Boston Camera Company, 36 India Street, Boston, Massachusetts           1888 -1890



The year 1888 marked both the introduction of Boston Camera Company's Hawk-Eye Detective and Combination Camera and the origination of the "Hawk-Eye" name.

Per Anthony, the Man, the Company, the Cameras by William and Estelle Marder, William H. Lewis, who was Anthony's leading designer, helped to design the Hawk-Eye. Patent No. 360,314 was granted to William H. Lewis on March 29, 1887, with the patent being assigned to E. & H.T. Anthony & Company of New York.  This patent covered the design for Anthony's Climax Detective Camera:



                                                Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


With Lewis aiding in the camera's design, Anthony acting as Blair's trade agent in the 1880's and Blair's business dealings with Samuel Turner of the Boston Camera Company during this period, these interactions explain how some aspect(s) of the Climax Detective Camera's patent became incorporated into the Boston Hawk-Eye.  Although no patent dates appear on Boston's version of the camera, under Blair's ownership, it's the first patent date cited on their manufacturer's tag:




Manufacturer's tags or stampings on subsequent versions of Blair's Hawk-Eye would add a second patent date of May 20, 1890 (for Patent No. 428,448):






The drawing for this patent, filed by Thomas H. Blair on July 8, 1889, accurately reflects the Boston Hawk-Eye's design:



                                     Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Boston's Hawk-Eye Detective and Combination Camera was available in 4x5 only, with a natural wood finish priced at $15. The camera was apparently offered with leather covering as well, but this was not reflected in their advertisements.  Per one 1889 ad, for an additional $10 the camera could be equipped with a roll holder capable of 100 exposures. Having this capacity and a larger 4x5 picture size, the Hawk-Eye was competition for the Kodak Original. Yet, at the same time, it was more cumbersome to use in a much bigger and heavier package. Blair Camera Company would later purchase the Boston Camera Company in January,1890, continuing production of the Hawk-Eye Camera with various modifications through 1898.


The Boston Hawk-Eye Detective and Combination Camera is distinctly different from Blair's earlier models of the Hawk-Eye. The Boston lack's a side access door for adjusting the aperture, as the simple lens had no variable aperture. The shutter is set by moving the lever in the curved slot on the front panel:


Shutters on earlier production cameras reportedly had no self-capping feature, which was later incorporated.  To make an instantaneous exposure, as one faces the camera, the lever is moved completely to the left within the curved slot. To achieve focus, or to make a timed exposure, moving the lever halfway to the center of the arc, opens the shutter blade allowing light to pass through:



The shutter's speed is set by the spring-end located at the camera's lower left side, being placed in any one of the five slots to increase or decrease the spring's tension. The shutter is released by a small lever at the camera's top left.  The circular plate on the left side on the camera has a lever connected to an internal flap. This flap is located behind the lens opening, which when deployed, will block incoming light as the shutter is cocked. According to Patent No. 428,448, this flap was referred to as an "auxiliary shutter". Per the patent's wording "The object of this auxiliary shutter is to prevent accidental exposure of the plate by prematurely or accidentally pulling the trigger that releases the main shutter". Having had the opportunity to inspect three examples of the Boston Hawk-Eye, none of their primary shutters were found to have an additional blade or the linkage required to cap the lens. Therefore, it's believed this internal flap was the "self-capping" feature, that was later added according to collector and historian Eaton Lothrop:


The camera has only one view finder, but two tripod mounting holes permit horizontal or vertical pictures to be taken.  A circular opening at the rear of the camera permitted focusing without the need for a dark cloth. Some examples of this camera have been seen with a removable panel at the rear, or a hinged section of the panel. Most examples seen today have a black ebonized wooden plug to cover the rear opening when not in use:




A knob, located at the rear and connected to a threaded shaft, moved the internal bellows and frame assembly to achieve focusing. This feature would be retained on the first versions of the Hawk-Eye under Blair's new ownership. A small round viewing port on the camera's left side, permitted one to view the distance scale while focusing:



The scale is stamped into a brass strip, attached inside to the frame assembly.  Constructed of golden oak, the camera shown here measures 6-3/4" in height, 7-1/4" wide and 11-3/4" deep.

Unlike other Boston Camera Company products, most of the Boston Hawk-Eye Cameras I've seen are unmarked as to maker and don't cite any patent dates or numbers. However, at least one example has been seen with a metal tag affixed to the side loading door's interior marked "The Hawk-Eye (Trade Mark) Boston Camera Co., Manufacturers".  The Boston Hawk-Eye shown here, is equipped with two Blair Camera Company plate holders.  Both holders having patent dates of May 15, 1883 (for patent No. 777,737) printed on the dark slides, and February 9th, 1875 (Patent No. 159,537) and September 2nd, 1884 (Patent No. 304,406) printed on the holders' interior dividing panels.


Speculation has it, that the Boston Camera Company never built their own cameras, and that Blair Camera Company was the actual manufacturer. Per Eaton Lothrop's book "A Century of Cameras", evidence suggests that Blair was making this camera for Boston Camera for some time prior to the transition. In support of this, it's interesting in that the drawing for Patent No. 428,448 shown above that was granted to Thomas H. Blair, is remarkably identical to the Boston Hawk-Eye.  Blair applied for this patent on July 8, 1889 prior to his acquisition of the Boston Camera Company in January,1890. That Blair would manufacture such a newly conceived camera for a competitor, rather than build and market the camera for himself, seems a bit incongruous. But given his relationship with Samuel Turner during the late 1880's and his design input prior to his acquisition of the company, this all seems to suggest that Blair was heavily involved with the Boston Camera Company. Someday, we may know the complete story.


The Boston Hawk-Eye was probably manufactured for less than two years, prior to Blair's acquisition of the company.  Coveted by collectors as the first model in the Hawk-Eye lineage, it's seen very infrequently.  In more cases than not, its signature rear plug will be missing.

Another previously unknown version of the Boston Hawk-Eye having an ebonised finish has recently surfaced. It can also be seen under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.


















                                                                 1889 advertisement




                                                                   1889 advertisement



Here's another example of the Boston Hawk-Eye that's been modified with an upgraded lens and a hinged front panel permitting easy access to the lens.  A mount was installed to retain the leather lens cap, and the shutter spring tensioning bracket was rotated 180-degrees and is now mounted to the front panel edge. The lens opening in the front panel was also slightly enlarged, presumably to take full advantage of the new lens' capabilities. The hinge installation and some of the other modifications appear to be professionally done, suggesting this example may have been a factory test-bed for an improved model. However, it's more likely that the camera's owner made the modifications to improve picture quality.

I will say though, that after Blair's acquisition, better lenses were optioned. Eventually, improved models with side access doors and hinged front panels would be introduced to facilitate easier access and aperture adjustment.





As highlighted within the red circles, the shutter speed tension settings are marked "S" and "F" for slow and fast, and the internal flap setting is marked "O" and "S" for open and shut. 



                       Modified version                                   Standard version



And, here's one additional and possibly more telling example of the Boston Hawk-Eye with a hinged front panel. Thinking that the preceding hinged front panel example shown above was probably homemade, this example may actually be factory original. The hinges used on the front door that follow through with those used on the side access door, the brass tension strip to retain a set of Waterhouse stops and a lens cap, the configuration of the view finder and the general construction and appearance of the front's interior compared against the standard fixed-front Boston Hawk-Eye featured at top, all strongly support this. So far, the few advertisements found for Boston's Hawk-Eye do not indicate it was ever equipped with an opening front. 

Whether or not either one of these hinged front examples proves to be factory, or whether these Boston Hawk-Eyes were configured this way prior to or after the Blair Hawk-Eye's introduction, it's an indication that the desire for better lenses and how to facilitate their use in the Hawk-Eye, was already in the air.




                                            Ronald F. Giovannelli Collection


                                            Ronald F. Giovannelli Collection



                                            Ronald F. Giovannelli Collection