Some photographs from:


The Birth of an Industry

The Collection of Matthew R. Isenburg


Evolution of the American Daguerreian Camera

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Click on any of the thumbnails below to view in a larger format

From right to left:

1) Quarter-plate Plumbe camera, 1841

A box-in-box design, solid rosewood, rear loading, with mirror back. Manufactured for John Plumbe, Boston, MA. Lens is of early manufacture, with swivel shutter instead of lens cap for exposure control. Based on the design of the world's first production camera, the French Giroux of 1839, but in reduced scale. The rear mirror allowed the image to be viewed upright, rather than upside down. Used mostly ca. 1841-45. One of three known surviving examples.


2) Quarter-plate American camera, ca. 1842

A sliding box-in-box, solid mahogany, single trap door, top-loading design. The body and lens were probably made in the New York City area. Note the typical American dovetail joinery. Lens is of very early design and proportion, with swivel shutter instead of lens cap to control exposure. An identical lens is known on only one other early camera. Used mostly ca. 1842-1844.


3) Quarter-plate Roach camera, ca, 1843

Rosewood veneer over mahogany, rear-loading design, with early focusing scale. Ivory label on top reads “J. Roach OPTICIAN 72 Nassau St., New York.” Lens has black metal stops in front of elements. The ivory focusing knob in rear of camera, though beautiful to behold, made focusing slow. Obtained in Cincinatti from grandson of Ohio daguerreotypist; one of less than six extant examples. Used mostly ca. 1843-1845.


4) Quarter-plate chamfered box camera, ca. 1844

Rosewood veneer, double trap-door, top-loading design. This popular design was produced with many variations throughout the daguerreian period. This example was probably the work of a cabinetmaker. Many of the early chamfered units were taller rather than wider; note the crude high-profile design. The mirror below the rear trap door allows image to be viewed upright from behind ground glass. Lens is of unknown European manufacture, with tangential drive focusing mechanism missing. Used mostly ca. 1844-46.


5) Quarter-plate chamfered box camera, ca. 1847

Rosewood veneer, double trap door, top-loading design with expandable back for close-up copy work. Probably made in New York City area, possibility by W. & W. H. Lewis or C. C. Harrison. Lens is of early 1840s manufacture, by Voigtländer & Sohn in Wien. This premium lens predates this particular chamfered design and was probably transferred from an earlier camera. Used mostly ca. 1847-1852.


6) Quarter-plate Lewis type camera, ca. 1851

Single trap door, top-loading bellows design. The firm of W. & W. H. Lewis, in New Windsor, N.Y., was the first to incorporate the bellows into an American camera. Lens engraved “J. M. Harrison New York,” but the mechanism has tangential drive usually associated with European manufacture. Rear box slid on bed by means of grooved rail on one side and skid on other. Used mostly ca. 1851-1857.


7) Quarter-plate “Boston Box” camera, ca. 1851

Sliding box-in-box, solid mahogany, interior hinged flaps, top loading design. Most of these cameras have been found in the region of Boston and upper New England. More than one slot for plate holder permitted focusing from close-up to infinity. The camera’s flexibility was further enhanced by two focusing devices: a front metal drive knob, and a lens knob for fine tuning. Used mostly ca. 1851-1855.


8) Quarter-plate Roberts (Boston) Camera, ca. 1851

Sliding box-in-box, solid mahogany, interior hinged flaps, top loading design. Note the wide dovetailing. Lens engraved “No. 860 Holmes, Booth & Haydens, New York,” with typical American radial drive focusing knob. Many of these cameras came with paper label reading “John Roberts Boston.” The hardware and wood construction differs from standard “Boston Box,” but the function is identical. Used mostly ca. 1851-1855.


9) Quarter-plate Allen’s Improved Camera Box, ca. 1854

This, the last of the chamfered box designs, had a unique construction: chamfered to a thin ridge rather than to the corner so that front and back look like a framed chamfer. Lens engraved “Manufactured for S & B Boston No. 108”; probably Seaver & Butler, who were daguerreotypists at 140 Washington Street, Boston, in 1854-56. Plate holder slipped in front of the spring loaded ground glass, as with modern view cameras; the rear section slid out for easier close-up work. Used mostly ca. 1853-1856.


10) Quarter-plate H. J. Lewis camera, ca. 1855

The last of the single trap door, top-loading bellows cameras; with rosewood veneer body. Lens engraved “EA Trade Mark.” In the rear center of the camera bed is stamped “H. J. Lewis Maker New York” (probably son of William Lewis). The chamfered front is gone, the bellows disappears into the box when closed, and the bed rail and skid are on opposite sides to all other Lewis models. Used mostly ca. 1855-1856.



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