THE SAVAGE HAND CAMERA
Arthur H. Savage, St. Paul, Minnesota (attributed) Early 1890's
This plate-box style, string-set hand camera is believed to have been owned by Arthur H. Savage, 454 Ashland Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota. Savage's name and address appear on a piece of paper glued to the inside of the lid. It is thought to be a prototype or one-off, possibly designed and manufactured by him since we know of no other examples. Savage (1872-1933), lived in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area most of his life, working as an electric component supplier and electrical engineer involved in many lighting and waterworks projects. Based on the time he resided at 454 Ashland Avenue and the prevalence of string-set shutter designs during this period, it's believed the camera dates to the early 1890's.
Beautifully constructed with pins, counter-sunk screws and a leather-hinged lid, the camera measures 4-3/8" high x 4" wide x 7-1/2" deep. The two holders acquired with the camera have a unique hinged design for loading, and were capable of accepting a single 2-1/2" glass plate. The holders are finished in leather on the back side.
Sized to store six plate holders in addition to one positioned for use, the camera was equipped with a single circular view finder, similar to the No. 2 Kodak string-set of the same period. String-cocked through a tiny hole at the camera's top left, a push button release is found on the lower right side to make the exposure.
The camera's shutter consists of a unique eyecup-within-an-eyecup design, that swings to momentarily expose the back of the lens through a circular opening. There is no manufacturer's name, but the camera's plate carrier is stamped "Pat. Applied For". No patent or patent application has yet been found to definitively support the design of the shutter, plate holders or any other aspect of the camera.
John Barnett's patented plate holder of 1883 bears some resemblance to the Savage's single-plate holders, and the camera's plate carriage with light-dampening material. Per Barnett's advertisement in Anthony's Photographic Bulletin for 1888, their holders were not available in 2-1/2 x 2-1/2 at that time. However, Barnett's holders were advertised in Anthony's Photographic Bulletin between at least 1888-1890 and by 1889, they state that "any size will be made". Holders that appear identical in construction and in size have been seen with a Ford's Tom Thumb Camera that was auctioned on eBay September 3, 2015. Another of Barnett's plate holders named "The Beauty" has been found with Ford's Tom Thumb Camera, but this holder has a capacity of two plates.
If the camera's plate carrier stamped "Pat. Applied For" was manufactured by Barnett and indeed pre-dated the 1883 patent, it would be too early for this style of camera. There is also the possibility that the plate holder and frame were earlier components, used in a later camera.
The complete truth surrounding the Savage Camera may never be known. But at the very least, it represents someone's vision and ingenuity during a great period of photographic advancement.