BOSTON HAWK-EYE DETECTIVE AND COMBINATION CAMERA - EBONISED VERSION
Boston Camera Company, 36 India Street, Boston, Massachusetts 1888 -1890
All images courtesy of Gerjo Quicken
Boston Camera Company's Hawk-Eye Detective and Combination Camera is best known to collectors in its regular guise, having a natural wood finish. Recently, however, this ebonised version of the camera was brought to my attention.
By all accounts the black finish inside and out is believed to be factory original. And as seen in the various comparison photos, some differences are reflected in the larger size and the style of the focus knob, the circular opening at the rear which lacks the plug locking slots seen on the standard version of the Boston Hawk-Eye, the square-cornered hinges versus the elongated and more ornamental side door hinges on the standard version and the lack of a circular side plate and lever to control the internal flap (self-capping shutter feature) that's generally seen on the standard Boston Hawk-Eye. Despite all these differences, the camera's Boston Camera Company DNA is evident.
Neither of the two advertisements found for Boston's Hawk-Eye mention an ebonised option and in over forty years of collecting, I've never encountered a physical example of this version, a photo or even a reference to one. Similar to Eastman's Ordinary Kodaks costing less than their more upscale Daylight series equivalents with leather covering, consideration was given to the possibility that this may have been Boston's attempt at marketing a more premium finish. However, since McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras 2005-2006 indicates that the Boston Hawk-Eye was available in a leather covered version, it's doubtful that they would have offered yet another optional finish. Having said all that, I've yet to come across a leather covered Boston Hawk-Eye.
Another possibility is that the ebonised Boston was part of a special run for promotional purposes, possibly lacking the more ornate hardware and the internal flap (self-capping shutter) feature with economy in mind. This appears to have been the case with another black-finished camera, the Dalmeyer, which is an ebonised version of Scovill's Empire Camera No. 1 made especially for a department store/furniture retailer in the 1890's. Though in the case of the Dalmeyer, it featured a focusing knob at the rear, similar to that of the Boston Hawk-Eye; a major improvement over the Scovill Empire's sliding bar arrangement.
And, here's one other possibility that I think makes the most sense. This ebonised version lacks the internal flap (self-capping shutter) feature with its outer lever control as seen on Boston's standard version. Eaton Lothrop, in his book "A Century of Cameras", stated that "On the earliest versions the shutters were not self-capping, but this was rectified later." This ebonised version also lacks a removable focusing screen holder, the screen's brass retaining clips being permanently attached to the stationary rear frame. This would preclude the use of a roll holder, which by 1889, was one of the camera's major selling points. In the absence of these two significant features, and having the less ornate hinges along with what must have been a simple non-locking plug for the focusing port (if there ever was a plug at that point), this ebonised version may very well represent the Boston Hawk-Eye Detective and Combination Camera in its earliest form.
With a roughly two year production run, Boston's Hawk-Eye in any incarnation had a rather short life. If this example was a promotional or a premium version, in either case, production would have been very limited. If indeed this ebonised version should turn out to be the earliest version of the camera, its production would have been extremely brief, probably being made for no more than three or four months.
Most certainly by the numbers, this sole known ebonised example would support any of the aforementioned scenarios. And, as compared against the standard Boston Hawk-Eyes that survive, and many other detective cameras of the period, this camera is nothing short of very rare.
Once again, My Sincere Thanks to Gerjo Quicken for sharing this historically important version of the Boston Hawk-Eye from his collection. Through these exchanges with other collectors, discoveries like this help to tell a more complete story, to add a new dimension or an update to what we've previously known, and to actually be able to see a physical example of a known (or sometimes totally unknown) camera or other photographic apparatus that has never been seen before.
For more information on the standard Boston Hawk-Eye or the Dalmeyer (Scovill Empire), look for them under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.
Boston Camera Company Hawk-Eye Detective Camera, standard version with no internal flap and capped where the control lever would be.
Lacking this internal flap feature, is in itself, a very rare configuration of the camera's standard version.
Boston Camera Company Hawk-Eye Detective Camera, standard version equipped with an internal flap and control lever (Source: John Clark)