to Southworth's patent differing enough from Wing's use and claims to invalidate Wing's rights. The most significant lawsuit was Wing v. Schoonmaker which eventually reached the Supreme Court. Despite lower court decisions in favor of Wing, he ultimately lost his claims of infringement. It was denied by the Supreme Court on appeal for "want of novelty in the original and because it is for a different invention from that in the original. Infringement is also denied."
From an 1866 issue of Humphrey's Journal
May 19, 2013
The invention of the Daguerreotype immediately prompted experiments to employ artificial lighting in order to illuminate images. It was magnesium that was the highly flammable substance of choice for these experiments. Although quite expensive, by the mid 1860's, magnesium prices had declined some and magnesium ribbon was manufactured in large enough quantities for the photographic community to start employing it on a more regular basis. Magnesium provided a very bright light source and was made to be more or less controllable using special lamps which utilized magnesium ribbon to create what would become known as "flash lamps."
While the ribbon provided a fairly steady output of light, the light was not significant enough to reduce exposure times to create instantaneous images. However, by the late 1880's, with the dramatic increase in amateur photography and with magnesium prices dropping further, flash powder was introduced, which mixed magnesium with oxidizing agents to further promote rapid combustion and provide for a significant and an instant burst of light. By 1890, speeds as high as 1/80 of a second were obtained utilizing flash powder, although the purity of the magnesium and the lamp used for ignition influenced the duration of the flash. Interestingly, commercial studio photographers were much less inclined to use magnesium based lighting due to the significant amount of smoke and the potential fire hazards associated with it's use.
With the price of magnesium low enough and with the great demand created by amateurs wishing to use portable artificial lighting, manufacturers developed a significant number of apparatus utilizing flash powder and magnesium ribbon from the 1890's through the 1920's. As time passed, magnesium ribbon was used far less for taking images, but its bright, steady output of light was used for print making and enlarging in the darkroom.
In 1925, magnesium wired flashbulbs were invented which eventually led to the demise of the use of flash powder and ribbon based products, but from about 1890 to 1920, there were a significant number of products featuring magnesium based technology.
Flash powder lamps from the late 1880's and 1890's
Click below to see a video of a collector using magnesium powder in a flash pan style lamp.
By 1900, magnesium ribbon products were made quite inexpensively for amateur use in the darkroom or to provide the photographer with continuous light for making photographs.
One such magnesium ribbon holder was the "Flash Pistolmeter." Made in England circa 1907, the holder featured beautiful graphics in bold colors.
Images courtesy of Ebay User oddozzie
Kodak would go on to make a very popular ribbon holder in 1913, selling for 20 cents.
Image courtesy of Ebay User themintedone
Click here to see other early flash related products
May 8, 2013
LW Kranz, a former Voigtlander employee, went out on his own and produced lenses beginning about 1860. Also located in Braunschweig, Kranz went head to head with Voigtlander by producing Petzval, Orthoscope (Orthoskop) and landscape lenses. Presented below are catalgoue pages from July 1861.
Kranz Petzval lens. Image owned and courtesy of Westlicht Auction House
Kranz Orthoskop lens. Image owned and courtesy of Westlicht Auction House
April 28, 2013
A few resources for you to peruse. First is a copy of E.H. & T. Anthony's 1870 Catalogue. This is the complete catalogue including a full listing of the Dallmeyer Patent Portrait lenses. The second is from the British firm of Bland & Co. from 1864 containing the section of their catalogue dealing with lenses. This has an important listing of Voigtlander Petzvals as well as Ross and other makers. Lastly is an 1887 Catalogue listing from the British firm of Marion & Co.. In addition to Marion-branded lenses, this catalogue also includes details about Voigtlander's Euryscope lenses in addition to listings from Ross, Swift and Dallmeyer.
Voigtlander's "Metal" Daguerreotype Camera, first produced in 1841. The camera was actually called, "Voigtländer's Apparat zur Erzeugung photographischer Porträte," which is roughly translated to "Voigtlander's apparatus for the production of photographic portraits."
April 20, 2013
A recent business card added to my collection is from Daguerreian, P.B. Marvin. The card not only features advertising on both sides, the reverse features an optical illusion (an "inversion illusion") that adds to the card's charm.
Collection of AntiqueCameras.net
While the front of the card is very similiar to other Daguerreian's cards of the 1850's, it's the reverse that makes it special.
The smiling man remarks how he had his Daguerreotype taken at Marvin's.
Rotate the card 180 degrees, and now you see an angry man who wished he had his Daguerreotype taken at Marvin's.
While John Craig's Daguerreian Registry only has the following entry for Marvin, "photographist, 116 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa., 1852-1857," I have come to learn a bit more about the artist including the fact that he actually started at 116 Chestnut sometime before 1851.
P.B. Marvin is listed in McElroys Philadelphia Directory at 116 Chestnut St, first in 1851 and each year thereafter, with the last entry being in 1857.
Civil War Draft Registration records published July 31, 1863 list P.B. Marvin as being 35 years old, originally from New York and his occupation is listed as Photographer.
The Library Company of Philadelphia produced a fascinating exhibit in 2009 called, Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839-1860 (click to see the online version), which had the following to say about P.B. Marvin, "Marvin had a Chestnut Street studio for five years during the 1850s, but little is known about his career. The pride he took in his work, however, is evident in his unusual decision to etch his name and address into the daguerreotype plate."
The Daguerreotype mentioned is shown below courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia:
As mentioned above, Marvin no longer appears in the Philadelphia directory in 1858. However, he reappears a few years later on the backstamp of some Carte de Visites ("CDV"). But first, some background is necessary. Robert W. Addis was also a Daguerreotype operator and owned studios in various locations in Pennsylvania, primarily Lancaster. In 1860, he was listed as a Photographer for the James E. McClees Gallery located at 308 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, D.C. McClees was a prominent Daguerreian artist in Philadelphia, and like Marvin, had a studio located on Chestnut Street during the 1850's, along with his partner W. Germon. An incredible image of their studio can be found here. McClees, established in 1845 in Philadelphia, was a highly regarded Daguerreotypist and early practitioner of paper photography. In late 1857, McClees opened a Washington D.C. gallery at the 308 Pennsylvania Avenue location. According to the book, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary 1840-1865 by Peter E. Palmquist, it appears in 1860, Robert W. Addis began working for McClees as his primary photographer. Addis would produce many Civil War portraits and publish them for public consumption just as Mathew Brady did. In fact, Brady's Washington D.C. studio was also located on Pennsylvania Ave (#625) and undoubtedly competed with the McClees gallery.
Two different CDV's showing the relationship of Addis to the McClees Gallery
To continue, Addis appears to have assumed ownership of the gallery in 1862, perhaps 1863. Not only is the supported by a CDV that now only lists Addis in the copyright imprint (see below), but also other dated 1862 CDV's that now show a backstamp listing Addis, but no longer McClees. By 1864 (the date being supported by tax stanp use), the backstamp lists the gallery located at 308 Pennsylvania Ave to be the Addis Gallery.
But wait, where does Marvin come in ? Well, the CDV's that feature the imprint of the Addis Gallery (c.1864) now list a new photographer for the gallery. Guess who ? P.B. Marvin !
That's the end of our story, but questions remain. Did Marvin know McClees from their days operating their studios on Chestnut Street (likely) ? Did Marvin go to Washington D.C. to work at the McClees Gallery during the period from 1858 to 1863 ? Was Marvin working under Addis until Addis took over the gallery from McClees and then was promoted to be the primary operator for Addis ? We know that Addis sold the gallery in 1867 to Antonio Zeno Shindler, but at this point, we lose track of Marvin. What became of him after the mid 1860's remains a mystery.
April 6, 2013
Charles Louis Chevalier (1804-1859), son of Jacques-Louis-Vincent Chevalier (1770-1840), was an important member of a Parisian family of opticians that played a key role in supplying the very first lenses for Daguerre's equipment. But, Chevalier's connection to Daguerre goes back years before 1839. In fact, the Chevalier family had numerous business dealings with both Niepce and Daguerre in the 1820's in supplying them lenses for use in camera obscuras.
I won't go into depth regarding Chevalier's role in supplying camera lenses as it well documented and easily found on the internet. Instead, I am supplying a few sources of information including a catalogue produced in 1863 by Charles' son, Arthur, who took over his father's business in 1859. Although the Smithsonian owned catalogue also features Chevalier's microscopes (their main product for over 60 years), I am only showing the pages related to photographic lenses.
In 1961, Rudolph Kingslake published an article in Kodak's IMAGE bulletin regarding Chevalier:
An example of Chevalier's Photographe a Verres Combine, image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com. Item "C" in the catalogue above.
Early Daguerreotype lens marked, Daguerreotype, Par Vincent Chevalier, Ing. Optn. Brevete, Quai de l'Horloge 69, Paris.
Lens sold for $ 10,000 USD in 2005. Image courtesy of Skinner Auction House.
Charles Chevalier marked lens, item "B" in the catalogue above. This lens is Chevalier's achromatic landscape lens.
Another version of the landscape lens. Smaller format lenses were not cone shaped. Image courtesy of Leicashop.com
Chevalier's Portrait (Petzval) Lens, item "A" in the catalogue above. Image courtesy of mwclassics.com
I recently added a photographer's broadside (handbill) to my collection. Not only does it feature a great illustration of the photographer with his clients, but it's also dated ( Jan. 1867 ) and from Dedham, Massachusetts, which is about 10 miles away from where I was born and raised.
Copyright 2013 AntiqueCameras.net
My February 17, 2012 blog post featured information on Richard Walzl, a very successful photographer and prominent photographic stock dealer in the second half of the 19th century. Walzl was also a terrific marketer and published numerous photographic journals which incorporated items he had for sale for over 20 years - many of which featured superb cover illustrations. I recently acquired an October 15, 1885 issue of his journal, "The Photographer's Friend."
My constant searching of the internet for new information on 19th century photography, led to me a well researched article on the famous Scovill produced journal, The Photographic Times. Read here for that interesting piece.
March 24, 2013
If you are a collector of pre 1900 cameras and related photographica, there's no doubt you are aware of Prosch shutters. Not only are these shutters items of immense beauty, but their Rube Goldberg-like designs are something to marvel at.
The story of the Prosch shutters really begins in 1839 with George W. Prosch and Samuel F.B. Morse. Prosch worked for Morse as his instrument maker, including working on Morse's telegraph. Prosch's shop was located in the basement of Morse's building located at 142 Nassau Street in New York City. When Morse became aware of the Daguerreotype process, he immediate requested Prosch in late 1839 to build him a camera so he could experiment with the newly discovered process. That camera currently resides with the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian (shown below).
George W. Prosch would go on to become a Daguerreotype artist as would his sister, Charlotte. Charlotte was one of the earliest and best known woman Daguerreian artists. In fact, many members of the Prosch family had connections to the photographic industry.
"George Prosch, born in 1812, was the oldest of the children. He became a manufacturer of scientific instruments, and was a master worker in his line, which included chronometers, electric batteries, picture taking- apparatus and the like. He claimed that with a camera of his own invention he took the first daguerreotype in America. He also alleged that he was entitled to much of the credit that went to Professor S. F. B. Morse for the invention of the telegraph, the mechanical work being all his. Thomas Edison learned his trade with George Prosch. He (George) had his shop in Coytesville, New Jersey, where he spent the last twenty years of his life in seclusion, on account of an infirmity of his wife. He had two sons — Frederick and Cyrus. Fred became a school teacher. Cyrus took up his father's business, opening a shop in New York City, where he is said to have worked out many improvements in the photograph business."
Cyrus N. Prosch (1849-1920), would indeed follow in his father's footsteps as an instrument maker. In 1882, he patented a telegraph key, and then in late 1883 built a working version of his first model shutter which he filed a patent for in January 1884. The shutter was originally known as the "Prosch Instantaneous Shutter" but eventually called, the Eclipse. The February 1884 issue of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin ("APB"), first mentions the existence of this item.
Then, in the March 1884 issue of APB, a full drawing and description of the shutter is published.
Feb. 1884 APB
The full patent for the shutter can be found here. It's also interesting to note that Prosch assigned the patent to the E.H.&T Anthony company.
By late 1884 / early 1885, Prosch had brought another model shutter to market, the so called Duplex. While the Eclipse was fixed to the front of an existing lens, the Duplex shutter would sit between lens groups of a chosen lens, typically a rapid rectilinear or symmetrical lens. The "duplex" feature of this shutter was that it could be used to take instantaneous or timed exposures. The supplied lens' own apertures were used when fitted to this shutter.
In an 1885 issue of The Philadelphia Photographer, there is a brief mention of the Duplex and its features.
1885 Advertisement for the Eclipse and Duplex shutters:
Note that the Duplex allowed for changing speeds via a combination of setting a tensioned spring located on the back of the shutter and how fast or slow one would squeeze the pneumatic rubber bulb. The fastest speed allowed for was about 1/10 second. This particular version of the Duplex was filed for patent in December 1885 and issued in November 1886.
Here is an example of the first version of Prosch's Duplex shutter. Images courtesy of Scott Bilotta.
Prosch would continue in late 1886 and in early 1887 to make small modifications and improvements to the Duplex. One improvement was offering, as an option, rotary stops to be part of the shutter. This would allow for the ability to easily change apertures and do away with separate stops the lens may have had. Another improvement was having the option of a "Silent Time function" which allowed the user to quietly self-set the shutter to shoot a timed setting. Lastly, was the addition of "slow instantaneous attachments" which helped control speeds more effectively rather than soley relying on the pressure of the bulb release. These changes also precipitated the tension spring moving to the front face of the shutter. This made it far more simple to adjust speeds and one didn't need to remove the shutter from the camera to adjust it. During this transition phase from about late 1886 until early 1887, the Duplex was first marketed as the "Improved Duplex" as shown below in a book published in January 1887. Early models were marked "Patent Appl'd For" while later models were engraved with the patent date. From about mid-1887 on, the Duplex would be marketed as the "Triple Improved Duplex" to highlight the three added features of stops, silent time and slow speed control."
Note: "Improved Duplex"
Note "Patent Applied For" (missing some parts). Pre Nov. 1886 model
Later version with Patent date engraved and installed rotary stops
Two different tension springs were supplied with the Duplex shutters - a "weak" and a "strong" spring. These would further expand the range of speeds available to the photographer. The July 29, 1887 issue of The Photographic Times, featured an article by someone testing speeds on their Duplex shutter.
Although a bit hard to read, using the "strong" spring in notch 4, speeds of 1/240 second were obtained.
By the summer of 1887, the Duplex achieved its final form and was called the "Triple Improved Duplex" and would remain in this configuration for the rest of its product life. Note however, that the silent time function (which added an air cylinder on the left of the shutter) and the rotary stops were still options.
Based on the number of advertisements for the Duplex from about 1885 until the end of the century, coupled with the number of extant Duplex shutters, it's safe to day this shutter sold very well. Despite that, however, one can find numerous mentions of "shutter bounce" and double exposures caused by the Duplex shutter. One lengthy and complicated article on the subject is found in the June 16, 1888 issue of The Philadelphia Photographer which is shown below:
The Duplex would continue to be sold through the end of the century, but that didn't stop Prosch from bringing more shutter models to the marketplace. In 1888, he brought the Prosch Rapid shutter to market. This model featured speeds from 1/100 to 1/1600 or so claimed an article in Wilson's Photographic magazine in its May 16, 1891 issue. It was a bit of a specialty shutter as it only featured instantaneous speeds and was recommended for use at race tracks and athletic competitions.
Prosch Rapid Shutter
In early 1889, Prosch brought out his Triplex shutter, a further improvement on the Duplex. Whereas the Duplex was known for its two main functions of instantaneous speeds and timed settings, the Triplex was so named for its three functions: quick instantaneous speeds up to 1/250; slow instantaneous speeds from 1/50 to 1/4 and the ability to take timed exposures.
Also brought to market in 1889, were the Duplex and Triplex Stereoscopic shutters and Duplex and Triplex Detective shutters.
Duplex Stereoscopic Shutter
Triplex Stereoscopic Shutter - Courtesy of Ebay User Jerolyn-2
In 1892, Prosch brought out his Athlete shutter which featured speeds to 1/300 or 1/400 second depending on the size. Prosch later added an Athlete Special model which produced speeds up to 1/600 second. An example and line drawing are shown below.
Athlete Special Shutter - Image Courtesy Misterken on Flickr
In an issue of The American Annual of Photography for 1894, published in late 1883, Prosch advertised a "Nouveau" shutter. Other than this brief mention, I find no other references for this shutter.
In 1893, Prosch began offering the Triplex in an Aluminum version which reduced the shutter's weight.
Aluminum version of the Triplex
In late 1893 / early 1894 the Triplex was further improved (description of changes shown below). Note that 4 tension springs were now being supplied with the Triplex to assist in achieving an even greater number of shutter speeds.
Note the changes in hardware and the repositioning of the Prosch company engraving between the earlier Triplex and the Improved Triplex.
And, if that wasn't enough, in 1894 Prosch made a Columbian Triplex shutter that was made for Hand and Roll film cameras.
Curiously, in one of Scovill's late catalogues, I found the reference below to a Model 1896 Improved Triplex shutter. It's not entirely clear to me if this differs from the improvements that were made in 1894 - especially since the line drawing differs a bit (although those can be unreliable sources).
It took until 1903 for Prosch to bring out his final shutter models, the Diaplane I and II. The article below published in 1903 thoroughly describes these new shutters. The patent for this model was not filed until 1905 and was issued in 1906.
Diaplane I - Image Courtesy Milan Zahorcak
Diaplane II - Image Courtesy Milan Zahorcak
In late 1902 / early 1903, Prosch also brought out an "Athlete-Triplex" model shutter. This was designed for hand (and film) cameras specifically and had a safety shield so the shutter could be cocked without exposing the film during that process. Note that the article states that all Prosch shutters are now fitted with iris diaphragms. The patent was filed in October 1902 and issued April 1903.
In July of 1906, an article was published in Camera Craft magazine announcing the sale of the Prosch company to two employees of the original company. Cyrus N. Prosch would spend the rest of his life living in Fort Lee, NJ, his birthplace, until his passing in 1920. The Prosch company went on to focus on flash powder lamps (which it added to its product line in the 1890's) and eventually battery driven and electrified flash products. The last advertisement I am able to find for the company was from 1921.
Louis Prosch Jr (b. 1858), whose father immigrated from Germany in 1850, obviously related to Cyrus Prosch, worked for many years as a brassworker for the company. On March 10, 1891, Louis was awarded patent # 447,902 (patent filed for in Aug. 1890), for a front mounted, rotary shutter. For unknown reasons, this shutter would be sold by C.E. Hopkins as the "Pneumo Shutter."
Image Courtesy Ebay user Jerolyn-2
A "Prosch" shutter was sold a few years ago that I am unable to identify. It appears to be simple, Duplex-like and probably dates before 1888. If you can identify this model, I'd like to hear from you. This is the only image available of this item.
Corrections, additions and additional information on Prosch shutters is welcome. Email me.