HENRY CLAY CAMERA
American Optical Company, Scovill & Adams, Proprietors 1891-1892
Introduced in the latter half of 1891, this first model of the Henry Clay Camera featured a unique sliding-bed design. Produced for maybe a year and a half, subsequent models would incorporate a hinged-bed until production ended in 1899.
Ad from Scovill'sThe American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1892
As seen in the photo and the catalogue engraving above, the camera's bed has no struts. Pushing a button to unlock the bed, it could then be slid downwards while still attached to the lens board's track, rotated 90 degrees and pushed backward into a recessed area at the camera's base. Once the track was locked by rotating a lever/disc, the lens board could then be moved forward. While the track extension was solidly locked and the bed's rear travel was stopped by a brass detent on the bed, the bed was not firmly locked and could still slide forward. On the examples I've seen, the lever/disc lock appears to place some tension on the bed, but not enough to keep it from shifting. As such, it proved to be less than rigid since the tripod mount was integral to the bed rather than the body. Although a novel concept, the design would be short-lived.
Lever/disc lock and bed detent
Aside from, and because of the sliding-bed feature, this lever/disc-style track lock is also specific to this first model. The ivoroid maker's label can sometimes be found affixed to the top of the lens standard or to the front of the extension track frame as on the example shown here. Henry Clays were made by American Optical Company, for the Scovill & Adams Company. Scovill Manufacturing Company, which became Scovill & Adams in 1889, purchased the American Optical Company in 1867.
Sliding-bed slid down after release and starting its 90-degree rotation
Sliding-bed rotation complete
Sliding-bed slid rearward into recess
The camera's large and distinctive viewfinder, a hallmark of the Henry Clay series, is seen mounted to the body frame's interior in early catalogue engravings.
Henry Clay viewfinder (example from another camera)
Later on, the viewfinder would be mounted at the top of the lens standard which is how most examples of the Henry Clay are found today. The sliding-bed model shown here is missing its viewfinder, but screw holes on the top of the lens standard indicate it was originally mounted here. A similar viewfinder can also be found on the Anthony Marlborough and what I have referred to as Folmer & Schwing's Improved Henry Clay. Both of these cameras were either manufactured by American Optical Company or assembled with American Optical components, as they both share identical construction and hardware found on American Optical's products.
As reflected in the engraving and description in Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs and Descriptive Price List for January, 1892, the first versions of the sliding-bed model were equipped with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter.
Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter - Manual version (1891-1893)
The Henry Clay sliding-bed camera featured here, is equipped with a Mathein (or Wale & Mathein) Shutter. It appears original to the camera with only one set of screw holes showing from the rear. If true, this may suggest that either the sliding-bed model's production was somewhat longer than believed, or that the Mathein Shutter was introduced a little earlier than previously thought. The Mathein Shutter appears in 1894, in one of Scovill's catalogue engravings, mounted on a hinged-bed model. A hinged-bed example has also been found with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter that appears original to the camera.
The Mathein Shutter on this example is unmarked, but the barrel is engraved "Scovill & Adams, Agents, H.C. (for Henry Clay) Lens." Some Mathein shutters can be found with a maker's name and serial number, and others with neither.
Focusing scale and maker's tag
The Henry Clay sliding-bed model is almost never seen today. At least four examples exist in private collections, probably a few other unknowns exist in private collections, with at least one example in the George Eastman Museum.
It is considered a very rare camera.
Ad from Scovill'sThe American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times for 1893
Ad from Scovill's American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1893
Ad from Harper's Magazine, 1891 (month undetermined)