Maker Unknown            Early to mid-1890's




Though technically unidentified, I'm calling this early 5x7 self-casing camera "The Brilliant" based upon the name found cast into the lens standard's adjustment knobs. Other than these knobs, the camera is absent of any markings that might indicate its name or who manufactured it:




The camera is believed to be American made and to date to the early to mid-1890's based upon its style of construction and its heavier and more elaborate hardware.


Having no finger joints or dovetailing, its solid panel construction is similar to that found on other 1890's detective (or hand) cameras such as Scovill's Empire and several known examples of what may possibly be Frank McLaughlin's New England Rattler:


                                                                  Scovill Empire No. 1  


                                            Frank McLaughlin's New England Rattler  (unconfirmed)


The Rattler's rear panel is similar in style to the folding bed and the rear panel on "The Brilliant", which are each made up of five sections:


              Image 1 - Vintage/Early Mahogany 5x7 Format Folding Plate Camera w/Groundglass Insert



     Image 2 - Vintage/Early Mahogany 5x7 Format Folding Plate Camera w/Groundglass Insert


Another similarity to these Scovill detective cameras is the natural wood finish in lieu of leather covering. The camera bears no indications it was ever covered, and this together with its simple finish seems to suggest it was more economical in construction. Yet, the build quality is a step above with its very substantial bed rails and very elaborate lens standard supports. Not having seen another example and judging by its construction, one might think it was a either a factory prototype or a one-off built by someone with cabinet-making skills. I've not seen this exact hardware on products by other known makers of the period, which given its quality strongly suggests the camera was factory-built.  When acquired, this camera had no shutter or lens board.


If indeed this camera's name was "The Brilliant", maybe it originated from some aspect of the camera being someone's vision of a better idea, because of its bright and more elaborate hardware, possibly both or maybe neither. In any case, further research or the discovery of another example may one day solve the mystery.