Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company, Rochester, New York           1891 - 1892


One viewfinder lens and mount is missing on this example, shown digitally restored above to represent what it should look like.



Believed introduced by Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company in 1891, this camera is referred to simply as "The Rochester" or "The Rochester Camera" in company literature.  Priced in 1892 at $18, it could accept either plates or a roll film holder and featured two viewfinders.  Its leather-covered exterior belied the beautiful quarter-sawn Sycamore highlights found within.  


Rochester Camera Manufacturing was in business between 1891 and 1895, becoming Rochester Camera Company in late 1895 or early 1896 and finally, Rochester Camera and Supply Company in 1897.  The company subsequently merged with four other firms to form Rochester Optical and Camera Company in 1899.   R.C.M. Co. became famous for their POCO line of cameras, some of which incorporated features found on The Rochester Camera.



     Instructions and Price List for The Rochester Camera, January, 1892


The above Instructions and Price List for The Rochester Camera, January, 1892, states "After several years experience in the manufacture of photographic apparatus, and seeing the defects of other makes, we have endeavored to overcome them, and have succeeded beyond our expectations, as the Rochester is conceded by all to be the best hand camera now in use".  With H. B. Carlton having worked with his brother W. F. Carlton at Rochester Optical Company prior to forming Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company in 1891, his statement "having several years experience" was a valid one. And the statement "conceded by all to be the best hand camera now in use" from this January, 1892 instruction manual, seems to suggest The Rochester Camera had already been in production the year before.


This example bears number "412" stamped within the rear chamber, which appears to be a serial number (rather than an assembly number) as the number doesn't appear elsewhere on the camera:



Equipped with an R.C.M. Co. No. 1 wheel stop lens, its leather lens cap was stored on a circular wooden mount within the camera's interior. The lens board's rise and fall was adjusted through a unique ratcheting arrangement, and focusing was accomplished by a sliding knob extending through a curved slot on the body's exterior. The lens standard could also be moved forward and backward via a knurled knob located in a rather inaccessible area, just behind the lens standard beneath the bellows. Presumably, this adjustment would facilitate not only the use of lenses with different physical lengths, but of slightly differing focal lengths. It's assumed that each camera's focusing index (scale) was calibrated at the factory for the lens it was fitted with to ensure correct exposures. Though this calibration is not specifically mentioned in the January, 1892 instructions for The Rochester, it is mentioned in R.C.M.'s May,1893 catalogue description for the successor Rochester Hand Camera. A few of The Rochester's unusual features made the camera somewhat more difficult to operate, possibly owing as to why the model's design was short-lived. 


The Rochester Camera, or "Rochester Box" as it has also been referred to by collectors, disappears from Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company catalogues by May,1893, having been replaced by the Rochester Hand Camera.  Montgomery Ward was still offering a camera called "The Rochester" as late as 1895 in their Catalogue No. 57 for Spring & Summer.  Based upon the camera's name and the engraving used, Montgomery Ward was either selling "The Rochester" as new old stock, or the camera being sold was The Rochester's successor, the Rochester Hand Camera being depicted with an engraving that had not been revised:



     From Montgomery Ward's Catalogue No. 57 for Spring & Summer 1895


In trying to determine which of the above scenarios was correct, it was thought that being fitted with Gundlach's Rapid Rectigraphic Lens, this might indicate which camera was actually being sold by Montgomery Ward in 1895. This proved fruitless, however, as both The Rochester Camera and the Rochester Hand Camera were available with the Gundlach Rapid Rectigraphic lens as an option.

Photographic supplier W.P. Buchanan was offering the "Rochester Hand Camera" in 1893, which was either the last of The Rochester's production or in reality, its successor the Rochester Hand Camera utilizing the older engraving for "The Rochester":



     From W.P. Buchanan's 1893 Catalogue          Source: The Getty Research Institute through HathiTrust



     W.P. Buchanan's 1893 Catalogue Cover        Source: The Getty Research Institute through HathiTrust



                    From the American Amateur Photographer, April, 1892


From the above reference in the American Amateur Photographer, April, 1892 noting "an improved Rochester hand-camera, this is presumed to be The Rochester Camera's successor, the "Rochester Hand Camera" being introduced by April, 1892.  However, the engraving still reflects "The Rochester Camera" which was possibly still in production in April, 1892.  The Rochester Hand Camera as it appears in Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's May,1893 catalogue, exhibited a redesigned focus knob with a combined distance scale, and possibly other interior features that can't be determined from the catalogue's engraving:



      From Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company's 1893 Catalogue


The Rochester represented the first of Rochester Camera Manufacturing's cameras to bear the "Rochester" name, and there would be other models that followed bearing the "Rochester" name, as well.  As we're able to feature some of them, we'll endeavor to clarify each use of the "Rochester" name with its corresponding model, to avoid further confusion and to set the record straight.  Limited references being available for early R.C.M. products, along with very few surviving examples across their entire model range, has made identification sometimes difficult.


With the Rochester Camera Manufacturing Company lasting about four years, most of their earliest cameras are very difficult to find today, and this model is no exception. For collectors seeking this grand marque, The Rochester may represent the Holy Grail.




















Another Rochester Camera in the collection, from which comparisons can be drawn:



This example, bearing number "486", is found stamped in the rear chamber and is also found lightly scratched on the inside of the rear viewing door:




This camera's lens bears no maker's name or other information, and is equipped with Waterhouse stops and a lens cap. Also acompanying this camera, is what appears to be a homemade folding viewing shade that fits into either viewfinder screen to reduce ambient glare. The shade when folded stores neatly alongside the Waterhouse stop's case, affixed by a brass clip inside:




The viewfinder holes on the front panel are larger than those on camera number 412 shown at top. Considering the serial number sequence, this appears to have been a design improvement, the larger openings maximizing the benefit of the viewfinder's lenses which are the same size on both cameras:




                                  Serial No. 412                                            Serial No. 486

                                  Serial No. 412                                            Serial No. 486