I am going to deviate from my pattern of introducing a camera and then posting the servicing information … the next camera that I am going to talk about does not have any documented servicing as I have decided not to. The reason … it is a big restoration and requires a lot of thought since the camera is really more a collector’s item than a working camera.
So here is the schpeel …
Before Eastman Kodak (yes, photography did exist before roll film was invented), there was the Rochester Optical Company … hmm, now that I have have re-read this sentence I realize that many of todays generation of photographers may not know who/what Kodak is.
In 1880, William H. Walker opened a photographic camera manufacturing company in … Rochester NY. Now there is some interesting historical significance with this man, he made the a very easy to use dry-plate camera for the average person to use (it even included it’s own tripod). This was also the first camera with interchangeable parts (makes production of cameras easier)
In 1883, a Mr. Carlton bought the company and used the name of Rochester Optical Company (Mr. Walker went on to join Eastman Kodak and co-created roll film technology and a roll film holder for plate cameras).
There appears to have been some odd history with ROC during this period … sibling rivalry, multiple companies amalgamating, and market share loss to Kodak … eventually leading to a takeover (well it was probably just a purchase of an almost bankrupt company) by Eastman Kodak in 1903. Rochester Optical Company (R.O.C.) was one of the most dominant camera companies in North America prior to Kodak appearing on the market. A large number of cameras were produced, with the Premo being their most known name brand.
There is one camera that I will talk about … and that is the Folding Premier camera.
First made in 1892, it’s a box style self-casing camera. This is a version of the Premier camera but with a fold out front bed. Four versions were made up to 1895.
The model I have may be the first version based on the descriptions that I could find. It used 5×7 dry plates (was available in a 4×5 version), but also could support celluloid plates (cut film) and even a roll film holder was available.
It has the unique mechanism in the lensboard that spring loaded the shutter release … you wind a spring and it could fire the shutter six times and it was also had interchangeable lens as the shutter was not in the lens. In 1893 they changed the camera shutter so the rapid fire shutter is no longer available.
This ROC was “rescued” from a collection of cameras being sold off. Silvano (of Silvano Colour Lab, closed in 2009) was in the photography business since 1955, and he collected many cameras over that time. When the business finally closed they family sold off everything (including lab equipment). I had a personal connection with this lab (people that worked there, including the owners) so I went to the liquidation sale. Sadly I missed out on a couple of great Alpa reflex cameras as I casually decided to go there later in the day (I was expecting the prime cameras to be taken within minutes of the sale as they posted the cameras for sale days before they opened the liquidation) … when I got there it was mostly the “unwanted” that was left.
One of these unwanted cameras was a big “dirty” brown box sitting on the counter with a bunch of Kodak folders. I figured this was the ROC they advertised, but I thought that it would have been bought by now. Having purchased the little items that I wanted to get, we (my wife and I) decided that the ROC had to go to a good home and not swallowed up by one of the “Lomo” scavengers that were picking up anything that looked really “vintage” … some of them were even trying to bargain the price down on $15.00 Kodak folders … lucky for us that Lomo photographers aren’t heavy into large format.
Ok, back to the camera … the Folding Premier was in poor shape, and I guessed that Silvano tried to restore it at one time but probably got distracted by other projects. The black leather covering has been affected by red rot so it is flaking off in many places, piece of wood on the front/top is broken off, the leather handle is missing, wood cover is also separating, and the ground screen is missing (a large ground glass sheet was in the back of the camera, probably to eventually be shaped down to size).
The shutter is in perfect working condition. The spring still can fire six times (I think because the extended 4×5 model held 6 plate holders in the back, though that model never had this shutter).
The knob on the front loads up the spring, and the shutter release is the button on top.
It has the standard R.O. Co. single view #2 – 10” lens with rotating diaphragm (that moves freely), and the glass is almost perfect.
Unlike the leather body covering, the bellows look in good shape, and it came with two original wood plate holders.
So … what to do with it ? It is a very scarce camera, and 128 years old.
I was thinking of just keeping it in its present form, it’s magic is its age … though I keep thinking of stablizing the leather with Klucel G.