THE NIGHT-HAWK DETECTIVE CAMERA
Manhattan Optical Company, Cresskill, New Jersey 1894 - 1897
Believed introduced in 1894, an advertisement for both Manhattan Optical's Night-Hawk Folding Camera and Night-Hawk Detective Camera appears as early as April 28, 1894 in the Army and Navy Journal. An advertisement for the Night-Hawk Detective Camera (also called the Night-Hawk Camera) was also found that year in Sporting Goods Magazine. Per the ad, the camera was priced at $5 against Manhattan's more upscale Night-Hawk Folding Camera at $15.
Ad from Sporting Goods Magazine, 1894
The Night-Hawk Folding Camera
Simple in construction, the 4x5 Night-Hawk Detective with two brilliant finders was available with leather covering or in polished Tiger oak. It featured a rapid achromatic lens, a string-set shutter and sufficient space at the rear to store two plate holders. The camera was intended for hand use, as there are no tripod mounts. Variations in string pulls and leather carry straps have been seen. A removable panel at the rear facilitated focusing, which was achieved by moving the dial on the camera's side. The dial's scale which is graduated for distance, is the camera's most prominent feature:
The camera's ivoroid name tag can be found affixed to the interior of the rearward hinged loading door, reading "NIGHT-HAWK, Manhattan Optical Co., Cresskill, N.J.":
Labeled with the Cresskill, N.J. address indicates 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 Detective Camera is hardly seen today, due to its lack of popularity and a somewhat shorter production run compared to some other detective cameras of the period. Most collectors will gravitate to the beauty of the wood finished version, which is the one almost always encountered. Leather covered examples are extremely difficult to come by, and when found, usually exhibit deterioration in the form of discolored, flaking or missing leather.
In any version, a very desirable and sought after Manhattan Optical Company product.
For more information on Manhattan Optical's Night-Hawk Folding Camera, look for it under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.
Ad from Harper's Magazine, 1895, showing the Night-Hawk Camera and the Bo-Peep