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 the least expensive hand camera from 1892-1894.
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. The shutter's release button, located at the 10 o'clock position to the lens opening, is so small that it is almost unnoticeable. 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 particular example, differs from the style shown in the engraving from Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs for 1896. A sliding metal tab is recessed on one end, providing a grip for the user. This tab is mounted further back and centered with 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 prior to, or over the course of production with the manufacturer neglecting to update their engravings. Based upon the probable 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.
My Thanks to Antony Manthos for sharing a previously unknown and rare 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 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 examples of the Empire and 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. Most collectors are unaware that these models even exist, and among Scovill's hand and detective cameras, they easily rank among the hardest to locate. Both can be considered very rare.