American Optical Co., New York, NY/Scovill Mfg. Co., Waterbury, CT & New Haven, CT

 

Ne Plus Ultra Rigid Platform (A-E)
Dry Plate Outfit (Model #A-C)

 

C.H. Codman Catalog, 1883, p. 13

 

Ne Plus Ultra No. A (4x5), ebonized finish.  Because of the serial number, this camera is thought to have been made by American Optical, even though it is not marked as to maker.  Its plate holder is marked American Optical.
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Stamp, serial number "86" on bottom of rear standard.
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Plate holder installed on camera in place of the ground glass frame.  The plate holder is stamped: "Amer. Optical Co., Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y."
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American Optical Ne Plus Ultra No. C (5 x 8"), ebonized finish, for stereo and mono
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Stamps on front: top: "3" serial no on front standard, bottom: "Amer. Optical Co., Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y." on stereo lens board.
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Stamps on platform/base of camera: top: "3" serial no. on rear standard, bottom: "Amer. Optical Co., Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y." and "3" at the rear of the platform.
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Serial number "3" on top of ground glass frame.
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Manufacturer: Scovill Mfg. Co., New Haven, CT factory
Date Introduced:
- ; Years Manufactured: c.1881-c.1883
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
Notes:

     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.

References:
 

The Photographer's Friend, 7th ed, Richard Walsl (Baltimore, MD) Catalog, 1882, p. 51 (as Dry Plate Outfit A-C)
How to 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, AA-DD, AAA-DDD)
 

 

Scovill Ne Plus Ultra No. A (4x5), natural finish
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Stamp, serial number, probably 1="161" but could be "191".  A serial number on the 5x8" version of this camera (below) would be read this way.  The "1"s seem to have been struck with capital "I"s, so it is not clear in which direction it was struck.
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Two plate holders that fit this camera.  The top one, stamped "Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y.", has the serial no. "77" stamped in two places.  The bottom one, stamped "Amer. Optical Co., Scovill Mfg. Co., N.Y.", has the serial number "66" stamped in the same two places.  These number stamps are smaller than those used to stamp the serial number on the camera.
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Another Scovill Ne Plus Ultra No. A (4x5), stained finish



The ground glass frame, which must be removed to install a plate holder, has an early Scovill stamp having rather large letters and the word "manufacturing" spelled out.


 

Scovill Ne Plus Ultra No. B (5x8), stained 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?
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Stamp, rear of platform: "Scovill M'f'g. Co., N.Y."

Same stamp, top of ground glass frame: "Scovill M'f'g. Co., N.Y."
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Putnam pamphlet that was with the camera.  Perhaps the camera was sold through Putnam's shop.  Some Scovill Favorites were re-marked and sold as the Putnam Marvel; perhaps also the Ne Plus Ultra.
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Scovill Mfg. Co. Ne Plus Ultra 5x8, natural finish with lens board - the stereo version.  The lens board allows the two-lens lens board (not present) to be substituted.
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Stamp, "185" (probably a serial number rather than an assembly number because of it being three digits), on top of the rear standard platform.

 

 

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