THE PREMO SUPREME
Rochester Optical Division, Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York 1902 - 1908
Damascened nickel 4x5
Introduced in 1902 by the Rochester Optical Company, and later manufactured by the Rochester Optical Division of Eastman Kodak, the Premo Supreme was equipped with Bausch & Lomb's Iconoscope Finder and a focal-plane shutter in addition to its conventional shutter. Factory catalogs hailed it as the "supreme triumph of Premo construction", with a rising and falling front, swing back and a triple-extension falling bed. All of these features were actuated by rack and pinion and were capable of being locked at any setting.
Aside from Folmer & Schwing's Graflex introduced in 1898 and a handful of other reflex-style cameras, focal-plane shutters were not seen on the typical self-casing plate camera of the era. Configured as such in the example above, the Premo Supreme was a step up from the Pony Premo No. 7 and is beautifully finished with Damascened ("Damaskined" by the company's catalogue) nickel hardware.
For 1902 only, Rochester Optical's catalogue states that the Premo Supreme was produced with "rococo lacquered brass" metal parts. The rococo brass example below missing its Bausch & Lomb Iconoscope Finder, has no focal plane shutter, being equipped with a standard back having a spring-loaded door and a bellows viewing hood that could be pulled outwards:
Rococo lacquered brass 4x5
Rochester Optical Division's 1908 Premo Cameras catalog stated that "the Premo Supreme stands without competition the finest and most efficient hand camera ever manufactured". The Zeiss Protar lens, as equipped on the Damascened nickel version above, was not offered until 1905. When paired with the Volute Shutter, the Premo Supreme was the most expensive 4x5 in the Premo line-up for 1908, its last year of production. Early versions of the camera were covered in genuine seal leather and equipped with a Thornton-Pickard Focal Plane Shutter. This example is equipped with a later style automatic focal-plane shutter having improved features. Rochester Optical Company's 1902 Premo Cameras and 1903 Premo Cameras catalogues describe the bellows as "genuine black Persian Levant leather". Levant, another name for morocco, is a soft pliable leather used in the manufacture of gloves and shoes. Based upon known examples, the camera was apparently produced with black bellows over its entire run. Rochester Optical Company's Premo Cameras catalogues, from the estimated 1904/1905/1906 timeframe, specify the bellows as being of either "seal leather" (presumably black) or "fine black Morocco leather". However, it's interesting in that Rochester Optical's 1908 catalogue states that the Premo Supreme's "characteristics and detail of construction are exactly the same as those of the Pony Premo No. 7", which was equipped with red leather bellows.
With relatively few examples seen, and just a few of the brass lacquered versions known to exist, the Premo Supreme is extremely scarce, if not rare today. This is mostly due to its high price at the time which translated to less demand, fewer sales and lower production over its approximate 7-year run.
For more information on the Bausch & Lomb Iconoscope Finder, look for it under the "Ephemera" section of this website.