Film and Plate Holders

This section looks at film and plate holders as accessories or attachments rather than integral changing mechanisms within cameras and concentrates on apparatus available in Britain.

From the outset of photography ways have been sort to lighten the load of the photographer. In a period when whole-plate size glass plates held in dark-slides were the norm their weight limited what could be carried on an excursion. It might be thought that the introduction of celluloid in sheet and roll form was the answer that would sweep away the use of glass. This was not the case however; the uptake of celluloid was by no means immediate and probably did not overtake the use of glass with the serious amateur until the mid 1900s, it did though encourage many more people to take-up photography. There were several reasons for this: early celluloid films had a reputation for cockling producing slightly uneven sharpness; their speed deteriorated more quickly than plates and curling during development was a problem. Early sheet film had a much thicker base than later, but even so, was usually held in thin metal sheaths necessary to maintain flatness and, if in some kind of changing box, prevent light passing through to the next film. The sheaths fitted into conventional dark-slides which, then, had still to be used in field and hand cameras. To reduce weight and space camera manufacturers devised alternative ways of carrying plates and film in cameras and in accessories to fit existing cameras. As a result the period from around 1890 to the mid 1900s produced a fascinating variety of systems for storing and changing plates and films.


Daguerreotype slides held a single plate and generally had a door at the rear to load the plate and a draw-slide at the front to expose the plate, on some early models the draw-slide was replaced by a pair of doors. They were equally suited for use with later glass plate or paper processes. Removable inner frames were supplied for smaller size plates.1

Slides for paper processes (fig. B1) were generally of the double pattern, holding two sheets of paper, and opened like a book for loading. Glass was placed in front of the paper to flatten it, so the exposure was made through the glass. Blotting paper was used to separate the two sheets of paper. Less common was to stretch the paper over the front of the glass and glue it at the back. Double slides were available from the early 1850s or before.

Either type of holder could be used with the early dry processes on glass. These processes were commonly used with small stereo cameras for which single plate holders were supplied resembling wet-plate slides, but without the wire corners which would have been visible in the finished photograph.

In Britain the edges of early slides were often joined by dowels sometimes in conjunction with veneer mitres, later, veneer mitres were used alone.

Types of Fitting

Wet-plate period slides, on British cameras, typically had flat edges and dropped into a slot in the top of the camera. They had a wide flange at their top to prevent stray light entering the camera, the flange tended to project to the edge of the camera (fig. B5, B10). Smaller stereo cameras were often loaded from the side with the slide having ridges along their edges that fitted into rebates in the camera back, better light exclusion meant that the flange could be dispensed with (fig. B6). In either case the draw-slide was fitted with a raised wooden finger grip or a leather tab. By the late 1870s most stand cameras had rebates to take slides with ridges.

Fig. B7 shows a transitional camera from the 1870s using an early form of slide, there are indents in the camera base to accommodate the hinge of the dark-slide.

Typically, on early continental cameras the top of the slide fitted flush with the top of the camera and inside the side edges of the camera, ridges were more often fitted on the edge of the slide to hold it in place (fig. B8).

Types of Slide

Wet-plate Slides
These were single slides with a door at the back to load the plate and a draw-slide to expose the plate. Two draw-slides were fitted for use with single-lens stereo cameras to expose each half of the plate in turn.

Normally the slide had corner pieces of silver wire on which the plate rested. Reducing frames were used for smaller plate sizes and to switch between portrait and landscape format, these were also fitted with corner pieces. A trough was often present at the bottom of the slide into which any excess liquid on the plate could drain.

Double Dark-slides
These were used with the early paper and dry processes and then for gelatine dry plates. There were two types of slide:
  • Book Form - the slide opened like a book to load the plates (fig. B15).
  • Block Form - the plate slotted into the bottom of the slide where there was a removable panel, or clipped into the front of the slide when the draw-slide was removed (fig. B16). Aluminium or vulcanite draw-slides were normally fitted to this type of slide. Also known as American pattern. Block-form slides were popular from the 1890s but date from much earlier. Lancaster, Edwards, Shew, Skinner (also sold by Ross) and Thornton-Pickard all produced block form slides in the 1890s. The design also formed part of A.J. Melhuish's patent of 1859.2
Wooden draw-slides could generally not be fully removed from the dark-slide and were usually made up of several pieces of wood joined by a cloth hinge which allowed it to fold over the top of the camera when drawn.3 W. Watson (of Holmes & Watson) patented the idea of having small strips of wood stuck to the cloth hinge to make it light-tight.4 Occasionally the draw-slide was made as a tambour, which may have been cheaper to make. Raised wooden finger grips were mostly fitted to the draw-slide, though George Hare used a particularly awkward, flush fitting, grip on some of his dark-slides (fig. B17).

Aluminium and similar draw-slides were fully removable from the slide which required special arrangements to prevent light entering through the top of the slide. Velvet covered spring flaps were common, Thornton-Pickard used corrugations in the top of the aluminium draw-slide into which strips of velvet, attached to the dark-slide, would fit (fig. B18).5 The face of the draw-slide was often printed with captions against which the photographer was able to write exposure details.

A curious slide was used on some Dallmeyer cameras; in place of the draw-slide a single flap, operated by a lever, was used to uncover the plate (fig. B19).

Though commonly made of wood, metal double slides were supplied for hand or reflex cameras. Tylar introduced a metal slide for stand cameras in sizes up to 10" x 12", these were advertised as being half the weight and half the price of wooden slides. The two halves of the slide were separate and clipped together.6

Single Slides
Single wooden slides continued in use into the dry-plate period for special purposes such as process work or in repeating backs. Metal single slides were the norm on folding hand cameras, slides made of paper were also produced.

When used for multiple exposures in a repeating back the slide will have notches along the edge for positioning, usually the exposure number is stamped on the face of the slide.

Autochrome Slides
For Autochrome and other similar processes where the emulsion is at the rear of the plate the usual arrangement of having a spring press the plate forward to the focal-plane would damage the emulsion. Autochrome slides employed a velvet covered board or thick card behind the plate.

Film and Negative Paper
Nitro-cellulose sheet-film, that became available commercially in the late 1880s, could be used in conventional dark-slides (and changing boxes) when fitted into thin metal sheaths to provide rigidity. Negative paper, briefly popular in the mid 1880s, was also used in sheaths or backed by cardboard.7

A few early slides were made specifically for film, one patented by Vergara (fig. B20) was a block form double slide where one long piece of film was wrapped around a central partition, it was loaded from the bottom edge of the slide. A similar arrangement was used by Stanley, the double length of film fitted into a case that was removed to expose the film, a special camera back was required.8

Catches and Exposed Indicators

Methods to lock the draw-slide in place were often combined with an indicator showing whether the plate had been exposed, common examples were by Sinclair (fig. B22) and Watson (fig. B23), other exposed indicators were by Thornton-Pickard (fig. B25) and Renwick.9

Fig. B21 shows a catch used by George Hare in the 1870s.

Changing Bags

The weight and bulk of wooden dark-slides would have deterred photographers from carrying more than a few plates; soon options were sort that allowed the photographer to take more than a handful of exposures on a day out.

Changing bags were sold from the 1850s for use with paper negatives and early dry processes so that the photographer could load a dark-slide from a supply held in the bag. They took the form of a case or bag usually with a yellow window to admit light, cut-outs to see into the bag and sleeves for the photographer's hands. A good example was sold by J.J. Shew.10 A back sold by Henry Coppin as the 'One Back' had two plates held in carriers that were not light-tight, these fitted into a holder attached to the camera back. To change plates the holder and carriers were put in a changing bag.11 Other suggestions with a similar aim were to hold the plates in separate cloth bags which attached to the end of the dark-slide, in the Demon Detective camera the bag attached to the camera itself.12

More sophisticated was a form shown in the Bland catalogue of 1859 where a box of glass plates was suspended from the back of the camera, a dark cloth fitted with sleeves was attached to the camera allowing the photographer to take a plate from the box and place it in the dark-slide attached to the camera. In Pumphrey's camera of 1881 a large wooden box with sleeves for the photographer's hands was attached to the camera, inside was a flat box containing the plates which could be opened to change the plates (or papers) and was then placed in the focal-plane.13

Transfer Boxes

Transfer boxes held perhaps a dozen plates that were individually moved to a dark-slide and returned to the box after exposure.

The plates were held in slots within a box, on the top of the box was a fitting into which the end of a dark-slide could fix. A tambour or similar arrangement allowed the dark-slide to be positioned over each plate. The plate fell into the dark-slide through a trap door, the slide was then removed and fitted to the camera.

A very early, possibly the first, transfer box was by John Atkinson and shown to the London Photographic Society in January 1857. Ottewill produced a 'Dark Box' with a rigid top having a slot for the dark slide that could be positioned over each plate. A popular model was by Hare introduced in 1875 for dry collodion and later used with gelatine plates.14

An interesting box for field cameras was patented by F.A. Fichtner and sold by Oscar Scholzig. The box attached to the outside of the camera, when fixed in position a slot in the box opened, the plates were pulled into the camera (and returned to the box) by a rod within the camera which hooked onto the plate carrier. The box had a tambour shutter to position the slot over a different plate. In effect a Hare type box that coupled to a camera rather than a dark-slide.15

The plates were held in a wooden box, a dark-slide fitted to one face of the box, by operating draw-slides in the box and dark-slide one or two plates were pushed into the dark-slide. The plates were similarly returned to the other side of the box. Plates could also be loaded directly into the camera from the box, an arrangement used by Lancaster in their detective cameras.16

Beck sold a modified form of their popular Frena changing mechanism where a Frena film pack was held in a box that attached to a camera, after an exposure the box was removed and fitted to a receiving box. Draw-slides were fitted to each box, the films were released by the usual Frena pin arrangement into the receiving box.17 Gotz sold a transfer box as the Kangaroo which had a bag through which the operator could insert a hand to manipulate the films, the dark-slide was attached to the front of the box and had a hinged door that opened into the transfer box to load the film.18

Perken, Son & Rayment sold a changing box where the plates were held in individual frames covering the sides and back but without covering to the front of the plate. These were held in a box, the frames being pushed together to protect the front of the plates from light. To transfer a plate to the camera a sheath covering the face and sides of the plate was inserted in front of the first frame, the frame and plate could then be moved to the camera where the cover was removed. After exposure the plate was returned to the back of the box.19

Related Cameras
The Key camera, sold by the Platinotype Co., held its plates in single holders with a shutter at their end allowing the holder to be removed from the camera. The holder was laid flat on top of the camera and connected to a joint over the focal-plane, turning the holder upright opened the shutter letting the plate drop into the camera.20

What could be described as a changing box or a transfer box permanently attached to a camera was produced by Wünsche and sold as the Mars. The plates were held at the back of the camera which had a sliding lid with a narrow aperture that was able to be positioned over any of the plates. A shallow box or sheath was clipped to the lid over the aperture which was then moved over the position of a plate, inverting the camera moved the plate to the sheath, the sliding lid was then positioned over the focal plane where the plate dropped into position when the camera was turned upright.21

Changing Boxes

Many methods of storing multiple plates in cameras and removable accessories were proposed. They had the advantage of taking up far less space than dark-slides and were cheaper, but the mechanisms used could be temperamental.

An automatic exposure counter was often fitted to the box operated by the changing mechanism.

Bag Type

The plates were usually held in metal sheaths and stacked in a box having a cloth or leather top. To change plates the front or rear plate was gripped by the fingers through the bag and moved to the other end of the box. The plate had to be raised so that it could be gripped by the fingers, two common methods were:

  • Lever - a lever or arm was used to raise the front or back plate. Early examples were by Newman, Rouch and Sinclair.22
  • Draw-slide - when the draw-slide was returned after an exposure it raised the front plate, boxes by Reid and Grundmann were of this type.23

Adams used a different method of having the first few plates rest on a slope so that the front plate was higher than the rest and could be gripped by the fingers.24 On the Ventnor by Talbot & Eamer the exposed plate dropped into the bag when the box was held upside down, a spring catch released the pressure on the plate. Wallis Brothers developed a complicated box the top half of which hinged backwards which raised the front plate slightly.25 E & T Underwood introduced sheaths fitted with small tabs which could be more easily gripped.26 A few cameras used pleated bellows rather than a bag, one example was on a detective camera from Krügener which had, at the top of the bellows, a small 'bag' for the fingers to grip the plate.27

An early variation was to have a sleeve fitting around the photographer's hand rather than a bag.28 An interesting box was sold by W.F. Stanley; the bag had two small sleeves to admit the finger and thumb of the operator, once a trap door inside the bag was opened the films could be moved.29

The bag type box was popular from the 1890s to the mid 1910s and was often fitted to detective cameras.


The plates were held in a draw which was in an outer case. When the draw was pulled out the top, exposed, plate fell to the bottom of the case. As the draw was pushed back it picked up the exposed plate through a slot in the bottom of the draw. Early examples are L'Omnigraphe (1887), Shew and a proposal by B.J. Edwards in 1891.30

There were many variations in the mechanism especially in how the box is made light-tight for removal from the camera and how the draw is made light-tight when changing plates. A few examples are described below.

Two tambour blinds are used. To remove the box the blind A is pushed from the back of the case to the front. To operate: blind A is moved to the back of the case; the exposure is made; the draw is pulled out which takes with it the blind B, which is fixed to the case at F, and so is light-tight; the draw is pushed back and picks up the exposed plate.

To remove the box the slide is pushed in. To operate: the slide is pulled out; the exposure is made; the draw is pulled out, this unrolls the metal blind which is fixed to the case at F.

To remove the box the slide is pushed in. To operate: the slide is pulled out, as this is done a plate is pushed upwards; on returning the slide it is positioned below the top plate; the exposure is made; the draw is pulled out, this brings the slide with it and so is light-tight; the exposed plate falls to the bottom of the case and is picked up as the draw is returned. This type of box was made by Tiranty and sold by several other manufacturers under their own name.

These are different to the usual form of box and could be classed as a daylight loading system. The plates or films are contained in a light-tight container with a slide, this fits into the camera, when locked in place the end of the container attaches to the camera, the rest of the container is free to move in and out of the camera. To remove the container the slide is pushed in, this engages with the far end of the container and frees it from the camera. To operate: the slide is pulled out (it is not fully removable); the exposure is made; the container (except for the end attached to the camera) is pulled out, protected by the slide; the plate drops to the bottom of the container (there are metal strips between the two parts of the container) and is picked up when the container is returned.

Two metal blinds are used, in other respects it operates in a similar way to the Gaumont.

A single metal blind is used. To remove the box the draw is pulled out and the switch F is set to 'close', the blind now moves with the draw and covers it (held by friction). To operate: the switch F is set to 'open', this locks the end of the blind to the case as it passes; the draw is pulled out which is covered by the blind; as it is returned the blind rolls-up behind the draw; the top plate can now be exposed.

An unusual box where the draw is made light-tight by bellows which extend as the draw is pulled out. The patent shows a box permanently fitted to a camera31

Two compartments

The exposed and unexposed plates were held in two compartments within a box: the 'feed' compartment and next to it the 'take-up' compartment, the exposed plate slid from one compartment to the other. A box of this type was patented by T. Samuels in 1883 and sold by Lejeune & Perken. J.H. Hare and H.J. Dale patented a box where to change plates the box was turned on end allowing the exposed plate to slip into the neighbouring compartment.32

An early design by Walter Cook, was for a camera equipped with a two compartment box where the plates were moved between the compartments by operating draw-slides at each end of the box which moved a plate from one compartment to the other. The plates, then, rotated between the compartments until all were exposed.33

Rack Type

The plates were held in slots within a rack or tray and passed individually through an aperture into the back of the camera. The changing boxes were detachable but very much part of the camera. This method was used on a few early cameras, examples are by Dancer (1856), Jonte and the Marion Academy. In the Dancer the plates were lifted into the focal plane by a rod that ran from the top of the camera to the plate box underneath. The rod screwed to the plate carrier enabling it to be lifted. The box was moved by rack and pinion, a tambour flap made it light-tight. A changing box was fitted to a field camera by Jonte (1870s) where the plates were lifted by a rack and pinion movement. In the Academy the plates were moved into the exposure position by inverting the camera and releasing a sliding shutter, at the back of the camera a solid wooden flap protected the unused plates from light.34

Cut-film Boxes

A few boxes were designed specifically for cut-film held without rigid supports. The films were forced around a curved groove to the other side of the box. Patented examples are by Baker (1893), Beasley (1894) and Wier which was incorporated into the Ross-Wier Film Camera.35

Envelope Adapters

Several envelope systems were developed mostly dating to the late 1890s and 1900s. The plate or cut-film was held in a plastic, paper or similar light-weight envelope. The envelope was not strong enough or rigid enough to use in place of the dark-slide so an adapter was used. This was similar to a dark-slide with a door or slot to load the envelope. The adapter usually had a draw-slide which, when pulled out, engaged the flap or draw-slide of the envelope and so uncovered the film. Some adapters were open at the front and relied on the draw-slide of the envelope.

A popular envelope system was the Mackanzie-Wishart of 1899 (fig. B35).36 Others were by Houghton (1905); Lizars (1905); Ashford, sold as the Newford where the envelope carried two films; Ross; Lancaster; and Wünsche.37

The Klito Plate Pack, sold by Houghtons, was based on Nièll's patent of 1910, each paper envelope carried two plates, back to back, these were placed in a plate adapter where the outer covering of the envelope could be lifted for exposure. The envelope could be loaded in daylight into a special developing tank.38

Proposals were also made by J.E. Atkinson and J.E. Thornton.39 Plates held in sealed paper envelopes were suggested in 1893, a tag on the envelope attached to the draw-slide of the holder which, as it was pulled, would tear off the front of the envelope. The exposed plates then fell into an attached box.40

Metal Slide Adapters

These enabled single metal slides to be used with cameras taking double dark-slides. Some incorporated a focusing screen which was pushed out of the film-plane when inserting the slide.

Film Packs

The term Film Pack is now generally applied to the Premo Film Pack introduced in 1903 by the Rochester Optical Co. based on a patent by J.E. Thornton.41 Other film pack arrangements were developed around the same time but did not have the same commercial success.

The systems differ in detail but the essentials were that a number of cut films were held by, or attached to, a paper backing with tabs by which they could be moved from the front to the back of the pack. Several methods of attaching individual films to a roll of film were proposed but were not put into production.

The films had tabs attached to them, after exposure they were pulled from one part (unexposed) of an envelope to the other (exposed), the envelope was folded in half when inserted into the camera. Used on the Pocket Cyko.42

In the Premo Film Pack each film was attached to an individual backing paper having a tab that looped around a divider and protruded from a slot in the case. After exposure the tab was pulled which moved the film to behind the divider. The case of the Film Pack was of cardboard or light metal and fitted into a Film Pack Adapter which took the place of a dark-slide. The Premo adapter consisted of a simple frame having a door through which the pack could be loaded and a slot through which the tabs protruded. Before use the Film Pack was light-tight, after the first exposure the next film was ready for exposure so a draw-slide in the adapter was used if removed from the camera or the shutter was not self-capping.43

Beck Zambex Original version 1904
The Zambex skeleton (the paper holder for the film) could be re-loaded after use with ordinary cut-film or plates. Two types of skeleton were produced for films or plates. The skeleton was a strip of paper folded like a concertina with film attached to each forward-facing fold. The skeleton was housed in an outer envelope double the length of the skeleton, the envelope was folded in half to fit into the camera back. A paper tab was attached to each fold, pulling this moved the film (with its skeleton backing) from the unexposed to the exposed half of the envelope. To do this the back of the camera was opened and the envelope unfolded. To remove the skeleton, even to fit the focusing screen, all the exposed films had to be pulled back to the unexposed half of the envelope.44

The concertina backing was anticipated by R. Krügener in a detective camera. After exposure the backing paper was pulled which, as it passed over a roller, deposited the film in a top compartment of the camera and then passed out of the camera.45 Another concertina arrangement was sold by David Allan in the Creel camera where the backing paper was wound onto a take-up spool.46

Beck Zambex Improved version 1906
The skeleton was redesigned; the concertina backing paper was done away with, each film now fitted into its own paper surround to which a tab was attached. The double-length outer envelope was retained and a tab was still used to pull the films from the unexposed portion to the exposed portion of the envelope. The skeleton was fitted with a draw-slide making it easier to remove the pack of films and fit a focusing screen. The skeleton was only suitable for film.47

Daylight Loading System

Rajar System
This complicated system turned a dark-slide, called the changer, into a changing box. 10 flat films were supplied in a tin box which was separable having a base and outer sleeve. This was inserted into the changer which consisted of an inner slide and an outer case. When the tin of films was in place the two parts of the film box were locked to the two parts of the changer. The changer then operated similarly to a push-pull changing box. The inner slide had to be operated twice in succession to expose a film, the first time the inner slide was lifted a film was retained in the outer case, the slide was replaced which pushed the film into the focal plane, the slide was then operated again which picked up the exposed film and returned it to the box. The films had holes at their lower edge which engaged the case mechanism.48

The changer could be fitted to ordinary cameras in place of a double dark-slide or dedicated cameras were sold by Rajar. The company was originally called the Brooks-Watson Daylight Camera Co. named after the patentees of the system, by 1904 the name was changed to Rajar Ltd. Neither of the two Rajar systems were sold for very long.

Rajar Film System
Individual films were held in envelopes, these were inserted into a dark-slide, a tag in the slide was pulled which uncovered the film ready for exposure, the tag and envelope were completely removed. After exposure the film dropped into the back of the dark-slide.49

Two plates were each enclosed in metal trays covering their sides and backs. The two plates were then placed with their sensitive surfaces together, the two trays pushing together similar to a very shallow box, making the arrangement light-tight. In this form the plates were packed and sold. Attached to the back of the trays was a wire loop. In use two A-kla dark-slides were clipped together with their draw-slides removed. The two sensitive plates were placed in the back of one of the dark-slides, from a door in the other dark-slide the wire loop was pulled which separated the two plates leaving one in each dark-slide. The draw-slides were then returned and the slides separated. After exposure the two plates were re-joined by again attaching the dark-slides together (fig. B36).50

This system was based on patents by E.D. Bartlett and required a dedicated camera. Individual films were wrapped on a flat core and held there by a ribbon or continuous band. After exposure the band was wound onto a spool which separated the film from the band. The individual films dropped into a container.51

The plates were held in sheaths having raised ridges at their edges matching the indents on the next sheath in the pack, at the front of the pack was an empty sheath. The whole pack of plates was held together by a strap which was removed when the plates were loaded. Produced by Beck, a dedicated camera was needed.52

Ensign Film Pack
Despite its name this was not a film pack, special films were packed together having small tabs and depressions at their ends but no backing paper. The films were enclosed in a case having a telescopic arrangement, the case fitted into an adapter on the outside of which were settings to choose which film to expose. The selected film was gripped by the adapter and the draw-slide operated which lifted the case but left that film in the film-plane. The system was sold for only a short time.53

Roll-film Holders

The first roll-holder was the Spencer-Melhuish of 1854 for waxed paper negatives.54 Several sheets of paper were glued together to form a roll, frame markings, used to judge the film advance, were drawn on the back of the paper which were visible through yellow windows. Other roll-holders from this period were used, but not commercially produced, by Captain Barr and T.E. Merritt. Barr's very advanced roll-holder held paper negatives attached to a black calico strip, the strip was longer than necessary so that it could be wound around the completed spool making it light-tight. To judge the amount to turn the spool before an exposure an 'index' roller was attached to the outside of the roll-holder and connected to the feed roller, wound around the index roller was a length of calico marked with the position of the sensitive papers.55

In 1875 Warnerke produced a roll-holder for stripping film, that also had a window in the back to view frame markings. It was moderately successful and in many respects resembled later models. In 1881 D.H. Houston patented a roll-holder having a measuring roller that punched the film to indicate where it should be cut in the darkroom, and had an external pointer showing how much the film had been advanced.56 The Eastman-Walker holder patented in 1884 was for paper negatives and later for stripping film and celluloid, it too incorporated a measuring roller that punched the paper and produced a click sound to indicate film advance, an elaborate tensioning device was attached to the feed roller.57 In 1885 McKellen introduced a very advanced roll-holder having an auto-stop to the film advance, frame counter and frame punch or marker operated by the draw-slide.58

Other early roll-holders used in Britain were by Morgan & Kidd which featured an auto-stop and frame punch operated by the draw-slide; H. Mackenstein; Optimus by Perken, Son & Rayment and J.E. Thornton.59

A proposal made in 1885, which seems not to have been produced, was for the film to be advanced by the motion of the draw-slide, the slide incorporated a rack which engaged pinions in the holder that moved the film.60 From around this time roll-holders were used more often and cameras appeared with built-in holders.61

Position of Spools

Roll-holders produced for fitting to plate cameras had the two spools behind the film plane. This arrangement was continued on early roll-film cameras. By placing the spools at the front of the camera either side of the lens the camera became much shorter. The first camera to have this arrangement was the Luzo of 1889.62 Later patents were issued in the United States for cameras having spools either side of the lens, these seem to have inhibited the adoption of this arrangement in the US.63

Film advance Mechanisms

The most common methods were:

Take-up spindle
Used on non-perforated and occasionally perforated film. Either the centre of the take-up spindle was turned or the flange of the spool had teeth and was turned by a pinion wheel.64

A rotating spindle with teeth, usually at the top and bottom of the spindle, engaged perforations in the film. The film was wound onto a take-up spindle geared to the toothed spindle. The take-up spindle was geared to pull more than was delivered by the sprocket wheel, a slip arrangement on the spindle ensured that only the constant length of film delivered by the sprocket wheel was wound onto the take-up spindle.

Claw Feed
One or two hooks engaged perforations in the film to pull it across the film gate.

Using a clock-work motor to advance the film was first used in a still camera on Le Pascal of 1900, the complete film was first wound, by hand, onto the take-up spool which wound the driving spring, an escapement mechanism, activated by the release button, was used to operate the shutter and intermittently release the spring causing the exposed frame to wind back to the feed spool.65

Automatic rewinding of the film was also proposed, as the film was pulled from the feed spool a spring was tensioned that rewound the film.66

An early proposal to prevent double exposure was for the draw-slide of the roll-holder to lock until the film had been advanced.67

Film advance Indicators

The Spencer-Melhuish roll-holder had frame markings drawn on the back of the sensitive paper which were viewed through yellow windows. This method was revived with the introduction of daylight spools in 1892 where a separate backing strip was printed with frame numbers.68 This marked the introduction of the now familiar red window. With the introduction of panchromatic film, which was sensitive to red, green windows were used. Related was the method used on the Blair Kamaret of 1891 where frame markings were cut into the film and visible in a slot at the back of the camera.

Typically a measuring roller would turn as the film was advanced, a pin on the roller lifted and then let drop a spring - making a click sound (fig. B44). Later models of the Warnerke holder used an electric bell triggered by holes in the paper.

Frame counter
As the film was advanced so a counter rotated carrying frame numbers. This was present on the McKellen roll-holder of 1885. W.A. Edwards proposed an arrangement where unevenly spaced frame numbers were carried on a separate band, the same length and thickness as the film, moved by the film advance. The numbers showed in a window in the holder, a similar proposal was made a few years later by C. Herbers. In both cases the objective was to do away with the continuous backing paper and the measuring roller.69 The Compass Camera used a similar arrangement.

On Captain Barr's roll-holder of 1855 an 'index' roller was attached to the outside of the roll-holder and connected to the feed roller, wound around the index roller was a length of calico marked with the position of the sensitive paper. The index roller was the same diameter as the feed roller and the calico was the same material as used to carry the paper negatives.70

Moving Disc
A disc with an index line rotated with the film and showed the amount it had been advanced (fig. B46). Used on the Eastman-Walker holder and many early Kodak cameras.71

The film was wound until a stop was felt. A button or lever had to be pressed to advance the next frame. On modern cameras the button may be the shutter release. Used on the McKellen roll-holder of 1885.

Fig. B47 shows the auto-stop mechanism fitted to the Morgan & Kidd roll-holder. A flat spring has at its end a peg which moves within a thread on a knob attached to the measuring roller. As the measuring roller rotates the peg moves up the knob until dropping onto a hole which locks the roller.

Apart from those using a red window, early roll-holders were usually fitted with a fixed diameter measuring roller separate from the feed and take-up spools. This important idea was probably first proposed in the 1881 patent by Houston, by its use the passage of the film could be measured without reference to the changing diameter of the take-up spool. E.H.P. Humphreys proposed a camera having a more complicated mechanism of a roller resting on the film of the take-up spool, the roller was part of a lever which moved a stop into position limiting the movement of a toothed rack which was turned to advance the film.72 A similar arrangement of a roller resting on the film was used in Rolleiflex cameras though the roller moved a cam with notches which regulated the movement of the film advance lever.

Frame Marks

On early roll-holders and cameras a method of marking or punching the film at the beginning of a frame was often employed, this helped in cutting up the film in the darkroom prior to developing. The punches or pins to mark the film were normally on the measuring roller.

Cassettes & Film

Limited use of roll-holders was made in the calotype period where sheets of paper were stuck together by the photographer. An early stripping film (paper base coated with a collodion silver bromide emulsion) was used by Warnerke in his roll-holder of 1875. This had some success but was expensive and other problems limited its use.73 Wide spread usage of roll material came with the introduction of negative paper coated with gelatine sliver bromide emulsion around 1884.74

The fashion for paper negatives was not long lasting and was soon replaced by the re-introduction of stripping film coated with gelatine emulsion in the mid 1880s and then by celluloid.75

Celluloid as a film base was introduced commercially by Eastman in 1889, it soon replaced the use of stripping film and any lingering use of paper negatives.

Early roll-holders used raw film or paper loaded in the darkroom, the film was usually sold attached to a wooden spool to make loading easier.

Daylight spools
These allowed the camera or roll-holder to be loaded away from the darkroom, they came in two forms:
  • Paper or other opaque material was attached to the beginning and end of the film making it light-tight when rolled up.
  • A continuous paper backing covered the film and was extended at each end.
The second form proved the more popular, it was introduced commercially in 1892 on the Bulls-Eye and used almost exclusively from that time with non-perforated film. Its first use was probably in Captain Barr's roll-holder of 1855 where individual sheets of negative paper were attached to a black calico strip, the strip was longer than necessary and was wound around the completed spool of paper.

Film with paper leaders and trailers was used less often, it had the advantage of taking up less space than a continuous backing but made film advance indication more difficult. It was proposed in the early 1880s for use with paper negatives but surprisingly the idea was not taken up. Much later it was used with the Contax and Compass cameras.76

Film could be wound on the spool either emulsion side out or emulsion side in. With the use of daylight spools most cameras wound the film emulsion in, an exception was film for the Kodak Cartridge Film Roll-holder.

The alternative to daylight spools was to hold the film in a cassette. There were three main types:

Two light-tight cassettes were used, the film was wound from one to the other. Usually the film was wound on spindles in the cassette. Some cassettes relied on the film curling by itself rather than using spindles, the Ansco Memo cassette was of this type. Early proposals were by Anthony & Co. and B.J. Edwards.77 The Daylight Kodak range of 1891 used cardboard cassettes and film with black leaders and trailers.78

Double Cassette
The feed and take-up chambers were joined in one unit so the film did not leave the cassette. First used in the Expo/Ticka of 1906.

A single cassette was used for the feed, the film being wound onto a spindle and later wound back into the cassette. Used in the Leica of 1925.

Most cassettes were substantial items and could be re-loaded with film in the darkroom. The cassettes introduced by Agfa in 1932 and Kodak in 1934 for the Retina became the standard pattern for disposable 35 mm cassettes. They fitted the Leica (with slight modification to early models), Contax and most subsequent 35 mm cameras.

Plate Adapters for Roll-Film Cameras

Some roll-film cameras could be adapted to take plates by replacing the rear of the camera with a plate back. On other models dark-slides could be inserted through a slot or by removing a panel behind the film plane.79

Adapters remained on sale for longer than might be expected; a model for the Rolleiflex was still listed in the 1960s. An interesting accessory for the Rolleiflex was a 'Roll-film Slide' that turned a camera fitted with a plate adapter back into a roll-film camera.

Repeating Backs

A repeating or dividing back allowed for the quick interchange of the focusing screen and dark-slide. The dark-slide could also be positioned at different fixed positions allowing multiple exposures on a single plate. Apart from their main use in studios, single-lens stereo cameras were also fitted with this type of back rather than having dark-slides with double draw-slides.

Slides used with repeating backs resemble the wet-plate pattern in having a rear door to load the plate but are of heavier construction, ivorine plaques may be present to record exposure details.

Numbering and Memoranda

Various suggestions were made for the number of the exposure to be recorded on the plate or film. This was most useful in professional studio work for keeping track of sitters. Automatic numbering was often included on repeating backs.80

Tylar patented a single metal slide having perforations that recorded the slide number on the exposed plate, a similar proposal was made by W.F. Butcher, some Midge magazine cameras have this arrangement.81 More elaborate was the idea of a detachable light box attached to the camera containing a lamp. A mask containing numbers etc. was projected onto the lower part of the plate or film.

An interesting proposal was made by H. Mackenstein where the measuring roller in a roll-holder operated a disc in front of the image to record the frame number, manually operated discs carrying other information were also proposed.82

Recording notes or memoranda was introduced on the Autographic series of cameras by Kodak in 1914. Special film was required which allowed the photographer to write on the film.83

These methods all used light to record the information, another proposal was to use special film with unsensitised strips between the each frame which could be written on, by pencil, when opening a door in the back of the camera.84

References & Notes

[1] Daguerre's patent shows that the plate was attached to a board for some of the preparatory processes and loaded into the dark-slide still attached to the board.

[2] The Scénographe (1874) had wooden block form slides with cardboard draw-slides. Others were: Shew's New Registered Back, BJA 1884, p. xci. Lancaster, BP 5828/1893. - Lancaster's Patent. Brown and Edwards, BP 21505/1896. - Edwards' Patent. Skinner, PA 1891, p. 362.

[3] T.P. Watson patented an arrangement often found on their cameras to prevent the draw-slide being removed, BP 7359/1886.

[4] BP 14696/1888. BJA 1890, p. 771.

[5] BP 3118/1898. BJA 1899, p. 905.

[6] W. Tylar, BP 5181/1886. BJA 1888, p. 158.

[7] Modern negative paper, coated with gelatine silver bromide, was introduced by Mawdsley in 1873 but did not achieve much success. See Gernsheim, History of Photography, 1969 ed. p. 406 and Eder, History, p. 425.

[8] F.J. Vergara, BP 2390/1886. The film intended for this slide, patented by Froedman, had a base of hardened bichromated gelatine rather than nitro-cellulose. W.F. Stanley, BP 7664/1900. Sold by Sharp & Hitchmough. BJA 1901, p. 1384.

[9] T.P. Watson, BP 9948/1887. An earlier patent was by F. Hazeldine, BP 3325/1886. T-P, BP 20253/1892. G. Renwick, BP 15451/1889. BJA 1892, p. 235.

[10] BJA 1880, p. cvii.

[11] BP 16605/86. BJA 1888, p. 698.

[12] BP 4989/1884. BP 6032/1887.

[13] Bland Cat. 1859, p. 64. A. Pumphrey, BP 4967/1881.

[14] Atkinson, Phot. Journal 1857, p. 261. Founder of J.J. Atkinson of Liverpool. Ottewill, shown in an 1863 catalogue by C.E. Clifford. In the Science Museum collection there is a transfer box by Ottewill which operates similarly to the Hare but with manually operated shutters. They assign a date of 1870 to it which would seem to be wrong. G. Hare, BP 1699/1875. - Hare Automatic Changing Box.

[15] BP 18640/1889. PA 1891, p. 345. Having a large wooden box of plates clipped to the side of a field camera doesn't seem a very good idea.

[16] Lancaster Cat. 1888, p. 33.

[17] BP 23315/1892. BP 2566/1893. BJA 1899, p. 1230. The Frena packs had to be loaded in a darkroom.

[18] J.R. Gotz, BP 4886/1892. BJA 1893, p. 723.

[19] G. Caldwell, BP 8010/1886. BJA 1888, pp. 90, 500.

[20] W.H. Smith, W. Willis, BP 5337/1889.

[21] A similar arrangement is described by W.S. Rogers in BP 239/1890 and by R. Stirn in BP 12579/1890. They both show the sheath fixed to the camera but on the Mars it is removable (and today usually missing).

[22] Newman, BP 8329/1886. BP 20299/1890. BP 13857/1892. - Model B. Rouch, BP 6613/1887. BP 4145/1888.
A. Riddell, J. Sinclair, BP 4866/1894. BJA 1902, p. 1297. The plates are not held in sheaths, the rear plate is moved to the front of the box in front of a sheath, after exposure the sheath is withdrawn and returned in front of the exposed plate. Sold by RAE Bros. of Glasgow. PN 28/8/1896.
An early camera with a built-in bag type changing box was based on Samuels' patent and sold as the Aurora. BJA 1888, p. 495.

[23] Reid, BP 8122/1893. - Reid Changing Box. C. Grundmann's changing box was sold by Ross, BP 6355/1892. BJA 1898, p. 84.

[24] BP 13019/1896. Used on Yale and other cameras.

[25] BP 17/1900. BJA 1901, p. 269.

[26] BP 6017/1895. BJA 1899, p. 433.

[27] Also proposed in a patent by W.A. Dawkin, BP 12119/1894.

[28] H. Kayser, BP 5353/1884.

[29] Based on a patent by E. Ferrero, BP 4047/1889. BJA 1890, p. 103.

[30] Edwards, BP 12961/1891. Shew, sold briefly as the Eclipse, based on BP 18357/1888 by H. Herbert. BJA 1890, p. 148. PA 1891, p. 364. L. Koch, BP 9542/1890 is also relevant.

[31] R. Krügener, BP 18081/1890. The same arrangement was proposed by W. Stanbury in BP 11608/1895.

[32] Samuels, BP 843/1883. BJA 1884 p. cxxxiii. Hare and Dale, BP 1007/1883. Possibly Jimmy Hare son of George.

[33] BP 1796/1869.

[34] Dancer, BP 2064/1856. An earlier suggestion for a rack type mechanism built into a camera was by Merritt BP 1696/1854.
A similar idea was used on the Griffin detective camera where the plates were stored in a removable magazine which was placed horizontally into the back of the camera, the camera was then tilted forward allowing a plate to drop into a carrier, the carrier then pivoted to an upright position to expose the plate. The magazine was moved by rack and pinion to bring the correct plate into position, the lid of the magazine was lifted once inside the camera. H.R. Dines' patent BP 8372/1890. BJA 1892, p. 346. PA 1891, p. 304.
Later, C.P. Stirn patented an arrangement very similar to the Marion Academy, BP 5449/1889.

[35] M.A. Wier, BP 11094/1894. BJA 1898, p. 82.

[36] F. Mackenzie, G. Wishart, BP 7751/1899. Covers the original form. BP 5212/1906. Became the type B back. .

[37] Houghton, probably based on G. Wishart's patents, BP 10097/1904. BP 15958/1905. BP 4992/1906. BJA 1906, p. 909. BJA 1907, p. 342. BJA 1908, p. 295. Houghton Envelope Adapter.
Lizars, BP 28863/1904. BJA 06, pp. 879, 1234. BP 5926/06, BJA 1908, p. 1328. Incorporated an integral focusing screen.
J. Ashford, H.E. Newey, BP 1109/1901. BJA 1902, pp. 982, 1508.
Ross, sold as the Victrix, BJA 1908, p. 57.
Lancaster, sold as the Eureka, BJA 1908, p. 408.
Wünsche, sold as the Reicka, BJA 1908, p. 1150.

[38] Ensign Handbook, p. 20. BP 15498/1910.

[39] Atkinson, BP 4732/1883. Thornton: BP 6629/1899.

[40] BP 21675/1893.

[41] J.E. Thornton, BP 4995/1898. Thornton continued to work on film pack devices and patented a number of ideas including the incorporation of coloured filters for Autochrome and similar processes - BP 29631/1904, BP 11033/1906, BP 11346/1906, BP 11884/1906, BP 12003/1906, BP 12004/1906.

[42] BP 21510/1899.

[43] Rochester Optical Co. BP 9013/1903. BP 9014/1903. BJA 1904, p. 907.

[44] F.O. Bynoe, C. Beck, BP 15277/1902.

[45] R. Krügener, BP 18899/1892. Sold by Marion as the Simplex (BJA 1894, pp. 8, 835). Somewhat similar is BP 13926/1892 by Parsons which was sold by Levi & Co. as the Nalda, YBP 1894, pp. 300B, 515.

[46] F. Liddell, A.M. Dillon, BP 25461/1897. BJA 1899, pp. 914, 1402.

[47] F.O. Bynoe, C. Beck, BP 14022/1903. BP 922/1904. BJA 1907, p. 900.

[48] A.A. Brooks and G.A. Watson - BP 17986/1900, BP 1101/1901, BP 15164/1901. A.A. Brooks and Brooks-Watson Daylight Camera Co. - BP 22776/1902, BP 27315/1902. BJA 1904, pp. 911, 1483.

[49] A.A. Brooks and G.A. Watson, BP 19010/1904. BJA 1906, pp. 883, 1453.

[50] A.A. Brooks, BP 11816/1908. BP 25074/1908. A-kla Daylight Loading System

[51] BP 15722/1900. BP 8082/1901. BP 2061/1902. The cameras were sold by Houghtons. BJA 1904, p. 348.

[52] BJA 1905, pp. 176, 931.

[53] M. Nièll, BP 19864/1907. BJA 1910, p. 637. Clemitson Cat. 1909, p. 51.

[54] BP 1139/1854. A roll-holder is in the Science Museum collection.

[55] Barr's roll-holder was described in Notes & Queries 21/4/1855, p. 311. Barr was working in India, to protect the paper from the atmosphere the spools of paper were held in air-tight metal tubes from which air was removed by a pump. Merritt's roll-holder was described in Notes & Queries 5/5/1855, p. 351.

[56] US 248179/1881.

[57] G. Eastman, W.H. Walker, BP 15542/1884. US pat. 317049. The Eastman-Walker Roll-holder went through a number of modifications, the original model is very different to the later models, in particular the film tensioning arrangement and film path are different. An improved model was introduced in 1886 a number of minor improvements were made resulting in the 1888 model which is the one commonly seen today. A small diameter measuring roller was used, on pre 1888 models, the film was punched and a click produced on each of the four revolutions necessary to advance the film. Later the top of the roller was geared to a larger diameter wheel, on the top of the wheel was a pin that engaged the click spring, on the bottom of the wheel another pin engaged a lever that moved the punch (part of the measuring roller) in and out. In this way the click and punch operated only once per film advance. An original model is described in BJA 1886, pp. 55, clxxxviii, and illustrated in Coe BOP p. 51.

[58] S.D. McKellen, BP 8722/1885. BJA 1888, p. 104.

[59] W.T. Morgan, R.L. Kidd, BP 9286/1885. BJA 1886, p. cxxv. BJA 1888, p. 668. Example of Morgan & Kidd roll-holder.
Mackenstein, intr. 1884, BJA 1888, p. 662.
Optimus, based on A.P. Sharp's patent BP 3581/1885. YBP 1887, YBP 1888. The frame marker is incorporated in the draw-slide, interesting tensioning arrangement.
Thornton, intr. 1887, BJA 1888, p. 686.
A good article on film photography is in the BJA 1886, p. 51, the Warnerke and early Eastman-Walker holders are described.
A Warnerke holder is in the Science Museum collection, made by J.L. Lane, 9 Camden Street, Islington Green.

[60] BP 11055/1885.

[61] Early cameras with integral roll-holders were: Stebbing 1883. BJA 1884 p. cxlii. Gray & Stammers (Stirn) 'America', 1883. US 362271/1887. Eastman/Cossitt, 1886. BP 15661/1886. The Kodak, 1888. Luzo, 1889. L'Escopette, 1889. BP 6353/1889.

[62] BP 17328/1888. - Luzo. A very similar spool arrangement was later patented by Henry Norton Butler Good of Devizes (BP 1278/1889, US 421923/1890) which also incorporated a pressure plate operated by an external lever. That patent was acquired by Blair and incorporated into their Kamaret camera of 1891 (BP 6391/1891). See Coe Cameras, p. 87. The Good patent is described in the British Journal of Photography, 5/July/1889, p. 448. An earlier camera had the spools in front of the film plane but not with the intention of saving space.

[63] US Patents 446368/1891 and 446372/1891 were issued to Charles Whitney for cameras having spools in front of the film. The first patent also had the idea of cutting off exposed negatives with a built-in knife. BP 5227/1890 is similar to the second US patent. (Cutting off exposed lengths of film was also the subject of BP 15878/1893). D.H. Houston's patents also had the spools in front of the film, BP 22895/1894, BP 22896/1894, US 526445/1894, US 526446/1894.

[64] The Pocket Kodak (1895) used teeth on the spool, also proposed by J.E. Thornton, BP 20015/1900.

[65] F. Pascal, L. Izerable, BP 201/1899.

[66] J.M. Jordan, BP 120273/1917.

[67] BP 8503/1892.

[68] S.N. Turner, US 539713/1895. The Bulls-Eye (Boston Camera Mfg. Co.) was the first camera to use this film.

[69] Edwards, BP 190/1905. Herbers, 2089748/1923.

[70] Barr's roll-holder was described in Notes & Queries 21/4/1855, p. 311.

[71] BP 12972/1885.

[72] BP 14927/1893.

[73] See Eder, History, p. 380 for a description of the process.

[74] Morgan & Kidd introduced negative paper around 1884, Eastman in 1885.

[75] Stripping film consists of a sensitive layer attached to a support such as paper, after development the sensitive layer is separated from the support and, usually, attached to a new support of glass or celluloid. The first suggestions were made in the 1850s (F.S. Archer, BP 1914/1855) but significant use was not made until used in the Warnerke roll-holder. Eastman introduced stripping film in 1885, YBP 1887, p. lxv, YBP 1888. It had the advantages of being unbreakable and weighing less than glass plates, it was also popular in carbon work and similar processes where, as it could be printed from both sides, only a single transfer was needed.

[76] Also proposed in the 1880s was the arrangement of clipping or attaching the negative material to pieces of cloth fixed to the spools in the roll-holder, in this way less sensitive material would be used. See YBP 1887, p. 102.

[77] Anthony, BP 13261/1885. BP 13262/1885. Edwards, BP 8650/1892. Edwards included the cassettes in a further patent (BP 11416/1889) for a camera fitted with either a roll-holder or a changing box, the shutter of the camera was tensioned by operating the roll-holder or the box.

[78] BP 625/1892. US 477243/1892. Kodak Cat 1894, p. 33. The cameras were also fitted with frame counters and auto-stop.

[79] A plate facility was included in the Stebbing camera. Eastman offered plate adapters for many of their early cameras including the Kodak Junior (c. 1892), Folding Kodak (1893) and Cartridge Kodak ranges.

[80] For example, H.C. Hitchmough, H.C. Moore, BP 20787/1905.

[81] W. Tylar, BP 5141/1891. BJA 1892, p. 22. Butcher, BP 5852/1905.

[82] BP 10796/92.

[83] The film was protected by a layer of carbon tissue next to the film and a semi-opaque backing paper, together these were impervious to light. When the backing paper was written on by a stylus the carbon layer was disturbed and no longer light proof. The backing paper was exposed to light for a short period to record the writing on the film. Based on the patents of H.A. Gaisman, BP 9005/1914. BP 9006/1914.

[84] J.C. Jones, BP 12254/1906.


Changing Bags

Transfer Boxes

Changing Boxes

Bag Type


Two compartments

Rack Type

Cut-film Boxes

Envelope & Slide Adapters

Film Packs

Daylight Loading System

Roll-film Holders

Position of Spools

Film advance Mechanisms

Film advance Indicators

Frame Marks

Cassettes & Film

Plate Adapters

Repeating Backs

Numbering and Memoranda

References & Notes