L. M. Prince & Bro., Cincinnati, OH


Improved Utility


Illustrated Catalogue No. 18, L.M. Prince & Bros., p. 37.  Since this is Prince's catalog, you would think they would know what a Utility Improved looks like, but they are using a Blair Camera Co. engraving.  Prince's cameras must have been purchased from Blair, even though many Prince cameras have a Rochester Optical Co.-type clasp for their hinged ground glass frame, whereas Blair cameras usually have spring-loaded backs.
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4 x 5
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Date Introduced: - ; Years Manufactured: c. 1884-1899
Construction: front focus via push-pull but also 1" of back focus via a fine focus gear; single swing; three-piece, shifting lens board; reversing by two tripod mounts
Materials: mahogany body; cherry bed; black fabric bellows; nickeled hardware
Sizes Offered: 4x5; 5x7, 5x8 stereo, 6 ½x8 ½

princeutilityimp4x5d206.jpg (26968 bytes)     The Blair Camera Company of Boston, MA and L.M. Prince & Bro. of Cincinnati, OH apparently had a very close relationship.  Prince advertised that they carried the Blair line of cameras, but more importantly for us, L.M. Prince labels are found on Blair Camera Co. Utility Cameras, and it appears also that the Prince Utility Cameras were slightly different than the Blair Utility Cameras.

     Advertising and labels on the cameras themselves usually refer to an Improved Utility Camera.  Early literature is not specific or numerous enough to allow us to tell the difference between a Utility Camera and an Improved Utility Camera.  The problem of differentiation is exacerbated by Blair's habit of making small changes or variations.  Sometimes it seems like each Blair camera produced is slightly different than every other.

     In these web pages, the Utility Camera is split into two Blair variations and a variation made by L.M. Prince & Bro. of Cincinnati, Ohio:

Blair's Utility Camera Variation 1:  is as described in the 1884 catalog, having with a rear standard that can be moved only slightly by a focus screw on the rear of the camera.  Rather than having a hinged back, like the catalog engraving, these are usually found with a spring back of a type found on known Blair products (e.g., the Blair Roller Blind Shutter).  In addition, Utility Cameras appear to all have a single swing.  Any unmarked camera of this general description having a Blair-type spring back is assumed to have been sold by Blair, rather than L.M. Prince & Bros. - see below.

Blair's Utility Camera Variation 2:  is not to be seen in any catalogs, and has no label or stamp indicating the maker.  It differs from other Utility models by having been manufactured without a rear focus screw.  In fact, its rear standard is as fully movable as the front standard.  Its spring back is identical to that usually found on the Blair's Utility Variation 1, and also fits only Blair plate holders, so it is assumed to be a Blair product.  Since it is less work / less expensive to make a camera without a focus screw, and the general trend over time for most camera models is toward a less expensive construction, it is further assumed that Variation 1 is the earlier version.

Prince's Improved Utility Camera:  is a camera similar or identical to the 1884 Blair's Utility Camera that was advertised at least in Illustrated Catalogue No. 18, L.M. Prince & Bros. (Cincinnati, OH), c. 1899, p. 37.  L. M. Prince & Bros., at one time, carried the Blair line (see Scovill's Photo. Series No. 22, Photographic Printing Methods, Rev. W. H. Burbank, Scovill Mfg. Co. (New York, NY), 1887, ads page 19).  Cameras having a Prince Label and therefore known to be Prince have a hinged back fastened with an ROC-type clasp.  An unmarked Utility camera having such a hinged back and ROC clasp is assumed to be a Prince camera, rather than Blair (see above).  The 1899 Prince catalog used the exact same engraving as was used in the 1884 Blair catalog.  The implication is that Prince & Bros. bought cameras from Blair and labeled them as their own.  Strangely, Blair catalogs between 1884 and 1899 do not advertise the Utility Camera, so was the Utility Camera resurrected in 1899 for Prince & Bros. after years of not being made? 

The one example of a known and labeled Prince & Bros. Improved Utility Camera has a base rail with an L-shaped profile instead of the tongue-in-groove-shaped profile of the engraving (as do others that are assumed to have been sold by Blair).  Additionally, the ground glass frame of the labeled Prince Utility has a Rochester Optical-type rotary clasp, and fits Rochester Optical plate holders.   The fact that Prince & Bros. still called it a Utility Camera implies that the Blair company was still the manufacturer.  If Prince was merely making a copy of the unpatented Blair design, they would hardly call attention to it by using the same name. 

For identification purposes:
- Any camera which has a Rochester Optical-type clasp and fitting Rochester Optical plate holders is assumed to have been sold by L.M. Prince & Bros.
- Any camera which has a Blair-type spring back fitting Blair plate holders is assumed to have been sold by Blair.

Illustrated Catalogue No. 18, L.M. Prince & Bros. (Cincinnati, OH), c. 1899, p. 37



















5 x 8" (It appears that the sliding lens board system was added by an amateur owner after manufacture).  The back is a replacement for the original hinged back that had gone missing at some point in its life.
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