American Optical Company, New York                    Late 1870's


American Optical Company wet plate holder with John Stock and William & William H. Lewis patents.   John Stock & Company 1860-1864 (also known at some point as the John Stock Camera Manufacturing Company) was purchased by the American Optical Company in 1866. By 1876, John & Jacob Stock were operating as "John Stock & Brother", in New York, New York.



In addition to being stamped "AM. OPTICAL Co., MANUFACTURER, NEW YORK", several patent dates are also stamped on the loading door:






October 7, 1856 for Patent No. 15,854 granted to William & William H. Lewis. This patent covered the designs for the glass corners to retain the photographic plates, and for an enclosed trough to collect collodion drippings. Other holders of this era contained a trough to catch the collodion, but they weren't always successful in preventing seepage. Lewis' design went one step further by enclosing the upper area of the trough so it wouldn't leak, even if placed on its side. The patent was assigned to Malonzo Drummond of New York, and little is known of him other than a few references.  Longworth's New York City Directory for 1841 lists a Malonzo I. ("J" typo?) Drummond with an  occupation of "fancystore", 309 Grand. Trow's New York City Directory for the Year Ending May 1, 1861 lists Malonzo J. Drummond as "regalia", 154 Chatham & 831 Grand, h 831 Grand. A masonic session of 1898 under "Deceased Members of the Supreme Council Deceased since the Union of 1867", lists Malonzo J. Drummond, New York, November 2, 1874.


- May 31, 1864 for Patent No. 42,971 granted to John Stock. This patent covered the arrangement and construction of the vitrified or similar corners in the plate holder, the manner in which the plate holder was hung on the camera and moved to make two or more pictures (a sliding back) and the arrangement of a movable front plate to regulate the lenses for proper picture alignment (a tilting lens board).


- October 7, 1870 for Reissue of Patent No. 15,854 since the original patent was expiring after fourteen years.


In addition to the patents above, another was found, that is not stamped on this wet plate holder:


- June 4, 1878 for Patent No. 204,632 granted to John & Jacob Stock. This patent covered the design for an adjustable frame within the holder to accommodate different plate sizes, and for a glass chemical receptacle to collect collodion drippings. 



The Lewis' and John Stock were among the pillars of early American photography from the 1840's and 1850's, both holding multiple patents for cameras and other related apparatus.  Both started out independently, with the Lewis' later becoming aligned with E. & H.T. Anthony & Company and the majority of their patents being assigned to Anthony beginning in 1884. Of the fifteen patents I've been able to locate that were granted to either John Stock solely, or to John and Jacob Stock, none were ever assigned at the date of issuance. John Stock would later partner with the C.C. Harrison optical works, which was acquired by American Optical Company in 1866. And, prior to Scovill Manufacturing Company's acquisition of American Optical in 1867, American Optical was manufacturing cameras and other apparatus for E. & H. T. Anthony & Company.


With this last patent covering the glass receptacle dated 1878, but not cited on the plate holder, suggests the possibility that John Stock while manufacturing for (and stamping these holders as made by) American Optical, incorporated this improvement well before pursuing the 1878 patent. Or possibly, by 1878, John & Jacob Stock were granted the patent and continued to manufacture the holders for American Optical, or that American Optical actually built the holders by either licensing the patent rights or having outright purchased the patent from John & Jacob Stock who were by now operating as John Stock & Brother.  And despite who actually constructed these holders, maybe the June 4, 1878 patent date would never appear on any of American Optical's plate holders. At this point, I haven't been able to establish what John Stock's involvement was in the operation of his former factory after American Optical's acquisition, or whether John Stock & Brother as a separate company, maintained a business relationship with American Optical/Scovill Manufacturing.   



With the passage of 140 years or so, the holder shown here is in comparatively good condition. Missing a few glass corners, it's otherwise complete with its dark slide, inside frames and its miraculously still intact and unbroken glass collodion receptacle.


As it is with most early photographic apparatus, plate holders such as these are rather rare and seen very infrequently.  This one especially so, having its unique and patented receptacle feature not typically seen on most surviving wet plate holders.

















                                             Source:    United States Patent and Trademark Office



                                              Source:    United States Patent and Trademark Office



                                                Source:    United States Patent and Trademark Office