American Optical Company/Scovill & Adams Company           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 aperture and lens barrel versus the squared edge on the manual model.  Note the nipple at the base of the shutter, and the pneumatic valve at the 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 its patent application 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 Mathein (or 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". This is somewhat correct, in that 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  

                                      Unmarked Mathein Shutter




    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 designs) are seen today with the 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 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 or Unicum during the last three years of production through 1899. 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.

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, 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 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 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 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 at least one known example in the George Eastman Museum's Technology Collection.


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.



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 Scovill's 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 before.