The Aladdin Camera Company, Chicago, Illinois            1892 - 1893




"The Aladdin" Magazine Camera carried thirty 4x5 glass plates, or sixty cut films in a removable light-tight magazine.  Based on what's known, the camera is believed to have been manufactured by The Aladdin Camera Company of Chicago, Illinois and sold by the Geneva Optical Company, also of Chicago. Other than the information which follows, little else is known about the company or the camera which was probably manufactured for less than two years.

Designed by Joseph Alphonzo Davison of Polo, Illinois, Patent No. 494,097 was granted to him on March 21, 1893. Filed for on February 8, 1892, the patent was assigned to The Aladdin Camera Company:



                                             Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Davison also held Patent No. 376,798 granted January 24, 1888 for a "Combined Photographic Camera and Plate Holder":


                                             Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


The origins of The Aladdin Camera Company name and consequently "The Aladdin" camera are unknown. But Arabian themes must have been popular, given the Genie Camera (1890-1894) from the same era. According to The National Corporation Reporter, Volume 3, No. 26 for March 5, 1892, The Aladdin Camera Company was capitalized at $50,000 by George F. More, D.H. Fletcher and George C. Marsh.




 "The Aladdin" Magazine Camera is mentioned in Geneva Optical's advertisement in The International Annual of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Volume V, December, 1892:



       From The International Annual of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Volume V, December, 1892


The advertisement at top with an engraving of the camera, appeared in Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1893.   So far, "The Aladdin" appears to be the only camera ever produced by Geneva Optical.  The company, whose factory was located in Geneva, New York with offices in Chicago, was known primarily for their manufacture of spectacles.

The Jeweler's Circular and Horological Review, Volume 27, August 2, 1893, contained a report on Geneva Optical's exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  It noted that "among other scientific instruments as exhibited are three different styles of photomicrographe for enlarging or diminishing microscope specimens, the invention of Professor W.H. Walmsley; the Aladdin camera, "the best magazine camera in the market," and the celebrated Parvin Telephoto lens, which takes a picture nearly six-fold larger than the rapid rectilinear from the same standpoint."

Walmsley founded the photographic supply firm of W.H. Walmsley & Company in 1884. He's also connected to the story of George Eastman's first commercial camera endeavor, the Eastman Detective Camera of 1887, better known to collectors as the Eastman-Cossitt Detective Camera.  According to George Eastman: A Biography by Elizabeth Brayer, Eastman had built fifty cameras, with some having been sent out for review. After losing patience and deciding to sell the remaining stock of forty cameras, Eastman sent W.H. Walmsley a camera asking if he could make a specialty of them in an effort to get rid of the entire lot without distributing them all over the country. What actually happened to them is still a mystery, but some are suspected of having survived. The only known example resides in the Photographic History Collection, of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

The above 1893 Aladdin advertisement, indicates that Walmsley is now managing Geneva Optical's new Photographic Outfit and Appliances Department, along with the wording "W. H. Walmsley, formerly of Philadelphia" and " All of Mr. Walmsley's well-known specialties will be kept in stock".  Walmsley reportedly left W.H. Walmsley, Ltd. in 1892, being associated with Geneva Optical by August of that year.  This is supported by no more advertisements for W.H. Walmsley, Ltd. being found after 1892. Walmsley eventually retired to Philadelphia, where he passed away on October 22, 1905 at the age of 75.



This 4-1/4 x 6-1/2" cabinet card depicts two young women on an outing with their cameras. The camera on the right appears to be a B Daylight Kodak (or possibly a C Daylight Kodak) based upon its size and color, the position of the view finder, the shutter release button's placement and having a bottom loading door. Although blurred, most of these characteristics can be discerned from the photograph. The camera at left is without a doubt "The Aladdin", characterized by the two side-by-side view finders, the distinctive fold-down center door covering the lens opening, the shoulder strap rings and what is believed to be the shutter release (vertical post) just behind the front shoulder strap ring.






                                       "The Aladdin" Magazine Camera



                         B Daylight Kodak (or possibly C Daylight Kodak)



                                   C Daylight Kodak for comparison


                                   B Daylight Kodak for comparison


Also of interest is the difference between the engraving for "The Aladdin" in the Geneva Optical ad above, and the camera seen in the cabinet card. As depicted in the engraving, the view finder positions are reversed compared to the cabinet card. Yet, the plate advancement knob/dial seen in the engraving as being located beneath the side view finder, is absent on the camera seen in the cabinet card. Presumably the camera had this plate advancement knob/dial, and it was located on the side of the camera hidden from view.  We know that the image wasn't printed from a reversed plate (or negative), because all of the points just mentioned identifying the camera as a B (or C) Daylight Kodak would not be positioned correctly as seen in the reversed image below:



                                                                              Image reversed


As has been seen with Anthony's Simplex Camera featured elsewhere on this website, Anthony's catalogue engravings and even the camera's original box label engraving reversed the latch and the hinge positions when compared to the actual camera.


Some thirty-odd years ago, prominent collector and photographic historian Mike Kessler came up with a short list of cameras that he'd like to come across. These were cameras that were advertised, believed to have been manufactured, but for which none were known to exist. While I can recall a few on the list, I don't remember whether "The Aladdin" was one of them...but if not, it would certainly have fallen into this category.


At least one of the cameras on that list has been seen (the Advill Camera), and possibly some others. But to my knowledge, no examples of "The Aladdin" have ever surfaced.  Not quite as good as having the real thing, but extremely exciting in that this cabinet card proves the camera did exist. And who knows, as was the case with the Advill Camera which is also shown on this website, maybe "The Aladdin" has already been found by someone who is willing to come forward and share it with us.....only time will tell.


For more information on the Simplex Camera, the Advill Camera and the Genie Camera, look for them under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website.






        From Scovill's The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1890



  The International Annual of Anthony's Photographic Bulletin, Volume V, December, 1892



            The American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1893