Rochester Optical Company, Rochester, New York          1888 - 1890




Possibly introduced in 1887, Rochester Optical Company's "The American" was available the following year, appearing in the company's Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus for April, 1888. Aimed at the amateur market, it would be offered in 4x5, 4-1/4x6-1/2, 5x8 and 6-1/2x8-1/2 formats over the course of its run.


R.O.C.'s catalogue states the camera was constructed of cherry wood, was "highly finished" with nickel trimmings and had vertical swing along with a rising and falling front. The 4x5 size was priced at $14 in 1888, as part of an outfit that included R.O.C.'s Single View Lens with four removable diaphragms (Waterhouse stops), a "Standard Folding Tripod" and one "Model Holder".


Distinguishing The American from R.O.C.'s other models, was its rear frame which slid inside the camera's body, and the bed which folded closed as on a typical self-casing camera. This eliminated the need for a field case, and with the lens board reversed and a plain front-board inserted, the camera appeared as just a box.




Also unique to this model, was a single bed support on one side which locked the bed in place, the opposite side having a pivoting and adjustable support that secured the position of the vertical swing:





Focus was achieved via a push/pull tab at the center, with the focusing screen's position being secured by pulling inward on two tabs that tensioned against the bed rails:  


                                 Locking tabs open                                                                    Locking tabs engaged


The American joined some of the earliest examples of the self-casing concept, most notably the Blair Lucidograph (1884), the Gibbs Camera (1888) and the Pearsall Compact (1883), each exhibiting their own unique design. The American's particular frame-in-a-case configuration, appears to have been the earliest to use this design for which no patents have been found. This design would resurface in the late 1890's, being seen on a few other American-made self-casing cameras.


This 4x5 example mirrors Rochester Optical's catalogue depiction, in that it's shown here with an R.O.C. No. 1 Single View Lens having a removable diaphragm set. Though not reflected in the factory engraving below, The American was equipped with a rising and falling front. This feature is stated in the catalogue's description, evidenced on this example by the sliding groove seen on what remains of the front panel and a routed section on the inner face where the tensioning arrangement to secure the sliding panel was located: 



         From Rochester Optical Company's Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus, April, 1888


            Rochester Optical Company's Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus, April, 1888




From Rochester Optical Company's Illustrated Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus, June, 1889    Image Source: HathiTrust Digital Library

Page Scan #31Page Scan #31Page Scan #31

R.O.C.'s Single View Lens also appeared as a standalone item in their 1888, 1889 and 1890 catalogues. In 1888, the lens was offered with the diaphragm set only, but by 1889, it could be had with a rotary aperture (wheel stop) which is how it would be equipped going forward. Also, about 1890, R.O.C.'s Single-View Lenses transitioned from nickel finishes to lacquered brass along with other dimensional changes to incorporate the new rotary aperture as seen below:



     Page Scan #31                     From Rochester Optical Company's 1890 catalogue


This example is missing its plain front-board, one side of the front panel frame, its rising/falling front and associated hardware, its ground glass focusing screen, some screws for the metal ground glass retainers and the camera's leather carry handle.


Appearing in Rochester Optical's June, 1890 catalogue but no longer found in their May, 1891 catalogue, The American was probably made for about two and a half years, and apparently in very low numbers. An interesting design notwithstanding, its 16%-20% higher price over Rochester's New Model and its cumbersome swing and screen locking features, apparently proved unpopular. At least one example resided in a private collection some forty years ago, but its location is currently unknown. And no doubt, a few more exist in museums, other collections or are yet to be discovered.


A seriously rare "American" field camera....pun intended.








2006 Mike Kessler collection Aug by Davi

Page Scan #1Page Scan #1