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Rare cameras found at auction

Daily staff report
Newsroom@vaildaily.com

EDWARDS — Raymond Bleesz, of Edwards, a fine art photographer, historian and a founding member of the local Vail Valley Art Guild’s photographers group, went to a country auction by chance in Eagle County last week and due to curiosity discovered and purchased three turn-of-the-century (1890s) cameras. Since the purchase, he has been doing restoration work on the cameras, the leather camera satchels and conducting research on the histories of the cameras.

About the Cameras

The largest of the cameras, and a unique item, was the Scovill Albion Field Camera, (1886-1897) sized 6 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch film-plated camera. Five models were made, the largest being an 8-by-10-inch model. Scovill Mfg. Co. was located in Waterbury, Connecticut. Scovill became involved in developing photographic plates and eventually was incorporated into the Rochester Optical Company, Eastman’s Kodak Company.



The Albion, made of mahogany and cherry wood, is nearly pristine in appearance with minor scratches and is in workable order. The brass fittings, knobs and such needed some Brasso to polish the metal. The knobs, cranks and gears all meshed nicely, and the bellows, other than a minor hole, which Bleesz repaired, were in excellent condition.

The Fresnel rear-focusing glass plate was missing, but that will be replaced at some point. Bleesz cut and installed a regular piece of glass. The camera has distinct camera movements, superior for those times, based on the compact English Albion design, including a back which allowed horizontal and vertical picture taking while the rear standard allowed itself to be flipped over. Other elements made this camera unique. The lens was a Bausch & Lomb Optical, Rochester 1891-1901 Victor lens. The shutter and the lens work and need to be tested once plate film is obtained.



After lengthy research, the second camera turned out to be an EK No. 4 Cartridge Kodak Camera, Model E, a roll film camera which allowed for both vertical and horizontal shooting. This leather-covered box camera (1887), with its finely made leather case, needed shoe polish to tone it up a bit. It was pristine in appearance, as well. The shutter and lens is a Bausch & Lomb Optical Rectilinear lens, dated 1887, a very fine lens for its time. The red bellows slid out on a metal rail, and a hand-focusing knob made adjustments for fine focus.

The front standard allowed for limited lateral shift and vertical or horizontal shift. “Eastman Kodak” is inscribed on the metal lens mechanism. The shutter, the front lens and rear lenses look nice. Outdated size 140 film needs to be made or purchased for this camera in order for it to be used.

The third camera, also a leather-wrapped box camera, was the most interesting for Bleesz. It has taken the most time to research, as there was no distinct name on the body of the camera. However, it turned out to be a EK Pony Premo 4-by-5-inch camera with a Wollensak Optical Lens, a regular shutter, Rochester 1902.



This camera was known for its small size — 4-by-5 inches — and was often called a “bicycle camera.” The shutter and lens work, but the shutter has some idiosyncrasies which can be repaired. This camera is in excellent condition, and minor repairs need to be done on its leather case.

The camera came with one film insert as well as a Premo Film Pack Adapter insert, however, film packs are no longer produced. Upon research, Bleesz discovered that his present day 4-by-5 film holders would work with the Pony Premo camera. Upon testing, setting up the tripod, adjusting the bellows, fine tuning the focus, setting the F stop, making sure the shutter worked properly, Bleesz took a very first photo from his home’s deck. The resulting negative was then processed in his darkroom.


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