American Optical Company, Scovill Manufacturing Company, Proprietors, New York          1887-1888

In Scovill Manufacturing Company 's "The Photographic Times and American Photographer" Volume XVII , No. 327 for December 23, 1887,  mention was made under the "Pictures Received" section stating that "Mr. L.B. Stone has shown us a large number of pictures made with the Waterbury detective camera.  These little photographs (4x5) reflect great credit not only upon the skillful operator, but also upon the pretty little apparatus, which is also so cheap."


Although this example is unmarked, Scovill's Waterbury Detective Camera is believed to have been manufactured by American Optical Company, which was owned by Scovill.  The camera was designed by Willard H. Fuller of Passaic, New Jersey under Patent No. 391,236 granted October 16, 1888. This October 16, 1888 patent date can be found on later examples, stamped into the wood or leather on the camera's front sliding panel or on the camera's top. The patent was assigned to the Scovill Manufacturing Company of New York.  Fuller held at least ten other photographic patents, all of which were assigned to Scovill Manufacturing Company or Scovill & Adams.



                                                  Source:  Google Patents


                                                  Source:  Google Patents


This particular example precedes issuance of the patent with the words "Pat. Applied For" stamped into the rear access panel:



The patent having been applied for on October 17, 1887, would place this camera's manufacture to sometime after this date and prior to the October 16, 1888 patent issuance.  Being made by American Optical Company/Scovill Manufacturing Company also indicates this camera was manufactured prior to the company's name change to Scovill & Adams in 1889.

Available in 4x5 with either two double plate holders ($25) or equipped with a roll holder ($35), it was also offered in 5x7.  The 4x5 had a single viewfinder and one plate holder could be stored in the recessed area beneath the camera.  Ebonized versions of the Waterbury Detective in 5x7 have been seen with a single viewfinders, and a slightly later 5x7 leather-covered example has been seen equipped with two viewfinders.

Focusing was accomplished by a sliding lever with a "T" handle, located in the recessed area underneath.  The lever was attached to the forward section of the lens barrel assembly, which slid in and out. This same lever was also attached to a distance scale located at the front side lower corner.

The Waterbury used an external lever to cock the string-set rotary shutter mounted to the inside of the sliding front panel.  A shutter release button was located above this lever.  Per Scovill's ads, every Waterbury was fitted with a Wale Instantaneous Lens. The camera's dimensions are 7-1/4" deep, 7-1/8" wide and 7-1/8" tall.

This example is equipped with its original string-attached lens cap and carry handle.  The number "24" is seen stamped on the shutter panel inside, on the plate access door and on the inside of the removable rear panel.  The identical number seen stamped in various places is generally acknowledged to be an assembly number, rather than a serial number.  These were used to ensure that parts fitted for a specific camera, ended up with that camera during production.  Remnants can be seen of what was once lettering on the lens barrel stating "Scovill Mfg., N.Y.".  This is a result of the cutaway required for the focus assembly, and is commonly encountered on the Waterbury Detective.

The front panel differs from the few others I've seen, in that it is comprised of seven wooden sections rather than three:

This may be characteristic of these first versions, as by the time the patent was issued, three-section panels were now being utilized.  Early examples of the Waterbury Detective are all known to exhibit ebonized finishes, and by March,1890, the camera would only be available with leather covering.

The speed regulator lever on this Patent Applied For model is located on the inside of the shutter panel.  Moving the lever in either direction increases or decreases the spring's tension.  Subsequently, with the introduction of the original model of the Waterbury Detective, the speed regulator control was moved to the front of the shutter panel in the form of a small brass tab, or a knurled knob as seen on one 5x7 ebonized camera. This configuration would last for the remainder of production through 1897.


This "Patent Applied For" version of the Waterbury Detective Camera's original model, represents the earliest production for this camera.  Most of the original Waterbury Detectives seen today (and these are relatively few in number) exhibit the October 16, 1888 patent date.