HENRY CLAY REGULAR
SPECIAL ORDER ALUMINUM
American Optical Company, Scovill & Adams, Proprietors 1895 - 1897
This Henry Clay Regular was special ordered with aluminum fittings in an effort to reduce the camera's weight. Most of the lacquered brass hardware has been replaced, with the exception of the thumb screw to secure the track extension, the track rails, the bubble level and the nickel-plated brass bed hinge. Even the lens standard posts are aluminum, although other standard Henry Clays have been seen with aluminum, brass and steel posts.
This example is slightly larger than the standard Henry Clay Regular to accommodate the use of a roll holder. These versions are easy to identify, having two holes at the bottom to access the roll holder's controls. The camera's dimensions are 8-3/8" in height, 8" in depth and 10-1/16" in width, versus the typical standard model's dimensions being 8-3/8" in height, 6-1/4" in depth and 9-5/8" in width. It should be noted that variations in body dimensions and other features have been found among surviving Henry Clay's, and I'll endeavor to provide this information for other examples featured on this website.
The camera's "Regular" name probably has no real significance, other than designating the camera in its standard form as opposed to another model, or possibly changing the name for marketing reasons. This example is identified as a Henry Clay Regular versus a Henry Clay Camera, based upon:
- The presence of a serial number which is known to have occurred on mid-production models at least. From my experience, most Henry Clay Cameras made during the first three years +/- will have no serial numbers. Examples I'm aware of, estimated to have been built in 1894-1897, have been seen with 3-digit numbers in the 6XX-8XX range.
- At least one known example manufactured with aluminum fittings is offered in 1895/1896, the ad making reference to it being lighter than their "regular" camera
- The name Henry Clay Regular or Henry Clay Regular Camera can be found in advertisements beginning in 1896
- The Henry Clay's dimensions decreased by 1898, and during its last two years of production (1898-1899), the camera was again referred to as the Henry Clay Camera in advertising
This all points to this example being a Henry Clay Regular and placing it within the 1895-1897 timeframe.
Henry Clays were available with aluminum fittings as early as 1895, as an example appears on Scovill & Adams' bargain list in their The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1896. This issue is copyrighted 1895, having been prepared then for the 1896 issue:
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1896 (Source: Google)
Based on known advertisements, aluminum fittings were special orders, as were other features found on a few Henry Clay cameras residing in private collections. A Henry Clay Stereoscopic Special Order 5x8 and a Henry Clay Camera with an extended body capable of carrying five plate holders, are a few examples of such special order cameras.
Possibly, the Henry Clay was available with aluminum fittings earlier than 1895, and probably through 1899 when production ceased. To be honest, for as heavy a camera as the Henry Clay was, the weight differential between the brass and aluminum versions is negligible. Maybe reality caught up with a great idea, since very few aluminum examples were ever built.
The camera shown here is equipped with a period-correct Prosch Triplex Shutter in aluminum. Prosch offered the Triplex in aluminum as early as 1894, but like this example of the Henry Clay Regular, few examples were made and they are almost non-existent today. Despite some wear and missing body parts, the camera is in reasonably nice condition. Most Henry Clays found today suffer from broken or missing straps, worn bellows and very poor or missing leather covering.
Surely, other aluminum examples were built and survive, but this is the only one I've ever encountered. All models of the Henry Clay are rare, and along with their other specially ordered cameras, these aluminum versions can be considered a cut above.
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1894