THE EMPIRE CAMERA NO. 1
The Scovill & Adams Company of New York 1895 - 1896
Scovill's "Empire" Camera No. 1, priced at $5.00, was the least expensive hand or detective camera in Scovill & Adams' line-up. It most likely replaced Frank McLaughlin's New England Rattler which was probably their least expensive hand camera from 1892-1894. Unlike most other Scovill hand cameras, catalogue ads for the Empire describe little about the camera or its capabilities. The Empire Camera No. 1 has been seen in at least three versions, all of which are featured here.
Introduced in 1895, the Empire was mentioned in The American Amateur Photographer for April of that year. During the regular meeting of the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York on March 12th, Mr. F.C. Beach exhibited the Empire and described its merits. The text included the same engraving that appears in Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs for 1896.
The Empire was of simple construction having a sliding box-within-a-box design to accomplish focusing. The camera utilized a string-set, Tisdell-like shutter mounted to the inside of the sliding front panel. This version's shutter release button, located at the 10 o'clock position to the lens opening, is so small that it's barely noticeable. The simple meniscus lens is equipped with a single threaded aperture cap. The Empire No. 1 was finished in varnished wood, with the No. 2 being leather-covered at a price of $7.50. Available in 4x5 only with a single viewfinder, the camera was designed with a non-removable spring-loaded focusing screen. Other than the plate holder in use, the camera lacks sufficient space to store additional holders. A non-capping circular hole at the rear facilitated viewing and focusing the image. The camera's dimensions are 9-1/8" deep, 8" wide and 6-1/2" tall.
The focusing mechanism on this first version differs from the style shown in the engraving from Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs for 1896. A side-mounted sliding metal tab attached to the interior carriage, permitted the photographer to achieve focus. The tab which is recessed and L-shaped at the back end, limits the travel of the carriage. Adjacent to the tab are stampings in the wood marked "10, 25, 100", versus a slotted lever and scale that is also marked "10,25,100", as shown in the 1896 catalogue. Engravings from this period don't always depict the actual product, but many times they are spot on. Sometimes, design changes occurred during production and engravings weren't updated. Based upon the relative difficulty in using this inset focusing tab and its more primitive design, this style may have appeared first, ultimately being replaced with a much easier to use sliding lever or even better, a fine focus knob.
A second version of the Empire No. 1 shown below is distinguished by its center-positioned viewfinder (versus the corner viewfinder on the first version), a revised lens mount which may have held a different style lens, a hinged rear panel (versus the fixed rear panel on the first version) and its slightly larger physical dimensions:
Otherwise, this second version is essentially identical to the first version, exhibiting the same hardware and side-mounted focusing tab. This example is stamped with the number "20" in several places, suggesting this to be an assembly number rather than a serial number. The first version at top exhibits the same scheme, having the number "72". The viewfinder is positioned at the center, and the two-piece lens mount has a raised design with a routed-edge base. Unless a retaining ring was used that simply screwed on from the rear to secure the lens (which I have never seen on American detective cameras of this era), the mount appears original to the camera as no other screw holes were found when the mount was removed:
The rear panel is hinged on this example, permitting the photographer to use either the circular viewing port, or to view the focusing screen in its entirety:
The presence of nail holes on the rear panel strongly indicates this hinged-back may not have been a factory modification:
Having a hinged back panel, the interior plate carriage is easily removed, better illustrating the camera's sliding-box design:
This second version's dimensions at 6-1/2" in height, 7-7/8" wide and 10-1/4" in depth, is 1-1/8" deeper than the first version's at 9-1/8", now permitting the storage of one additional plate holder:
First version Second version
Plate holder stamped "The Scovill & Adams Co. N.Y."
The modifications on this second version (most being factory, one probably non-factory) all represent improvements, suggesting that its manufacture followed the first version shown at top of this page.
My Thanks to Antony D. Manthos for sharing a rare and previously unknown version of Scovill's "Empire" Camera, The Dalmeyer from his collection, as well as for the images he provided below. The camera's ivoroid nametag reads "The Dalmeyer, Manufactured Expressly for Henry C. Squires & Son, 20 Cortlandt St., N.Y.":
Source: Antony D. Manthos
Henry C. Squires & Son was a furniture and department store, that appears to have private-branded the camera under the Dalmeyer name. The camera's name closely parallels that of the well known lens maker, John Henry Dallmeyer, having only one "l".
One of the most significant differences compared with Scovill's "Empire", is the Dalmeyer's ebonized finish. Scovill's "Empire" is only known to have been offered in an Antique Oak stain ("Empire" Camera, No. 1) or with leather covering ("Empire" Camera, No. 2). Two other differences are the focusing scale located at the top back on the Dalmeyer versus the sliding tab on the Empire's side (which duals as the focus adjustment) and the screw knob at the Dalmeyer's base at the rear.
Advertisements for the Empire no longer appear in Scovill's publications beyond 1896, and production is believed to have lasted for less than two years.
Being an "economy" model, one would think the Empire would have outsold Scovill's more expensive detective cameras like the Antique Oak ($10), Triad ($25) or the Waterbury ($25). But like some other inexpensive cameras of the period, prospective buyers probably opted for a camera with more features. With less demand, fewer Empires were made. The Empire may also have been Scovill & Adams' last attempt, at offering a detective camera to compete in price with the other more compact and lighter-weight cameras that were becoming the trend. By 1897, Scovill & Adams' only remaining detective cameras were the Waterbury Detective (also referred to as the Waterbury Regular), the Waterbury Triad (as the Triad was now called) and the New Waterbury (formerly the Waterbury Hand Camera). They all disappeared from the marketplace that year.
These two versions of the standard Empire No. 1 and this third version being the Dalmeyer are the only ones I've ever encountered, although a reference was found alluding to the existence of at least one other Empire No. 1. Little advertising coupled with limited production and a very short life span has made the camera rather obscure. Most collectors are unaware of the Empire's existence, and among Scovill's hand and detective cameras, it easily ranks among the hardest to locate. All versions of the Empire can be considered very rare.