BOSTON BULL'S-EYE CAMERA
Boston Camera Manufacturing Company, Boston, Massachusetts 1892 - 1895
Capable of 12 exposures on 3-1/2 x 3-1/2 roll film, and the first to carry the name, the Bull's-Eye Camera was introduced by the Boston Camera Manufacturing Company in 1892. Boston Camera Mfg.'s ads spelled the name as "Bull's-Eye" with an apostrophe, yet it's not reflected in their box labeling as seen above. Eastman Kodak would later spell it without the apostrophe. It's unique D-shaped red celluloid window indicated the roll film's exposure number. The window is of significance to collectors for two reasons.
First, this window feature was part of a daylight-loading film system, designed by Samuel N. Turner, Boston Camera Manufacturing's founder, under Patent No. 539,713 granted May 21,1895. George Eastman saw the potential in this daylight-loading system, and after failing in his attempts to purchase the patent, he would end up acquiring the entire Boston company in August, 1895. Eastman would continue production of the Bull's-Eye Camera, renaming it the No. 2 Bulls-Eye and equipping it with a round film window. The rest is history with virtually every Kodak roll film camera thereafter incorporating this feature.
Source: Google Patents
Secondly, the D-shaped window which is shown on the patent drawing, has always been a mystery to most collectors. Reviewing the patent's wording, the reason for its shape becomes evident. The exposure numbers on the film's backing were underlined, and as one wound the film they would position that line as close as possible to the flat side of the D. This is supported by the illustration below, in Boston Camera Manufacturing's Instruction Book for the Bull's-Eye copyrighted May, 1892. It depicts the user rotating the camera 90 degrees, and grasping the winding knob to advance the film in preparation for the next exposure. The illustration further shows the number and underlining, as it would appear through the window. Another benefit of this arrangement not outlined in the patent, is that the flat side of the D served to confirm the exposure number. With the number underlined, there would be no mistaking a "6" for a "9". This was important to know when you only had 12 exposures. All this becomes more logical, supported by the D's flat side position in relation to the direction of the film travel while being wound. It further makes sense that the photographer would naturally rotate the camera 90 degrees off vertical to make winding easier (assuming one is right-handed), and at the same time being able to easily and correctly read the number in this position.
Boston Camera Manufacturing's Instruction Book for the Bull's-Eye copyrighted May, 1892
The origin of the Bull's-Eye's shutter design came from Abner G. Tisdell (of Tisdell & Whittelsey Detective Camera fame) under Patent No. 464,260 dated December 1, 1891. Tisdell was granted at least four photographic patents during the late 1880's and mid-1890's:
Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Boston Bull's-Eye Shutter
Per Jos Erdkamp's great article on this camera, The Legacy of the Boston Bull's-Eye Camera, "The shutter was designed by Frederick H. Kelley at Blair Camera Company in 1892, and it was a modification of Abner G. Tisdell's shutter (United States Patent 464,260)".
Fred H. Kelley, as a co-patentee, held at least five other patents with Thomas H. Blair, two of which were shutter designs for the Blair Hawk-Eye Detective and the Blair Kamaret. Comparing Tisdell's patent drawing alongside the Bulls-Eye's shutter, the similarities are evident. It's undetermined whether Kelley ever applied for or secured a patent for his modified design.
Boston's Bull's-Eye was offered in at least three known versions: leather-covered wood, natural wood and Ebonite, a thermoplastic material. None of them are common today, but the leather-covered version is the one most often encountered. Both the wood and ebonite versions are much rarer, and not many of either have survived. I would give the ebonite version an edge in rarity, probably being the most difficult to find, especially in very good condition. Despite the material's hardness, ebonite is considerably more fragile than wood, easily cracked or damaged if dropped and prone to warping at extreme temperatures.
For information on Boston Camera Manufacturing Company's other Bull's-Eye models, look for them under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.
For more information on Boston's Bull's-Eye Cameras, as well as Eastman Kodak's earliest models, follow this link to Jos Erdkamp's wonderful site "Antique Kodak cameras from the collection of Kodaksefke":
Leather-covered version with factory box
Boston Bull's-Eye (left) shown alongside its successor, the Kodak No. 2 Bulls-Eye