Rochester Camera Mfg. Company, Rochester, New York 1893
Believed to be one of Rochester Camera Manufacturing's earlier cameras, The Amateur as its name implies was aimed at the needs of the amateur or novice photographer, being simpler in construction and marketed at a more competitive price.
Equipped with a Single Achromatic Lens and offered in 4x5 only at a price of $10, it was considerably cheaper than the more upscale Rochester Hand Camera costing $16 that was capable of accepting higher grade lenses. Equipped with a Gundlach Rapid Rectilinear, the cost of the Rochester Hand Camera topped out at $32.
What appears to be the most unusual characteristic of the camera is the position of viewfinders in relation to the handle and the controls. With the handle and most of the controls being at the top as the camera is carried, one of the viewfinders is now positioned on the bottom of the camera. One would have to flip the camera upside down to use this viewfinder, which would seem to be somewhat inconvenient since this now places the controls at the bottom. Unless the now missing carry strap contained some type of identification, the camera bears no maker's label, serial number or other markings.
As with the design of The Rochester Camera (box-style detective), another early Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company product, unusual features made The Amateur more difficult to operate which no doubt resulted in its brief production run.
Despite these shortcomings, many interesting cameras such as The Rochester Camera, the Tuxedo, the Rochester 5x7 Folding, the Rochester 4x5 Folding and the Rochester Hand Camera were all born of this company. Literally everything they produced is coveted today. Excepting a few of their later field and self-casing cameras, most of these models are very difficult if not impossible to find. They were all made in relatively few numbers, and typical of most cameras from this era, even fewer have survived.
The Amateur can be considered very rare, as early detective cameras go, and I am unaware of any other examples.
From Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 catalogue
Cover of Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 catalogue
When I acquired this camera, I didn't know what model it was. But I was confident it was a product of the Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company.
This was based on its general construction, the style of leather tooling and most especially the enclosed U-style metal strap retainers which are seen on many Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company cameras and those of its successor, the Rochester Camera Company. At the time, the only reference I had to go by was the company's June, 1895 catalogue, in which The Amateur does not appear. With the firm's name changing to Rochester Camera Company that year, if it was in fact an RCM product, it was most probably earlier.
It was similar in many respects to the Rochester Premier with leather tooling around the lens and viewfinder openings, but again, the strap retainers looked RCM and there was no hinged front panel. It's also similar in dimensions to a Rochester Optical Company Handy which has two finders and a sliding focus lever, but again the cameras are dissimilar on too many points.
Acquiring this copy of Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May, 1893 catalogue finally provided confirmation, and for the first time, reference to a camera that I never knew existed.
I like the challenge that comes with the unknown and the unidentified, and it's exciting to think about what's around the next corner.