HENRY CLAY CAMERA
SLIDING-BED DESIGN WITH MATHEIN SHUTTER
American Optical Company, Scovill & Adams, Proprietors 1891 - 1892
Introduced in the latter half of 1891, this first model of the Henry Clay Camera featured a unique sliding-bed design. Produced for maybe a year and a half, subsequent models would incorporate a hinged-bed design until production ended in 1899. This particular example is believed to be one of the later versions of the Henry Clay Camera sliding-bed design, in that it has a tightening lever to secure lateral and swing adjustments to the lens standard. The earliest versions of this camera's sliding-bed design, may only have been made with a fixed lens standard base with no option for swing. Late 1891 and early 1892 advertising for the Henry Clay Camera hasn't been found to clarify this, but by what's believed to be a circa June, 1892 ad in Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs, the swing capability is now shown as standard. Other Scovill literature such as the ad below from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1892, also reflects the swing feature as standard, the only option being a Roll Holder with one Double Plate or Film Holder. With this publication having an 1891 copyright, it was no doubt prepared before year-end suggesting that if there ever was a swing option, it was only offered in 1891.
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1892
As seen in the photo and the catalogue engraving above, the camera's bed has no struts. Pushing a button to unlock the bed, it could then be slid downwards while still attached to the lens board's track, rotated 90 degrees and pushed backward into a recessed area at the camera's base. Once the track was locked by rotating a lever/disc, the lens board could then be moved forward. While the track extension was solidly locked and the bed's rear travel was stopped by a brass detent on the bed, the bed was not firmly locked and could still slide forward. On the examples I've seen, the lever/disc lock appears to place some tension on the bed, but not enough to keep it from shifting. As such, it proved to be less than rigid since the tripod mount was integral to the bed rather than the body. Although a novel concept, the design would be short-lived.
Lever/disc lock and bed detent
Being part of the sliding-bed's design, this lever/disc-style track lock is also specific to this first model of the Henry Clay Camera. The ivoroid maker's label can sometimes be found affixed to the top of the lens standard or to the front of the extension track frame as on the example shown here. Henry Clays were made by American Optical Company, for the Scovill & Adams Company. Scovill Manufacturing Company sold off their photographic business in 1889, that part of the company now becoming Scovill & Adams. Scovill Manufacturing Company had purchased the American Optical Company in 1867.
Sliding-bed slid down after release and starting its 90-degree rotation
Sliding-bed rotation complete
Sliding-bed slid rearward into recess
The camera's large and distinctive viewfinder, a hallmark of the Henry Clay series, is seen mounted to the body frame's interior in early catalogue engravings (as in the ad at the top of this page). Later on, the viewfinder would be mounted at the top of the lens standard which is how most examples of the Henry Clay are found today:
Henry Clay viewfinder (example from another camera)
The sliding-bed design shown here is missing its viewfinder, but screw holes on the top of the lens standard indicate it was originally mounted there. A similar viewfinder can also be found on the Anthony Marlborough and what I have referred to as Folmer & Schwing's Improved Henry Clay. Both of these cameras were either manufactured by American Optical Company or assembled with American Optical components, as they both share identical construction and hardware found on American Optical's products.
As reflected in the engraving and description found in Scovill & Adams' The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1892 (copyright 1891), the first version of the sliding-bed design was equipped with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter:
Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter - Manual version (1891-1893)
The Henry Clay Camera sliding-bed design seen here, is equipped with a Mathein (or Wale & Mathein) Shutter. It appears original to the camera with only one set of screw holes showing from the rear. If true, this may suggest that either the sliding-bed design's production was somewhat longer than believed, or that the Mathein Shutter was introduced a little earlier than previously thought. The Mathein Shutter appears in 1894, in one of Scovill's catalogue engravings, mounted on a hinged-bed design. A hinged-bed example has also been found with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter that appears original to the camera.
The Mathein Shutter on this example is unmarked, but the barrel is engraved "Scovill & Adams, Agents, H.C. (for Henry Clay) Lens." Some Mathein shutters can be found with a maker's name, serial number and other information, and others that are totally unmarked.
Focusing scale and maker's tag
The Henry Clay Sliding-Bed design is almost never seen today. I know of at least four examples in private collections, there's probably an equal number of unknowns in other collections or waiting to be discovered, and at least one example exists in the George Eastman Museum's Technology Collection.
By the numbers, it's a very rare version of the Henry Clay Camera.
For information on the Anthony Marlborough and Folmer & Schwing's Improved Henry Clay, look for them under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website. And for more information on Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter and the Mathein Shutter (Wale & Mathein), look for them under the "Shutters" section.
Ad from Scovill'sThe American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1893
Ad from Scovill's American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1893
Ad from Harper's Magazine, 1891 (month undetermined)