Scovill Mfg. Co.
Ne Plus Ultra
Rigid Platform (A-E)
Dry Plate Outfit (Model
C.H. Codman Catalog, 1883, p. 13
No. A (4x5), ebonized finish
No. C(5x8), ebonized
finish, for stereo and mono
Scovill Mfg. Co., New Haven, CT factory
Date Introduced: - ; Years
Construction: rigid platform;
back focus via
push-pull; no swing; non-reversing; no lens board
Materials: white wood body; cherry base; black fabric
bellows; brass hardware, varnish finish
Sizes Offered: #A=4x5 (shown in photos above); #B=5x8; #C=5x8
stereo; #D=6½x8½, #E=8x10
The name Ne Plus
Ultra has a long history.
In the early part of the 1880's, the Ne
Plus Ultra was Scovill's low-priced entry into amateur photographer's
equipment. It was a simple camera having a rigid bed and no movements, so
was rather bulky in large sizes, for which reason it was only made in
6½x8½ and smaller. The Ne Plus Ultra
designations A-D were Scovill's model number for a camera outfit: camera,
lens, one plateholder, a tripod and a wooden case. Designations AA-DD
were for the same outfit, but also including a box of dozen dry plates and a few
darkroom items. Designations AAA-DDD included everything from
AA-DD and a complete chemical/darkroom setup.
From c.1881 to
c.1883, the platform of the Ne Plus Ultra was rigid. While a rigid
platform is inexpensive to produce, it apparently didn't take long for Scovill
to realize the advantage of a folding platform, and advertisements from c.1883
to c.1885 describe the Ne Plus Ultra as having folding platforms.
Here, these are called: Ne Plus Ultra
Rigid Platform (A-E) and Ne
Plus Ultra Folding Platform (A-E).
Richard Walsl (The Photographer's Friend, 7th ed, Richard Walsl (Baltimore,
MD) Catalog, 1882, p. 51)
offered cameras having the same description as Ne Plus Ultra Rigid Platform
(A-E), but he did not identify them as a Scovill product (a common practice
then), and he called them, simply, Dry Plate Outfits.
In Scovill's 1886 catalog,
How to Make
Photographs and Descriptive Price List, copyright 1886 (distributed by
Andrew J. Smith, Providence, RI), the low cost camera is the
Favorite. The only camera using the name Ne
Plus Ultra in the catalog is the Ne Plus
Ultra Bicycle View, which is unrelated (other than co-opting the name)
to the former Ne Plus Ultra , since the bicycle camera is in a size (3¼x4¼)
in which the former Ne Plus Ultra was never made, and its bed folds,
contrary to early Ne Plus Ultra specs. So it would appear that by
the mid 1880's, amateurs demanded a folding bed camera, and therefore, the
folding-bed Favorite apparently replaced the rigid bed Ne Plus Ultra
as Scovill's low cost, entry level camera. The Favorite occupies
the first few pages of Scovill catalogs, a position occupied by the Ne Plus
Ultra in the 1883 catalog. The Favorite also took the Ne
Plus Ultra letter designations, A-D, AA-DD and AAA-DDD,
and the letters have the same meanings other than the camera model being
different. So it seems that the Ne Plus Ultra was discontinued in
favor of the Favorite.
In Scovill's 1887 catalog,
How to Make Photographs
and Descriptive Price List, dated April 1887 (distributed by C.H. Codman,
Boston, MA), the Favorite occupies the first few pages, as usual.
But the Ne Plus Ultra makes a come-back, immediately following the
Favorite. In this era, the Ne Plus Ultra type is
less expensive than the Favorite (also made of white wood) in the same size. It
appears that Scovill needed a camera less-expensive than their already low cost
Favorite, and resurrected the name Ne Plus Ultra for it. In
1887, only two sizes, 4x5 and 5x8, were advertised. By 1889, a
6½x8½ size was added, and this Ne Plus Ultra incarnation was
advertised until at least 1896. Since the letters (A-E) that formerly were
used for the Ne Plus Ultra were applied to the
Favorite in 1886, the 1887 &ff. Ne Plus Ultra had no letters in advertising.
The Ne Plus Ultra came with
either a natural varnish finish or a black painted "Ebonized" finish. The 4x5 Ebonized and 5x8 Ebonized Stereo are
in photos above;
the 4x5 Natural and two 5x8 Naturals are illustrated below.
The Photographer's Friend, 7th ed, Richard Walsl (Baltimore,
MD) Catalog, 1882, p. 51 (as Dry Plate Outfit A-C)
Make Photographs and Descriptive Price List, Scovill Mfg. Co., distributed
by C.H. Codman (Boston, MA), 1883, p. 11-12
(as Ne Plus Ultra A-E, AA-DD, AAA-DDD)
How to Make Photographs and Descriptive Price List,
Scovill Mfg. Co. (New York, NY),
distributed by Wilson, Hood & Co. (Philadelphia, PA) Catalog, 1883
(As Ne Plus Ultra)
Scovill's Photo. Series No. 1, The Photographic Amateur, 2nd Edition,
J. Traill Taylor, Scovill Mfg. Co. pub. (New York, NY), original copyright 1883,
2nd Ed. about 1885, p.
a3-a5, a8 (as
Ne Plus Ultra A-E,
No. A (4x5), natural finish
another No. A (4x5), stained finish
No. B (5x8), natural finish, no
lens board. Note that there are no notches in the back to fit a stereo
septum -what would be the point without a lens board?
5x8, natural finish with lens board - the stereo version.
The lens board allows the two-lens lens board (not present) to be substituted.
Back to American Optical