THE NIGHT-HAWK FOLDING CAMERA
Manhattan Optical Company, Cresskill, New Jersey 1894-1897
Night-Hawk Folding Camera 4x5 with brass lens standard posts and wooden bed rails
Believed to have been introduced in 1894, advertisements for the Night-Hawk Folding Camera (also called the Folding Night-Hawk by some collectors) have been found that year in Sporting Goods Magazine. Per the ads, the camera featured a "Speed Shutter" and was constructed of mahogany with morocco leather covering and brass hardware. Other Manhattan Optical Company ads from 1894 and 1895 were found as well, some mentioning the Night-Hawk Folding Camera. The camera's wood-encased shutter and heavy brass bed rails are consistent with other heavier built self-casing cameras of the early-to-mid 1890's. Available in 4x5 and 5x7, it also featured a rising and falling front and a reversible back.
As experienced with many other early cameras, variations in construction will be found. Major and minor changes were often made during production, and in some cases, no two copies of a given model are ever alike. Versions of the Night-Hawk Folding Camera have been seen with wooden lens standard posts, as well as brass posts and wooden bed rails instead of brass. Viewfinders can be found mounted on the upper lens standard, or on the camera's bed at front. Lens standard bases are known to vary, as well as the position of controls on the shutter's face and other camera hardware. It's believed that cameras having the wooden lens standard posts and wooden bed rails, with a lens standard-mounted viewfinder, represent the earliest versions.
Other modifications may exist, but so few examples survive from which to make comparisons. Those few examples that have surfaced over the years are usually found in poor shape, missing leather, handles and hardware. Again, like some other cameras of the period, the Night-Hawk Folding Camera seems to be a victim of poor leather. Either the covering was too thin or the glues used were inadequate, or maybe both. The manufacturer's ivoroid label on this camera reads "NIGHT-HAWK, Manhattan Optical Co., Cresskill, N.J.". Labeled with the Cresskill, N.J. address indicates that this particular example of the camera was made no later than 1897. That year, the company transitioned to different owners, adding "New York" alongside "Cresskill, N.J." on their manufacturer's label. Early Manhattan Optical literature is rare, making their products from that period more difficult to date. What is known, is that the Night-Hawk Folding Camera no longer appears in Manhattan's catalogues by 1899.
The Night-Hawk Folding Camera is almost never seen today, most likely due to its lack of popularity and a rather short production run. A rare Manhattan Optical Company product, no doubt.
Ad from Sporting Goods Magazine, 1894
Ad from Harper's Magazine, 1895, showing the Night-Hawk Folding's siblings
Maker's tag located on the inside of the camera's access door at top
Night-Hawk Folding Camera 4x5 with brass lens standard posts and heavy brass bed rails
This example's tag does not contain the "Night-Hawk" name
Night-Hawk Folding Camera 4x5 with lens standard-mounted viewfinder, wooden lens standard posts and wooden bed rails