SCOVILL'S INSTANTANEOUS LENS AND SHUTTER 

American Optical Company/Scovill & Adams           1891-1893

 

 

Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter, manual version    

Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter, pneumatic version, with a rounded casing edge adjacent to the lens barrel versus the squared edge on the manual model.  Note the nipple at the base of the shutter front, and the valve and linkage at rear

 

Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter is believed to have made its appearance on the Henry Clay Camera as early as June, 1891, and is seen in catalogue engravings in the January, 1892, Scovill & Adams "How to Make Photographs and Descriptive Price List".  Pending better information, its manufacture is being attributed to American Optical Company/Scovill & Adams based upon the origination and assignment of its design patent. 

 

With the patent application for its design having been filed on August 7, 1891 and its appearance by January, 1892, the shutter was being manufactured at least three years prior to obtaining the patent.  Designed by Washington Irving Adams of Montclair, New Jersey, President & Treasurer of the Scovill & Adams Company of New York, Patent No. 536,253 was granted on March 26, 1895 and assigned to Scovill & Adams.  The shutter's casing is very similar in shape to the Wale & Mathein Shutter, which was patented just one month earlier on February 19, 1895, Patent No. 534,337.  Over the past forty years, collectors have referred to the Mathein as a "Wale Shutter".  In one sense, this is partially correct since the shutter's design was patented by Franz J. Mathein and the lenses are believed to have been made by George Wale.  The firm of Wale & Mathein, Marksboro, New Jersey, produced the finished product and some shutters found today are marked "Wale & Mathein", while others have no markings.

 

Patent for Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter               Source:  Google Patents          

 

Example of a Mathein (or Wale & Mathein) Shutter having the manufacturer's name, format, lens type (R.R. for Rapid Rectilinear), focal length and serial number

 

Despite Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter being the first shutter to be offered on the Henry Clay Camera, most Henry Clays (sliding-bed or hinged-bed models) are seen today with the Wale & Mathein Shutter.  Like Washington Irving Adams' Patent, Mathein's Patent was also assigned to Scovill & Adams. 

Similarities in design, the timing of patents and their assignment to Scovill & Adams, might suggest some connection between all these parties.  What has been reflected in general through advertisements, is that early models of the Henry Clay were equipped with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter, mid-production models with the Wale & Mathein and Bausch & Lomb's Iris Diaphragm in the last three years of production through 1899.  Contrary to this, most surviving examples of the Henry Clay sliding-bed model are not found equipped with Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter. Although not specifically mentioned in the description, the Henry Clay's engraving from Scovill's 1899 catalogue suggests that in standard form, it came equipped with a Unicum Shutter.  We have never encountered one of these later Henry Clay's with a Unicum Shutter.

It's interesting to note that Bausch & Lomb's Iris Diaphragm Shutter was available by at least May, 1891 in E. & H.T. Anthony's catalogues concurrent with the Henry Clay's introduction about June, 1891.   So, why didn't Scovill & Adams use the Iris Diaphragm early on? Even though the Iris Diaphragm would ultimately gain a solid reputation for its technology, simplicity and performance during its run, it had yet to earn it.  Perhaps it was an effort by Scovill & Adams to keep as much of their product in-house, with both patents for Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter and the Mathein Shutter being owned by them. 

By October, 1893, Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter was being billed as the "Instantaneous Lens and Plain Shutter" for the Henry Clay, and could be had with a pneumatic release for $5.00 extra:

 

Ad from Scovill & Adams' How to Make Photographs, October, 1893

 

 

Since the Instantaneous Lens and Shutter wasn't designed with a pneumatic release, and that by 1893 the Wale & Mathein's patent was filed with a design incorporating a pneumatic release, maybe the Henry Clay engraving showing the Instantaneous Lens and Shutter had not yet been upgraded to reflect the new Wale & Mathein design.  This could explain the availability in 1893 of a pneumatic release, a feature on the Wale & Mathein that was probably being manufactured by that time. For 1894 and 1895, the Wale & Mathein Shutter's engraving was finally depicted in Henry Clay advertisements, continuing to be billed as the "Instantaneous Lens and Plain Shutter" with a pneumatic release for $5.00 extra.  By 1896, the Wale & Mathein was billed as the "New Safety Shutter", shown in a smaller 4x5 size on the Henry Clay 2nd model.  

This example of Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter (non-pneumatic) measures approximately 3-7/8" at its widest point, by 3-1/4" at its shallowest width with a lens barrel diameter of 1-3/8".  The shutter and lens barrel are devoid of any maker's name, numbers or other markings.  Despite its worn exterior, like the Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter pneumatic version above, this manual version is constructed with a brass face and exhibits the remnants of a lacquered finish and a scarified-line pattern.

The Instantaneous Lens and Shutter was only shown in advertisements as being available on the Henry Clay Camera, and appears to have never been offered as a separate item in Scovill & Adams' catalogues.  No other references or ads for the shutter have been found.  Only a handful (both manual and pneumatic versions combined), are known to exist in private collections, with one known example in the George Eastman Museum.

With relatively few having been manufactured for about two or three years, and the few surviving today, Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter is an exceedingly rare American shutter.

 

SIDE STORY

The non-pneumatic version of Scovill's Instantaneous Lens and Shutter shown above, was found on eBay, billed as a Prosch Duplex.  I had previously come across the patent for the shutter and placed it on my log with a reference to it being "Mathein-like" in appearance. Having no idea this patent was for the Instantaneous Lens and Shutter, and not having really looked closely at early Henry Clay ads, I dismissed the shutter depicted in those engravings as being a Wale & Mathein based upon its similar shape.  It was quite exciting to discover this "new" shutter that I had never seen before, which in reality was an old shutter I had seen many times.