THE KNACK DETECTIVE CAMERA - ANTIQUE OAK
American Optical Company, Scovill & Adams, Proprietors, New York 1891-1896
The Knack as depicted in Scovill's How to Make Photographs, January, 1891
Introduced by January 1891, the Knack Detective Camera would only be offered in 4x5. As advertised, it was introduced to meet the demand for a "cheap Detective Camera within the reach of youth, and of those who want to make a moderate investment in photographic appliances". Despite the "cheap" reference and a lower price, the camera was very well constructed and nicely finished. Over the course of production, the antique oak-finished Knack would evolve into the Antique Oak Detective Camera.
The first camera shown here has similarities to the earliest advertised version, the No. 1- 4x5 Knack Camera, Natural Wood, in that it's equipped with a single top-mounted viewfinder and its speed regulator knob is located at the bottom right on the front door. However, it differs from the advertisement engraving in that it has a "T"-shaped front door knob, a focusing knob at top and no external cover for the top viewfinder screen. This camera is frontally rectangular in shape, but closer to what appears to be a square shape in the earliest ad engraving:
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1891
The second camera shown, now called the No. 1- 4x5 Knack Camera, Antique Oak in advertisements by April, 1891 (Scovill's How to Make Photographs), is identical to Scovill's engravings, other than its speed regulator which is located at the upper right on the front door. It's equipped with two viewfinders, the "T"-shaped front door knob and a focusing knob at top:
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1893
It's also shorter (6-1/8" versus 6-3/4") than the earlier version above, as seen in the photo below:
The third camera shown is the No. 2- 4x5, Knack Camera, Leather Covered, identical to the Antique Oak Camera above, with the exception of its covering and a framed rear opening:
By January, 1892, the antique oak version of the Knack is now called the "New Antique Oak Detective Camera", and the "Knack Camera, Leather Covered" still goes by that name.
In 1895, the camera is now being advertised as an "Improved" Antique Oak, with the No. 2 now being called "4x5 Leather Covered Camera", the Knack name having been dropped. 1896 would be its last year of production.
Ad from Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1895
Identifying many of Scovill's detective-style cameras can be challenging, given that some were advertised with no engravings, that engravings don't always match the production models and that factory modifications were made along the way.
In whatever guise, Scovill's Knack and Antique Oak Detective Cameras are rarely seen today. And like Eastman's Ordinary series and a handful of other cameras with natural wood finishes that were cheaper in their day than their leather-covered counterparts, what was once considered less desirable is now highly sought after by collectors for their outright beauty.
More photos of the above featured cameras can be found below.
No. 1- 4x5 Knack Camera, Natural Wood (second version?)
No. 1-4x5, Antique Oak Camera
No. 2- 4x5, Knack Camera, Leather Covered
No. 1- 4x5, Antique Oak Camera No. 2- 4x5, Knack Camera, Leather Covered