Scott's Photographica Collection
Photographic Technology Patents
This page presents a number of patents, many of which represent important historical milestones in the development of photography.
Like many collectors I've accumulated a large reference library of catalogs, price guides, magazines, books, advertisements, instruction manuals, collector's association journals - you name it. Happily,
on occasion, I find an item that I can't locate in any of
these sources. It doesn't happen often enough, but when it does occur I
become obsessed to learn something about the item's history.
I've found patents to be an invaluable research tool.
As one example I was able to identify a strange looking object that I was sure was photographic, but
looked like some kind of medical device. I showed this object to other collectors. The consensus opinion was it must be an accessory self-timer. After searching the US Patent and Trademark Office Web site for an hour I had my answer.
It is an early camera self-timer attachment patented in 1902
by Robert Faries of Decatur, Illinois. Links to the patent drawings and description of the self-timer
are on this page.
The patents on this page were downloaded from the USPTO Website as PDF files.
- R. Faries - Shutter Tripper for Cameras,
1902 (Autopoze Self-timer)
I believe this to be the second USA patent for a camera self-timer and possibly the first or second self-timer marketed in the USA.
Photo and description of the Faries Shutter
A. Slocum - Shutter Releasing Device, 1901 (Self-timer)
I believe this to be the first USA patent for a camera self-timer.
An interesting feature is it relies upon a lit fuse for operation. I
do not know if this device was marketed. Please contact me if you
have information about this self-timer.
- G. Eastman and F. M. Cossitt
- Detective Camera, 1886
This detective camera patented by George
Eastman and F. M. Cossitt predates the Original Kodak introduced in 1888. It is said
a small number were manufactured for sale. Eastman decided the camera
would be too expensive and halted production. Look at the very strange shutter mechanism. If you've had the opportunity to examine an
Original Kodak, you may notice that some of the concepts in the detective camera design were carried over to the original and later Kodaks.
- W. Schmid - Photographic Camera, 1883 (Schmid Detective Camera)
The Schmid Detective camera is historically important because it was the first hand-held instantaneous camera manufactured for sale. Prior to its introduction, cameras required
the use of a tripod or similar support. This camera relied upon newly introduced rapid dry plates. These plates were fast enough that a tripod was not required in bright daylight.
I think the most significant technological advance in the Schmid patent was the introduction of a waist-level reflex viewfinder. This allowed the photographer to view the subject while
hand-holding the camera. Prior to this development viewing the subject was a cumbersome process that required the photographer to switch back and forth between inserting a ground glass screen for focus and viewing, and a glass plate
This camera was
patented by William Schmid of Brooklyn, New York. The patent rights were assigned to E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., New York City. Anthony marketed this camera as the Schmid Detective camera.
Sadly, I don't own a Schmid Detective camera. Why not follow this link to the George Eastman House where you can
view one from their collection?
- George Eastman - Camera, 1889
This patent with the modest name "Camera", details George Eastman's design for his string-set sector shutter. The first Kodak camera introduced in 1888 employed a unique barrel form of shutter mechanism. The sector shutter was more reliable and less expensive to manufacture than the barrel shutter.
The sector shutter was introduced with the No.1 Kodak camera in 1889 and used on subsequent string-set Kodak models as well.
Photo and description of No. 2 Kodak camera with sector shutter
- Book Match Shipping Container, 1940
Not a photographic patent, but used by Ansco in their promotion of Super Anscochrome Tungsten film.
Photo and description of the Ansco matchbook
Niéll - Photographic Camera, 1904 (Expo Watch Camera)
Thomas Wallace - Camera Shutter
and Operating Mechanism Therefor, 1920 (Expo Watch Camera)
Both of these patents apply to the Expo Watch camera, an early
subminiature camera disguised as a pocket watch. The 1904 patent was
issued to Magnus Niéll, who assigned one half of the rights to Thomas
Wallace. Thomas Wallace was issued a patent in 1920 for improvements
to the original 1904 design. The Expo Watch camera was licensed for
manufacture and sale in England to Houghtons Ltd. under the Ticka camera
Photo and description of the Expo Watch
Photo and description of the Ticka Watch Camera
- Magnus Niéll -
Vest-Pocket Camera, 1908 (Advanced Version of the Expo Watch Camera)
Camera designer Magnus Niéll applied for this patent in 1907. It
was granted in 1908. Unfortunately this improved version of the Expo
Watch Camera was not manufactured for sale. This is an attractive
design that among other improvements, features a built-in folding reflex
Photo and description of the Expo Watch camera
- T. H. Blair - Camera, 1890
(Hawk-Eye Detective Camera)
This is one of various patents for the Hawk-Eye Detective camera issued to
Thomas H. Blair of the Blair Camera Company. The Hawk-Eye Detective was
originally produced by the Boston Camera Company in 1888. Blair
purchased Boston Camera Company in 1890 and continued to improve and sell
the Hawk-Eye camera for nearly a decade. This large wood box camera
took 4 x 5 inch photographs on glass plates. You'll notice
similarities and differences between the camera in my collection, which is
improved model, and the features and design covered in this patent.
Photo and description of a Blair
Hawk-Eye Detective camera
J. Monner - Exposure Meter, 1939 (Pupilometer)
Since the earliest days of photography an interesting variety of inventive
methods have been developed to assist the photographer to arrive at a
correct exposure. This patented and marketed device is to my mind
one of the most interesting. It is based upon the concept that the
size of a photographer's eye pupil varies in proportion to the amount of
light illuminating the scene. By measuring the relative
size of the pupil, and comparing this to a chart of pupil sizes, the chart
would reveal the correct shutter speed and lens aperture settings for a
Photo and description of the Monner Exposure Meter
Ansel Watrous - Device for Determining Light Intensity, 1934 (Pupilometer)
This pupilometer predates the Monner exposure meter patent above. It
is interesting in that it is a very elaborate mechanical device and also
because the patent application claims the meter could be built into a camera for
automatic exposure control.
- August and Louis Lumière - Photographic Plate for Color Photography, 1906
The earliest commercially successful method for creating full color
photographs was invented by the Lumiere brothers of Lyon, France.
Their invention dates to 1903. A US patent was applied for during
1904 and granted in 1906. The Lumiere brothers began marketing their
color plates in 1907. This process became very popular and was
practiced by both amateur and professional photographers until the mid to
An early color portrait and additional information
An unopened 4x5 inch box of Autochrome plates
- Heinz Kilfitt -
Photographic Camera, 1936 (Robot Camera)
The Robot camera was the invention of Heinz Kilfitt of Schweim, Germany, a
prolific photographic inventor and entrepeneur. Heinz Kilfitt sold his patent to Hans Berning who formed
Otto Berning and Company to manufacture and market Robot cameras.
This is the USA Robot patent, applied for in 1935 and issued in
1936. The German patent, not shown, was applied-for in 1934.
The USA patent gives a thorough explanation of the workings of this
amazing little spring-motor automatic advance camera.
Photo and description of a 1954 Robot Junior camera
- William V. Esmond - Combined Camera and Photograph Exhibitor,
1892 (Kombi Camera and Graphoscope)
The Kombi Camera and Graphoscope is a combination camera and transparency
viewer. The Kombi camera is classified by the US Patent Office as a
"camera convertible to a viewer". To date, 52 patents have
been issued with this classification. The Kombi was the second such
patent granted. It was preceded by a combination camera/lantern slide projector
patented in 1881.
The Kombi was manufactured and sold by Alfred C. Kemper of Chicago, Illinois USA. It is a charming, very small all-metal
box camera of historical importance.
Photo and description of a Kombi Camera and
and Charles Gamwell - Photographic Camera, 1898 (Adams & Westlake Adlake Camera)
Harry and Charles Gamwell of Liverpool, England assigned this camera patent to
the Adams & Westlake Company of Chicago, Illinois USA. This patent
covers the Adlake camera's unusual plate holder and plate opening mechanism.
After reading the patent, I still don't understand why this design was marketed.
This appears to be an unnecessarily complex mechanism that offers no real
advantage over standard plate holders of the period.
Photo and description of an Adlake Camera
A. Bornmann - Film Shifter, 1929 (Ansco Memo Camera)
The Film Shifter patent describes the Ansco Memo camera's claw film advance
distinctive body design of the Memo camera is apparent in the patent drawing.
Carl A. Bornmann of Binghamton, NY USA assigned the patent rights to Agfa
Ansco Corporation, also of Binghamton, NY.
Photo and description of an Ansco Memo Camera
- Benjamin A. Slocum and John F. Polhemus - Photographic Package, 1931
(Ansco 35mm Film
This patent covers the Ansco Memo film cassette design. The cassette was
introduced with the Ansco Memo camera in the late 1920s. This
cassette permitted the use of 35mm cine film in a still camera and predates
introduction of the standard 35mm film cassette by Eastman Kodak Company in
Photo and description of the Ansco 35mm
A. Bornmann - Camera Casing, 1928 (Ansco Memo Camera)
This is a design patent covering the Ansco Memo's distinctive look.
Design patents describe an invention's appearance. In contrast, utility
patents provide a functional description for an invention. Apparently
Carl Bornmann saw his invention not only in terms of its function but equally
in terms of its form. Such vision brings another inventor, Walter Zapp,
the creator of the Minox camera to mind.
Photo and description of an Ansco Memo camera
A. Brownell - Shutter for Photographic Cameras, 1902 (Panoram Kodak Camera)
This patent, assigned to the Eastman Kodak Company, describes the function of
the No. 1 and No. 4 Panoram Kodak cameras. While Eastman Kodak held a
variety of panoramic camera patents, this particular patent provides a clear
and thorough description of the camera mechanism.
One of the
patent's important claims, is that this design is an improvement over other
panoramic cameras in that the lens does not require capping before tensioning
the mechanism. It is interesting to see how this was achieved.
This improvement addressed a weakness in the Al-Vista panoramic camera design
that required capping as the lens was swung into its firing position.
Photos and description of an Eastman Kodak No. 1 Panoram Kodak
...an Eastman Kodak No. 3A Panoram Kodak
...and a Baby Al-Vista Panoramic Camera
Albert Verschoor - Photographic Camera, 1936 (Argus A camera)
Charles Verschoor's miniature camera for 35mm film was designed for economy of
manufacture. Primarily this patent covers a novel form of collapsible
lens mount. The Argus model A camera, introduced in 1936, obtained its
distinctive features from this patented design.
Because the Argus A
was inexpensive to manufacture, and yet provided good features and quality, it
had a profound effect on the acceptance of 35mm photography by the general
Photos and description of an Argus A camera
B. Cummins, Theodore R. Kolter - Sequence Camera, 1965 (Graph-Check Sequence
The Graph-Check Sequence camera creates eight still sequential photographs of
a moving subject. The eight images are recorded on a single sheet of standard
4x5 inch Polaroid film. The time
interval between successive exposures is adjustable from approximately 1
second to 1/80 second. This novel camera is equipped with eight separate
lenses and shutters. Although the Graph-Check is considered to be a
specialized-use camera, its inventors intended the Graph-Check to be used by
laymen. The camera was primarily marketed to athletics coaches and
In granting this patent, the examiner referenced four previous
sequence camera patents. The earliest patent referenced was issued in
1883 to the famous inventor and photographer of moving subjects, Edward J.
Photos and description of the Graph-Check Sequence camera
- Carl Bornmann and Ezra C. Clark - Photographic Camera, 1916
(Automatic and Semi-Automatic Ansco Cameras)
Myron B. Gordon - Automatic Film
Winding Camera, 1920 (Automatic and Semi-Automatic Ansco Cameras)
These two patents, assigned to the Ansco Company, describe designs for
spring-motor drive roll film cameras. The Semi-Automatic Ansco of 1924
was the world's first auto-advance still camera for paper-backed rollfilm.
Photos and description of a Semi-Automatic Ansco camera
- Hugo Fritzsche - Roll-Film for Photographic Purposes, 1904
(Vidil Focusing Film)
Hugo Fritzcshe - Film-Spool for
Photographic Cameras, 1904 (Vidil Film Spool)
Hugo Fritzsche of Leipzig, Germany was the inventor of a very unusual rollfilm.
Marketed as Vidil film, and Vidil Focusing Film, it was available for only a short
time at the beginning of the 20th century. Vidil
film was patented in Europe as well as the United States. Here are two
USA patents for this relatively unknown invention.
Vidil film gave viewing screen capability to non-reflex roll film cameras.
Actually, the viewing screens were built into the film, not the camera!
Photos and description of an Ansco No.7 camera for
- Louis Mandel - Magazine Camera, 1914
(Mandelette Postcard Camera)
The Mandelette Postcard camera, introduced ca 1913, was marketed to street photographers.
With its built-in developing tank the camera was capable of taking and
processing a direct-positive postcard-format photograph within minutes.
Photos and description of a Mandelette Postcard Camera
- Lewis H. Moomaw - High Speed Camera, 1937
(Bell & Howell Foton)
Filed in 1935 and granted in 1937, this patent by Lewis H. Moomaw was assigned to the
Folmer Graflex Corporation, makers of Graflex and Graphic cameras. I
can only speculate that Bell & Howell purchased or licensed the patent rights
from Folmer Graflex.
Lewis H. Moomaw - Camera, 1940
(Bell & Howell Foton)
This second patent by Lewis H. Moomaw was filed in 1938 and granted in 1940. Unlike the
earlier patent listed above, Mr. Moomaw retained all rights.
I thought a camera as unique as the Foton would have been protected by a
patent, but after long hours of research I gave up looking. Then I
was contacted by a gentleman who owns what appears to be an early version of
the Foton. He told me his camera is marked with two patent
numbers and passed along the information. Thanks to Mr. David Jones
for his help!
Photos and description of the Bell & Howell Foton
- Bermpohl Naturfarbenkamera, 1930
The Bermpohl one-shot tri-color camera was an exceptionally capable and beautiful professional level color separation camera that was popular
ca. 1930 - 1950.
Photos and description of a Bermpohl Naturfarbenkamera
- Optikotechna Spektaretta Camera, 1938
I located the British patent for the Spektaretta camera by using the Espacenet Patent Search at
https://www.epo.org. I combined the four separate pages into a single PDF file for ease of viewing.
Photos and description of a Spektaretta Camera
Page created September 10, 2003; updated July 5, 2022