Palmer Lake Historical Society
Serving the Tri-Lakes/Palmer Divide Since 1956
P.O. Box 662, Palmer Lake, CO 80133


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Vintage Cameras
Bob Smith
Professional Photographer, and Collector

Vintage CamerasI started collecting cameras in 1966 as a photo student at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee. I saw an old wooden view camera and thought I could use it as a working camera. It sat on a dresser in my room for Three months without being used and I guess that started me in to collecting.

Over the years I have had as many as 500 old cameras displayed in my 1872 era studio in Milwaukee. Cameras were a great topic of conversation with clients and fellow camera buffs.

When I moved to Colorado in December of 2000 I sold or gave away all but 80 of my favorite models. Most of these are the large format wooden cameras with brass or other style lenses.

The large format cameras are of great interest since I have shot a lot of large film in my studio and on location work over the years. I still shoot a lot of 4x5 film and some 8x10 film.

I still have a working 11 x 14 Deardorff camera but haven't used it since moving to Colorado.

Have fun viewing the cameras.
Bob Smith

A Brief History of Cameras & Photography

This collection of photographic cameras and supplies is from 1875 era to the early 1940s. Early cameras of this period were made of fine hard woods, had wonderful finishes, and sometimes brass hardware. These early wooden cameras were large format types using large glass plates exposing one plate at a time using film/plate holders.

Vintage Cameras

Early Colorado photographers like William Henry Jackson for example, exposed his glass plates on locations using cameras like the Rochester Optical Co. 6 X 8 camera, or the Scovel 8 X 10 camera, or the Seneca 11 X 14 camera in this collection. These cameras date back to the 1870s & 1890s, which was the time Jackson photographed Colorado and a lot of the Western United States. States. A fine example of Jackson's work is the image of Palmer Lake, above the display cabinet.

Vintage Cameras

The dating of old camera equipment is a battle sometimes. A few clues are helpful; large folds in bellows are 1870 era cameras, but some old cameras have had new bellows added such as the Seneca camera in this collection. Lenses may date cameras as well. Waterhouse stops (f-stops) were a rotating disc set into the lens or a slot in the lens, are examples of very early lenses of photography. Lenses after the 1900s have internal f-stops built inside the lens casing.

Vintage Cameras

Lens formularies went through big changes because of a young woman lens designer at the Ziess Lens and Camera Co., in Germany. She was a great designer and created the Tessar, Sonnar and Planar lenses formulars, which were of the highest quality then and are still on Hasselblad cameras today. These lenses were designed in the early 1900s without computers, a mathematical feat.

In time, camera manufacture's changed the look of their products trying to bring more buyers of cameras and supplies into the market. George Eastman started one of the largest photographic companies, which brought many innovations to the market. The company he founded was the Eastman Kodak Co., which bought many other camera makers like Century, Conley, Premo, and many others. Kodak also made roll film and started the small box camera trend, which brought photography to the general public. Other company's merged to make bigger companies, such as the Scovill and Anthony Cos. which merged to make the Ansco Co. in 1907.

Cameras changed from the 1900s through the 1920s with other new lens designs and smaller film/format cameras. Leather covered wood and cardboard still were the materials used by most popular camera companies.

In the 1930s, small 35mm film was brought to still photography and small metal cameras over took the market. Sales of the new color roll film began, light meters came into the market, all changing the photographic business. Most of these modern cameras are not in my Collection because I like the wooden and large format film size cameras.

Most of the famous Photographers of early history like William Henry Jackson, Stieglitz, Steichen, Curtis, and a little later Weston and Adams all used large format wooden cameras.

A photograph by the famous photographer William Henry Jackson is also on display. The Jackson/Fielder Historical Photograph Book is also available, in the museum, for your viewing.


If you would like to learn more about Tri-Lakes history, the Palmer Lake Historical Society, or the Lucretia Vaile Museum, please e-mail us at