Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company, Rochester, New York        1892 - 1893?




Although collectors have referred to this camera as "The Rochester” or the "Folding Rochester", and its maker's label found on the loading door says "Rochester", the name is actually the Rochester 4x5 Folding per factory catalogues.




The Rochester 4x5 Folding and the Rochester 5x7 Folding are both believed to have been introduced in 1892.  Both models were offered in Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 Photographic Apparatus catalogue.  It's undetermined whether either model was still being manufactured in 1894, but neither appears in the company's June, 1895 catalogue.



        From Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 Photographic Apparatus catalogue



         Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 Photographic Apparatus catalogue


Production of the Rochester 4x5 Folding and the Rochester 5x7 Folding is believed to have lasted for only two years. Montgomery Ward & Company's 1894-95 Catalogue No.56 and 1895 Catalogue No. 57, both featured listings for the Rochester 4x5 Folding and the Rochester 5x7 Folding. But, with production probably having ceased by 1894, remaining stock was in all likelihood being liquidated through photographic supply houses or retailers like Montgomery Ward:



                       From Montgomery Ward & Company's 1895 Catalogue No. 57   




Beautifully constructed of polished mahogany with lacquered brass fittings, the Rochester 4x5 Folding was typical of the first self-casing cameras to emerge from the early 1890's. Like the American Optical Henry Clay, the Blair Folding Hawk-Eye and the Manhattan Optical Night-Hawk Folding and Bo-Peep (Original Model), the Rochester 4x5 Folding was substantially built, with thick brass track rails, large wood-enclosed shutters and larger casings. These characteristics would last for only a few years, giving way to lighter construction beginning in the mid-1890's and culminating with the cycle-style camera before the turn of the century.  Aimed at portability for bicycle use, these cameras featured lighter and more compact bodies with simpler hardware. 


Several variations of the Rochester 4x5 Folding are known to exist, one of which exhibits a different shutter tensioning mechanism. They are numbered here to make comparisons between each version easier. 


Version 1 of the camera as seen in the gallery photo at top, is believed to be the earliest, and it's the version that's almost always encountered today. This wood-encased shutter is also found on Rochester Camera Manufacturing's original model of the Poco Camera. Similar in style to that found on Blair's Hawk-Eye, Model of 1891, the shutter's speed is set by placing the tensioning spring's end into one of three slotted positions located on the shutter housing's side near the top:


                                             Shutter speed selector


In Version 2, the shutter's speed was set via a ratcheting lever located on the housing's front, again having three settings:





This version is depicted in an engraving from W.P. Buchanan's Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Supplies, 1893, and in the engraving from Montgomery Ward & Company's 1895 Catalogue No. 57 as shown above. This is the only example of Version 2 that I've seen, compared with approximately six examples of Version 1 I've encountered, making it the rarer of the two shutter styles:



        From W.P. Buchanan's Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Supplies, 1893       Source:  HathiTrust Digital Library



                    Source:  HathiTrust Digital Library



Of the three Rochester 4x5 Folding's shown here, the two examples of Version 1 contain serial numbers 167 and 749, with two other known Version 1 examples having serial numbers 784 and 816. The Version 2 example with serial number 209, falls within the serial range noted here for all Version 1 examples, suggesting that Version 1's shutter style was probably the earliest and last version to grace this model. Based upon the cameras that survive, Version 2 appears to have been an interim and short-lived modification that occurred with a smaller number of cameras. The modification appears factory in every respect, being further supported by the supplier and retailer catalogue engravings indicating this wasn't a prototype or a one-off.


                   No. 167                                 No. 209                                    No. 749


Serial No. 167 above, is missing its bellows and view finder.


Version 3, which may possibly have been a special order designated the " L.A.W." , was apparently conceived for the League of American Wheelman, a cycling enthusiast's group founded in 1880 that still exists today as The League of American Bicyclists.  Only one of this version is said to exist, and it's unknown as to whether it was ever produced in any significant numbers or whether this example was a prototype. The primary differences from the standard model, is an internal stamping with "The L.A.W." - made expressly for Kimball & Mathews, Columbus, Ohio", and what is presumed to be a large wire view finder which replaced the camera's reversing (rotating) view finder. This variant can be seen at the following link to Historic Camera, a great website and resource for collectors of early cameras:


Any critique is all the more difficult, as so few Rochester 4x5 Folding's survive and a brief internet search revealed little information and no photographs for this model. Without a doubt, it can be placed among the rarest of early American self-casing cameras.


For information on the Rochester 5x7 Folding and other Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company models, look for them under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.