Scovill Mfg. Co.
American Optical Company

Landscape Camera, Reversible


American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1899, p. 60




Manufacturer: American Optical Co. New York, NY factory
Date Introduced:
1895 ; Years Manufactured: c.1895-c.1899
Construction: rear focus via push-pull; single or double swing; reversing by removable back; three-piece lens board
Materials: mahogany body; cherry base; black fabric bellows; brass hardware
Sizes Offered: 6½x8½; 8x10; 11x14; 14x17

     This simple, robust, back focus camera with tapering (cone) bellows was popular both with professional photographers as well as amateurs.  It was referred to as one of a number of names: Back Focus Cone View Camera, Acme View Camera, Reversible Back View Camera.  Despite its workmanlike design, it was highly finished in the American Optical way, showing French polish on the wood, draw file finish on the hardware, and screw slots that were laboriously aligned along the length of each brass part then filed down perfectly even with the part.

     During the Scovill Mfg. Co. era (<1889), sometimes, this model's labels read: "American Optical Co., - Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y. Prop't'rs" but sometimes they read simply "Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y.".  During the Scovill & Adams era (1889-1901), the labels merely read: "The Scovill & Adams Co. - New York".  Since the high quality construction and appearance of the camera is constant, regardless of era, it is likely that the camera was always manufactured in the New York City factory of American Optical.

There are three variations and one variation that has a different name (all are variations in the way plate holders are inserted into the back):

1)  The Acme Reversible Back View Camera Variation 1 is the camera as shown in the advertising, including a ~2" thick removable, reversible back.  To take a photograph, the back's ground glass frame is slid out and replaced by the plate holder.

2)  The Acme Reversible Back View Camera Variation 2 also has a removable, reversible back.  But it has an interior ground glass frame that is released via a lever.  The plate holder would then be inserted into the hole vacated by the ground glass frame.  This variation is assumed to be c.1885, since this same back is pictured in 1885 advertising for the American Optical Ripley. Camera.  It may, therefore, be the first variation of the Acme chronologically.  But why then would the advertising engraving show the Variation 1, above.  I believe that Variation 2 was a very short lived, expensive to produce version of the Acme, the Variation 1 being the original version made before Variation 2, but also made after Variation 2 well into the Scovill & Adams era.

3)  The Acme Reversible Back View Camera Variation 3, has yet a third variation of removable, reversible back, which, in this case, has spring back that, unlike Variation 1 and Variation 2, does not have to be removed to insert a plate holder - a very handy improvement.  It has a complex set of four springs that can be set open, allowing the plate holder to be easily slid under it, then released to tightly hold the plate holder in place.  This type of back is also seen in other high end American Optical cameras of the Scovill & Adams Co. era, such as The Irving View Camera.

     There is a fourth camera, which could be considered a variation in the Acme spring back, except that it was advertised after a gap in production, and was given the name:

4)   The Landscape View., which has a simple, two spring, spring back arrangement - a design based on Thomas Blair's Sep. 2, 1884 patent, used on cameras of almost all plate or film view cameras made after 1901 (around the time the patent expired), and still used today.

     The Acme and the Landscape were never advertised at the same time.  In fact there is a gap of at least two years between the apparent abandonment of the Acme and the start of the Landscape.  Neither the Acme nor the Landscape view cameras were advertised in the Scovill & Adams catalogs for January 1889, March 1889, March 1890, June 1890, April 1891, June 1891, and January 1892 (but no examples of catalogs from late 1892 through early 1895 have been observed as yet) or in the almanacs for 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1895.  However, it is also entirely possible that Acme-type cameras were still being manufactured 1892-1894, despite the lack of advertising seen so far.  During this Acme-Landscape gap, the only rear focus, cone bellows view camera advertised was the Flammang's Patent Revolving Back Camera Back Focus (a camera that is, other than its revolving back, identical to the Acme).  To second-guess the Scovill & Adams executives, the Flammang's would appear to be a very expensive camera to be the only offering of this type.  Remember that a rear-focus camera is the only viable option for very large (usually professional) cameras, while the cone bellows reduces the weight of the very same large cameras.  It is as if Scovill & Adams was abandoning or at least reducing the options for the professional photographer.  Whatever the reason for discontinuing the Acme, it would seem that the executives soon recognized that a camera of lower cost than that of the Flammang's was needed - by the 1896 catalog, the Flammang's has disappeared and the Landscape has appeared.

     Oddly, the Acme and the Landscape cameras were never advertised in the same type of publication.  Acme View Camera ads appear c.1878 - c.1888 in Scovill and Scovill & Adams catalogs.  They universally use the engraving showing the thick profile (~2" thick) replaceable back that is the Acme Variation 1The Landscape Camera ads  appear c.1896 - c.1899 in the American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac.  They always show the thinner and modern style (~ ½" thick) replaceable back. 


1895: not in 1895 literature until late 1895, below
American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1896, The Scovill & Adams Co., 1895, ads p. 69 ("a new camera)
American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1897, The Scovill & Adams Co. (New York, NY), 1896, ads p. 67 (still "a new camera")
American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1898, The Scovill & Adams Co. (New York, NY), 1897, ads p. 70 (still "a new camera")
American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1899, The Scovill & Adams Co. (New York, NY), 1898, ads p. 60 (still "a new camera")
George Murphy (New York, NY) Catalog, April 1898, p. 20 (as the Eagle Reversible Back View Camera)
American Annual of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac for 1900, The Scovill & Adams Co. (New York, NY), 1899, ads p. 89



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