Tisdell Camera and Manufacturing Company, Scranton, Pennsylvania            circa 1893



The Tisdell Camera also referred to as the Tisdell Detective Camera and the Tisdell Hand Camera, was introduced by June, 1893 with an ad appearing in Scribner's Magazine listing it as "The Tisdell Camera". It's been called the second version of the Tisdell & Whittlesey (or "T. & W".) Patent Detective Camera, given that Abner G. Tisdell was instrumental in the design for both cameras.



                                      Tisdell & Whittlesey's T. & W. Patent Detective Camera



In reality, the Tisdell Camera was a distinctly different camera in its construction and operation. Made by Tisdell subsequent to Elbert A. Whittlesey's passing on March 11, 1891 and the eventual dissolution of Tisdell & Whittlesey, New York, Abner Tisdell's new firm Tisdell Camera and Manufacturing Company was established in 1893 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Tisdell resided in Brooklyn, New York from the mid-1880's, relocating to Scranton, Pennsylvania with the establishment of his new factory. He would move back to Brooklyn by mid-1904, evidenced by his address cited on a sound reproducer patent for Edison-style cylinder players.



                        From Scribner's Magazine, June, 1893




                 From The Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania June 3, 1893





Comparing it against the earlier Tisdell & Whittlesey Detective, the Tisdell Camera's plateholders and focusing screen were accessed through a door hinged at the center top, versus the T. & W. Patent Detective's side-hinged full-length top door. The Tisdell Camera featured a hinged front panel with a removable lens board. The shutter's release and fine focusing controls were accessed from underneath the camera, as opposed to the T&W Detective's controls which were contained within the camera on most examples and its shutter release which was located at the top corner outside. The Tisdell Camera's shutter design was covered by Patent No. 536,242 granted to Abner G. Tisdell on March 26, 1895. Tisdell's June 14, 1893 patent application just happened to coincide with the Tisdell Camera's introduction, but it would take almost two years for the patent to be granted. The patent being assigned to the Tisdell Camera and Manufacturing Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, indicates the company was still in business in early 1895. But by this time, production of the camera is believed to have ceased, most likely sometime in 1894.



                                            Source:  Google Patents


This Tisdell Camera's shutter board is stamped "Pat. Apl'd For" along the top and one side edge. This suggests it was manufactured sometime between June 14, 1893 and March 26, 1895.




Unlike the T. & W. Detective's single fixed viewfinder, the Tisdell Camera's viewfinder could be rotated for either horizontal or vertical format:


The Tisdell Camera's sliding box-in-a-box arrangement, now replaced the earlier T. & W. Patent Detective Camera's bellows (or truncated pyramid):


                               Tisdell Camera                                                            Tisdell & Whittlesey's T. & W. Patent Detective Camera




At least one example of the Tisdell Camera has been seen with covers over the viewfinders:


                                                                                           Antony D. Manthos Collection



Another interesting feature, some of the plate holders accompanying this Tisdell Camera example are stamped "The Phantom", along with "Tisdell's Patent, July 29th, 1888".  This date appears to be an incorrect stamping, as research thus far has only produced Patent No. 386,907 granted to Abner G. Tisdell on July 31, 1888 for a "Photographic Plate Holder".



                                                            Tisdell Camera's "The Phantom" plate holder


Adding a further bit of mystery, another one of these holders bears the same "Phantom" stamping, as an overstrike of "The Blair Camera Co. Patented Feb. 9th 1875, " Sept. 2nd, 1884". These dates correspond with Patent No. 159,537 granted to Stewart L. Bergstresser of Laurelton, Pennsylvania on February 9, 1875 for a "Photographic Plate Holder" (assigned to J.B. Bergstresser, of Renovo, Pennsylvania and E.L. Bergstresser, of Hublersburg, Pennsylvania) and Patent No. 304,406 granted to Thomas Henry Blair, Boston, Massachusetts on September 2, 1884 for a "Camera Box" (for Blair's Combination Camera back and plate holder).




                                                                                                                                    Blair Hawk-Eye plate holder


Another known Tisdell Camera has been found with these same holders, strongly suggesting that Tisdell outsourced his holders from Blair, their manufacture incorporating features from Blair's previous patents along with Tisdell's patent. If true, this arrangement between Tisdell and Blair may have existed even earlier with the manufacture of the T. & W. Patent Detective Camera. These Tisdell "Phantom" holders, though simpler and lacking a darkslide lock, do share some construction similarities with those holders used in Blair's Hawk-Eye.   


This Tisdell Camera bears the number "54", stamped on the lens board, the base of the front shutter compartment, the top edge of the rear panel and on top of the rear internal frame of the sliding box section. The general view, is that appearing in numerous places, these were assembly numbers that were used to associate all components fitted for a particular camera. However, this number may have also have served the dual purpose as a serial number. Another known example, Tisdell Camera (#60 shown here with the covered viewfinders), displays the same numbering scheme as on #54.


The Tisdell Detective's lens is marked "Tisdell Mfg. Co., 4x5 Rapid Rectilinear", with its mounting flange marked "Made in France". The lens is speculated to have been manufactured by Darlot, Paris. Its brass lens cap actually slides into the lens shade rather than over it as typically seen on most lenses of the era. Being sized 4x5, its range could cover 4x5 or 3-1/4 x 4-1/4. Unlike the earlier T. & W. Patent Detective Camera that was offered in both these formats, it's unknown whether the Tisdell Camera was available in formats other than 4x5.





Cameras, lenses and other products by Tisdell & Whittlesey or Tisdell Camera and Manufacturing Company, are rarely encountered today. Examples of the T. & W. Patent Detective Camera do surface from time to time, but the Tisdell Camera is almost never seen.


My Thanks to Antony D. Manthos for supplying photos and information for his Tisdell Camera.


For more information on the Tisdell & Whittlesey T. & W. Patent Detective Camera, look for it under the "Antique Cameras" section of this website, or click on the link below:

The T. & W. Patent Detective Camera