Editor's note: This series highlights pieces from local antique stores, businesses and collectors. Have a suggestion for a featured item? Email Jasmine at email@example.com.
Today, anyone who wants to take a family photo can pull out the pocket-sized camera from her back pocket and snap it on the spot.
But less than a century ago, that was far from reality.
Pulling back a burnt orange fabric guard, a rounded glass viewfinder can be seen. On the other side, a lens protrudes from the wooden frame. To complete the setup, a stool sits a few feet away from the camera stand where the subject of the photo would pose, being careful not to move or it would blur the photo.
Jeff Lanoue displays this antique studio camera near the checkout counter of Past & Present Home Gallery in downtown Alexandria.
Lanoue received this Century Studio camera from a woman whose husband was interested in photography and found it at an antique sale near the Twin Cities. After he passed away, she was left with his collection.
“It’s a pretty cool piece,” Lanoue said. “You don’t see it very often.”
Mostly used in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Lanoue said these studio cameras were sold by a few companies including Kodak and Ilex Optical Company. This particular camera has elements that trace back to both Ilex and Kodak.
Right below the camera’s shutter, an engraved plaque provides the camera company and patent number: Ilex Optical Co., Pat. No. 1,510,597. This information helped Lanoue date the top half of the camera back to 1922 for its first filing and 1924 as the final published copyright date.
While working for Bausch + Lomb in 1910, shutter designers Rudolph Klein and Theodor Brueck invented the first contraption that helped shutters function independently from temperature and other exterior factors.
So, they left Bausch + Lomb to start their own business called “XL Manufacturing Company.” When they heard about another line of shutters that would be named “X excel L“, the two renamed their startup company “Ilex” to avoid confusion.
Even though the top half of the 1920s studio camera ties back to one company, the base beneath provides another layer of history to this item.
The second inscription says it’s No. 10A, a Century Studio Camera made in the U.S. by Folmer Graflex Co.
Three former employees of a rival business started the Century Camera Company in 1900. Three years later, Kodak founder George Eastman bought their stock, slowly absorbed the business and merged it with another company, which would become Folmer Graflex, though the name Century continued being used through 1920.
Private collections and museums around the world may hold similar cameras, such as the Camera Heritage Museum in Staunton, Va., but this model is pretty rare, according to Lanoue.
“This specialty large format antique studio camera is a classic showstopper, perfect for a collector looking for that dramatic centerpiece,” a Past & Present blog post stated.