THE PRECISION BALL-BEARING TRIPOD
Motion Picture Apparatus Company, Inc., New York 1917 - 1925
The Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod for professional cinema work was manufactured by the Motion Picture Apparatus Company, Inc. of New York City. Introduced by April 12, 1917, it was also referred to as the "Ball-Bearing Tripod" as seen in the advertisement below:
From Motion Picture News' Studio Directory for April 12, 1917 Source: The Internet Archive
This model followed the company's earlier Precision Tripod introduced in 1913, exhibiting several significant changes. The Precision Tripod's exposed tilting head crank mechanism appears to have been a somewhat fragile design, as several surviving examples have been found with this mechanism missing. Castings which extended outward and supported the crank shaft assembly, probably fractured and separated from mishandling during field use:
The Precision Tripod
These casting extensions were eliminated with the new Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod, the tilting head assembly now being housed and protected within the head's casing. The panoramic assembly was also redesigned and was more substantial than that of the earlier Precision Tripod:
The Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod's base also exhibited a redesigned leg mount, with the leg's upper end and attachment points reinforced with a decorative brass bracket. Underneath the base, a massive grip extension replaced a shorter wing nut bolt, allowing the cameraman to easily loosen the head for quick rotation:
And finally, the tilting platform was reshaped, now incorporating a crank socket with a gear-driven connection to tighten the mounting screw. This replaced the earlier Precision Tripod's wing nut-style mount and a scale was added to indicate the degree of tilt from level:
The Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod's weight at approximately 27 pounds, represented a substantial increase over the earlier Precision Tripod at approximately 20 pounds. It was a bear to carry around, but its solid construction and heft left no doubt that whatever a cameraman placed on it wasn't going anywhere.
This example is in very good condition, other than missing one leg clamp, its pan and tilt crank handles and having one repaired leg.
The black-colored band that surrounds the head's base is worn, but the remnants of the "Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod" name along with the "Motion Picture Apparatus Company, Inc." name can be seen within this band. These names appear to have been formed through a bas-relief casting of the head itself, filled in with black enamel to accentuate the raised lettering. This band also contained calibrations to indicate the degree of rotation:
The following depiction from The Cinema Handbook, 1921 by Austin C. Lescarboura, reflects what the tripod's name and calibrations would have looked like when new:
From The Cinema Handbook, 1921 by Austin C. Lescarboura
The tripod's serial number "27" is also found within this band, stamped into the casing:
This is speculation in the absence of factory records, but having a low serial number suggests this example was likely built in 1917 or 1918, early in the model's production. Examples of the Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod have also been seen with at least one other style of maker's label. Here's a link to CinemaGear 's Facebook page showing a brass maker's tag. You'll need to scroll down a bit, but you'll find a lot of great stories and cinematic information along the way:
By 1923, Current History, A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times Vol XVII October 22-March 1923, showed the Motion Picture Apparatus Company's address as 118 W. 44th Street, New York City. As reflected in the August, 1922 ad below, the company was still offering a "Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod". Although the name is the same, it's presumed to be referencing the Debrie Parvo tripod shown in the ad, depicted with the Parvo camera. The Debrie tripod most likely incorporated ball bearings in its assembly by that time, as well. The company was now under ownership management of Willoughby Corporation:
From The American Cinematographer, August, 1922
It's undetermined as to when production of the Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod ceased. However, the Motion Picture Apparatus Company's last ad in The American Cinematographer appeared in December, 1925, and it's presumed that the company was dissolved (or absorbed into Willoughby's) shortly thereafter. Willoughby's would continue to market Debrie apparatus along with used cinema equipment, and by July, 1927, their ads stated that they were now the U.S. and Canadian Agents for Debrie:
From The American Cinematographer July, 1927
This Precision Ball-Bearing Tripod is one of only a few examples found on the internet, and among a relatively small number that survive in other private collections and museums. Today, anything made or sold by the Motion Picture Apparatus Company is rarely encountered.
For more information on the history of the Motion Picture Apparatus Company, and the previous model Precision Tripod, look for it under the "Cinematography" section of this website.