Blair Camera Company, Boston, Massachusetts                1893 - 1895

Making its appearance in Blair's catalogues by July, 1893, the camera's name no doubt capitalized on the excitement surrounding the 1893 World's Fair Columbian Exposition.  In fact, a souvenir pamphlet entitled "In the Footsteps of Columbus", was produced for the World's Fair highlighting photographs taken by Annie J. Cannon in Spain (1892) with her Blair Kamaret.  The pamphlet's back cover was comprised of an ad for the Blair Camera Company, listing "The Columbus" as one of their models:



                                        Image source:  The Internet Archive


                                        Image source:  The Internet Archive


The "Columbus", capable of making 100 4x5 exposures, was a roll film-only camera measuring 5-1/2" x 6-1/4" x 8" and weighing 3-3/4 pounds.  In London, England, the "Columbus" was marketed by the European Blair Camera Company, Ltd., as the "No. 3 Hawk-Eye".

Unlike Blair's other cameras, some of which could utilize a stand-alone roll holder as an option, the roll holder in the "Columbus" was purpose-built for the model. In essence, it's Blair's Hawk-Eye Roll Holder, integrated with the camera and secured in place by a sliding metal strip:


               "Columbus" Roll Holder              The Hawk-Eye Roll Holder   


As seen in the photo above, both roll holders are constructed differently, precluding use of the stand-alone Hawk-Eye Roll Holder in the "Columbus".  As such, loading and placing (or removing) the roll holder in the "Columbus" all had to be done in a darkroom.  Lacking the convenience of a pre-loaded and stand-alone roll holder that could easily be changed out in daylight, no doubt worked against the camera's popularity and its longevity.

Similar to Blair's '95 Hawk-Eye Camera, the "Columbus" featured a telescoping front that moved in and out to achieve focus. Moving the front section forward readied the camera for use, exposing the shutter's tension spring settings, the shutter's timed and instantaneous releases, the vertical and horizontal view finders and the aperture adjustment. Once the focus (or distance) was established, the small thumbscrew located just forward of the focusing knob was tightened to secure the forward section from shifting:


Unlike the '95 Hawk-Eye Camera, the "Columbus" being roll film-only had no rear door for focusing. Relying on distance scales in lieu of a focusing screen, each view finder is equipped with its own scale.  The camera was equipped with a Blair Rapid Rectilinear Lens having an "oscillating diaphragm" per the catalogue description; the company's jargon for the aperture which was adjusted through a swinging lever at the bottom:


The "Columbus" would continue to be offered through E. & H.T. Anthony & Company in their Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Equipment and Materials for Amateurs for September, 1894 and August, 1895, but no longer appears in Blair's own catalogues for 1895.

The example shown here is complete and operating, having all of its roll holder components, and its original carry strap and lens cap. Given the poor condition of leather coverings seen on most Blair cameras from the early to mid-1890's, this example is in extremely nice condition.  All told, one couldn't ask more from a 125 year old camera.


The "Columbus" is almost extinct today, although a few examples are known to exist in museums and private collections. At least one was offered for sale by prominent New York photographica dealers Allen & Hilary Weiner in October, 1978, and a few other unknown examples must surely exist. Beyond that, very few have surfaced over the past forty years. I've personally encountered only two, and had been collecting for over thirty years before acquiring this one.  For collector's it will be one of the hardest Blair models of the 1890's to find.













         Blair's 1893 Catalogue               Image courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera


     From Blair's 1893 Catalogue               Image courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera


    From Blair's 1893 Catalogue                Image courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera



     From Blair's 1893 Catalogue               Image courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera