THE UTILITY CAMERA
The Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company, Boston, Massachusetts 1883-1885
Introduced by the Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company by 1883, the Utility Camera would continue to be produced in several forms through 1890 by its successor, the Blair Camera Company. Another variation, believed manufactured by Blair Camera and named the Improved Utility Camera, is known to have been marketed by L.M. Prince & Bro. of Cincinnati, in 1899.
The Utility Camera was aimed at the amateur and was marketed as "being exceedingly portable, compact and light". Available in 4x5, 5x8 and 5x8 stereoscopic, the camera was constructed of the best quality cherry wood, polished and trimmed with nickel mountings. The camera was available separately with one Double Dry Plate Holder, or together with a Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company View Lens and tripod.
The Utility Camera featured a bed that folded forward, a movable front frame and a back frame that permitted fine focusing via a thumb screw located at the rear bottom. The bed is locked in place by a sliding tripod mount. After the bed is folded downward, this mount is slid forward, spanning both the front and rear bed sections. The tripod screw is then inserted, holding everything together rigidly. The removable focusing screen, unlike those found on later Utility Cameras manufactured by the Blair Camera Company, has no springs and is secured by a tensioned brass tab at the top. The single achromatic lens is equipped with a disc stop, held in place by a tensioned spring.
Bed lock / tripod mount retracted
Bed lock / tripod mount deployed
The 4x5 example shown here, although having no maker's stampings on the camera or lens, was no doubt manufactured by the Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company. Besides having no focusing screen springs, the knobs for fine focusing, frame locking and vertical lens board adjustment, are characteristically Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company, as is the focusing screen's locking tab. It's interesting to note that the finish on this example is more satin than polished, and there is no removable lens board as reflected in the factory catalogue engraving.
The following pages 8 and 9, depicting the Utility Camera are from an undated Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company catalogue missing its front cover. The catalogue's date is believed to be 1883, since it carries the new Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company name and features the Blair Knockdown Camera which appeared only briefly in early 1883:
The Utility Camera from Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company's 1883 catalogue
This example bears no evidence of having been stripped and the satin finish, consistent throughout the camera, appears to be original. This, together with the camera's solid front, may suggest this to be an early example manufactured before the model's final evolution. As several knowledgeable collectors have noted, it seems that no two Blair cameras are ever completely alike as the company was continually making changes. In many cases, with a limited production to begin with and a handful surviving, it's inevitable that most examples will be different.
All Blair Tourograph & Dry Plate Company products can be considered extremely scarce to rare, with relatively few cameras and apparatus having surfaced.