British Stand Cameras from the 1880s

Materials and Construction


The most common wood to be used in this country was mahogany. Two types were used the best being Spanish, sometimes called Cuban (fig. 1). Honduran (fig. 2) was cheaper and gradually replaced the use of Spanish, by around 1900 most cameras were of Honduran. Spanish mahogany is a dark red/brown colour with occasional shades of plum. It has pronounced figuring and little grain pattern. Honduran is a lighter golden brown colour with a noticeable grain. Fiddle-back mahogany (fig. 4) is produced from logs having a wavy grain, if the log is cut radially the face of the plank will show alternately the peaks and troughs of the grain giving a pronounced banding, the edge of the plank will show the wavy pattern of the grain.

Teak (fig. 3) was occasionally used especially from the early 1900s for cameras intended for use in the tropics. The wood has a natural waxy presence and stands up well to hot and humid conditions.

Walnut (fig. 5), popular on the continent, was seldom used but may be found on imported models rebadged by British makers. Rosewood was occasionally used late in the twentieth century. Ebony was sometimes used, especially on cameras by Billcliff and Chapman, for binding in place of brass (fig. 6). Blackwood, similar in appearance to Ebony, was used on hand and reflex cameras but not on stand camera bodies.

French polish was the traditional finish given to cameras, before this was applied the grain was filled either with a proprietary filler, chalk, plaster of Paris or similar. Plaster filler shows up as distinct white flecks. Later in the period a sprayed-on lacquer finish was used.

Early and better quality cameras were made with dovetail joints to the edges of the front and rear standard. Finger or comb joints (fig. 10) were used from around 1880 and, as manufacturing became factory based, replaced the use of dovetails except by the top makers. Dovetail joints were always made by hand with a chisel, finger joints were cut on a circular saw with the aid of a jig. Early dovetails (fig. 8) were often finer or narrower than later ones (fig. 9) and required good quality timber to prevent breakage. The scribe lines marking the depth of cut were often left and can be seen under the polish. Screws were sometimes used in conjunction with a dovetail joint (fig. 13). The tails of the dovetail were invariably cut on the top of the standard leaving the side view to show as parallel saw cuts (on continental cameras the tails are often on the side of the camera). On the cheapest models a tongue and groove (fig. 11) or even a mitre with veneer key (fig. 12) was employed rather than a comb joint.

A veneer key was used on the corners of dark-slides and focusing frames, earlier a tapered dowel was sometimes used running diagonally across the corner, the taper gave a wedge effect and prevented the joint from separating.

The common method of joining boards (e.g. on a lens panel or baseboard) was to use a loose tongue (fig. 14).

Metal Work

Brass was usually used for the fittings attached to cameras, from the mid 1890s aluminium became popular but its use had all but ceased by the early 1900s. Previously aluminium had been very expensive but new production methods adopted around 1890 drastically reduced the cost. Brass or aluminium binding refers to metal let into the surface of the wood to strengthen joints and prevent warping (fig. 15). Brass fittings were usually finished plain and lacquered, worm or hatching markings (fig. 17) were favoured by some makers (e.g. Perken Son & Rayment, Chapman).

A very useful feature was to fit safety screws, i.e. the bolt or stud has a small screw fitted to a female thread to prevent the wheel or knob completely unscrewing (fig. 16).

Traditionally the slots in screw heads were aligned (fig. 18), only Meagher of the top makers seems to have ignored this on some of his cameras.


Bellows could be parallel sided (fig. 20) or tapered towards the lens (fig. 21). They were normally made of leather but cloth or paper was also used. Leather bellows comprise an outer thin leather covering, an inner cloth layer and, between the two, cardboard panels to provide rigidity. The finish is normally smooth but some examples have a pronounced grain or pattern, they may also have a lacquer covering. A distinctive dot pattern is sometimes present on earlier examples from around 1860.

If for use in the tropics Russia leather was used. This is a vegetable tanned leather, the birch oil used during the finishing process made it somewhat insect resistant. It came in a variety of colours especially red, green, brown and black, the finish is usually smooth, matt and without grain. Russia leather was also traditionally finished with an embossed diamond pattern, this was used extensively on the body covering of later German hand cameras but not on bellows.

The edges of bellows were of three kinds:

  • Concertina - only found on cameras of around 1860 (fig. 22).
  • Square cornered - This method of folding the bellows leaves very sharp corners which are prone to wear (fig. 23).
  • Diagonal cornered - To lessen the wear on the vulnerable 90° corners they were replaced by two 45° corners and a short diagonal. This pattern was used from the late 1890s and was in general use by the early 1900s though the older square cornered pattern still remained on some models especially large cameras and tailboards (fig. 24).

Camera Backs

The simplest way to cater for landscape or portrait formats was to turn the whole camera on its side, this was used especially on tailboard cameras and cheaper models. It had the advantage that the camera could be made smaller than a reversing back model. A reversing back (fig. 30) is a thin frame to which the dark-slide fits. The frame is removable from the rear standard and can be fitted for horizontal or vertical exposures. With a revolving back (fig. 31) the frame is permanently attached to the rear standard and can rotate. Rotating backs were patented as early as 1885 and used by Billcliff from this date and briefly by Thornton-Pickard on their early cameras, otherwise they are seldom found on stand cameras. Another option, adopted on Lancaster cameras, was to allow the slide itself to fit the back either horizontally or vertically, retained by catches at the corners of the back (fig. 32).

S.D. McKellen patented an arrangement where the dark-slide was held between two rails, these were removable and could be screwed to the camera back for vertical or horizontal exposures.

Focusing screens
These were generally hinged along one edge and either folded over the top of the bellows when not in use (fig. 33) or incorporated a double hinge and rested on the dark-slide (fig. 34). Lancaster used four double hinges so that the screen moved backwards and remained parallel to the camera back allowing the dark-slide to slot into place (fig. 35). On some models the screen was fully removable. The spring back, incorporating two large leaf springs, popular in the USA, was not adopted in this country but was described in a patent by Thornton-Pickard in 1895. T-P also used a complicated arrangement where the screen was pressed in place by two curved springs attached to the reversing frame and one side of the screen. The screen could be pulled back and a slide dropped in to place, the springs then forced the screen onto the back of the slide. A spring loaded strip of wood gripped the opposite side of the slide (fig. 37).

There were several attempts to do away with the focusing cloth and have a built-in focusing hood or chamber sometimes incorporating a magnifier. None of these proved a success and were not popular until 'Hand & Stand' models appeared.

Plate Holders
The most popular form of dark-slide was the book form double dark-slide, this was the same type as used for paper negatives and the earlier dry plates. Block form dark-slides (also called American pattern) made an appearance in the early 1880s and were later popular on hand cameras. They were less often found on stand cameras. In block form slides the plate is loaded by removing the end of the slide or through the face of the slide where it clips into place.

Wet-plate slides were available during this period, they were still advertised by Lancaster in the 1890s. Transitional cameras were sold with perhaps a single wet-plate and three double dark-slides. Older cameras could have been updated by buying some new slides or, less conveniently, the wet-plate slide could be use.


Single extension refers to cameras with a bellows extension the same as the length of the baseboard. The lens would normally have a focal length slightly less than this. By fitting either standard to a frame that slides within the baseboard the camera becomes a Double extension (fig. 41). Triple extension (fig. 42) was achieved in various ways. On field cameras a further outer frame could be used to carry the rear standard.

Tripod Fixing

The standard method of attaching the camera to a tripod was by a threaded socket in the camera. The tripod legs attached to a separate plate that was then bolted to the camera. In McKellen's 'Triple Patent' camera of 1884 a turntable (fig. 49) was incorporated into the baseboard to which the tripod legs were clipped, so doing away with the separate tripod top and bolt. Henry Park produced cameras fitted with a dovetail fixing matching a special tripod top.

In 1881 the RPS recommended standard sizes of 3/16", 1/4", 5/16"and 3/8" (Whitworth thread) for screws used on cameras, including tripod screws. The International Photographic Congress of 1889 recommended a size of 3/8", this size was adopted on the continent, in Britain 1/4" became the standard and would have been the size generally used from around 1890.

Camera Types

By the mid 1880s the majority of stand cameras were of three distinct patterns.


This pattern is characterised by large front and rear standards fitting onto a baseboard and joined by parallel bellows. The front standard is usually rigidly fixed to the front of the baseboard but on some models the front standard is attached to an inner frame giving front focus. On single extension models the rear standard is moveable along the length of the baseboard (fig. 51), on double extension models it is attached to an inner frame that slides out from the baseboard (fig 50).

The baseboard was hinged so that when the two standards were pushed together it could be folded up behind the rear standard. As well as making the camera more portable it provided protection for the focusing screen.

Normally the baseboard was made up of planks of wood joined by loose tongues but on some, especially early or large models, the baseboard was made up as a frame with fielded panels (fig. 54).

Meagher introduced a variant of the front focus type where part of the front standard could be pulled out and locked by hinged struts. This provided extra extension for copying or long-focus lenses.

Tailboard cameras could be made rigid by having a metal strut between the baseboard and the front standard or a side-wing, sometimes called a Meagher outrigger (fig. 55), could be used. The side-wing consisted of a substantial plate of wood screwed to the front standard which attached to the edge of the baseboard when lowered. When the baseboard was folded up the side-wing, which was hinged, folded onto the baseboard and locked it in place. The side-wing was introduced in the 1860s on the 'New Folding Camera'. Another arrangement to make the camera rigid, less often used in this country though present on many Lancaster cameras, was for a wooden plate in the baseboard to slide across the hinge (fig. 57).

Tailboard cameras were either square in section and fitted with a reversing back or rectangular for landscape format. In the latter case there was no reversing back but a tripod bush would be fitted to the side of the camera, on the side-wing if present.

The large front standard was ideal for fitting rise and cross front movements (fig. 59). The lens panel was often extended in width and, in conjunction with the cross front, gave the option of taking stereo exposures with a single lens. Notches are often present so that a septum could be fitted or the dark-slide could be adapted with a blanking arrangement covering half the plate. Tilt was not usually provided on the front standard. A tilting back was often fitted (fig. 60), less common was a swing back (fig. 61).

Focusing was usually by rack and pinion acting on the rear standard, a worm screw is sometimes found on early models (fig. 62), this remained an alternative on later models.

The tailboard pattern developed from the Bellows wet-plate cameras of the 1860s. The folding tailboard arrangement was used on Judge's and Capt. Shaw's cameras, both of which were commercially produced, from then it was widely used except on cameras intended for use in the studio. By the late 1870s the focusing screen was generally hinged to the rear standard or reversing frame rather than being removable as in earlier times.

Hare's 'Improved Portable Bellows Camera' introduced early in 1878 was the model for this type of camera, it was widely copied by other manufacturers and changed little over the following 80 years.

Front focus models were introduced by Watson (c. 1883) and by Lancaster on several models including the Brass Bound Instantograph (1891).

The tailboard is a very rugged camera ideal for studio and commercial use, rear focusing was especially suitable for close-up work as the lens to subject distance remained fixed when focusing. Rear focus coupled with the plain front standard also made it ideal for mounting wide-angle lenses. In smaller sizes with only single extension and lighter construction it was also suitable for outdoor work, many cameras were marketed as "Pocket" or "Tourist" models emphasising their light-weight and compactness.


Field cameras are characterised by a rear standard that can move along the baseboard and a front standard that also moves or is attached to a movable focusing frame. The cameras were very flexible suitable for wide-angle work, with the two standards pushed close together, or long-focus work with the long bellows extension employed. The camera was lighter in construction than the tailboard and became popular for outdoor use.

Rear Standard
On a double extension model the rear standard moves along the baseboard and is clamped usually to the edge of the baseboard. On triple extension models it is clamped to the outer frame. Sometimes rack-work was provided to move the rear standard (fig. 80). Struts usually extend from the baseboard to the standard to give support, these may simply hinge from the baseboard and clip to the standard or they may be permanently attached and clamped by screwed bolts. When permanently attached there is either a slot in the strut or the rear standard in which the bolt can move. The slots often have notches in them to mark the vertical position. Later, springs would be fitted to the struts to push the screw or bolt attached to the standard into the notch. (Figs. 77, 77a).

Front Standard
Several methods were used to connect the front standard to the baseboard or focusing frame:
  • The front standard could move along the baseboard or inner frame and be clamped when in position (figs. 65, 65a).
  • It could be clipped to the front of the inner frame and fixed by struts. Fig. 66 shows a popular arrangement similar to that used by Gandolfi, Watson and others. The front standard is able to pivot around the pin to give tilt to the front standard.
  • On some models it was permanently fixed and hinged (figs. 67, 67a). This method was adopted on Sanderson cameras.
  • It could be made completely removable and attached by pins or clips (fig. 68).

  • On the earliest models of the Sanderson the front standard folded down onto the baseboard, part of the baseboard then hinged up to close the camera. A loose panel in the baseboard slid across the hinge to lock the baseboard in place. (fig. 69).
  • Where the front standard can be disengaged from the baseboard it is simply pushed towards the rear standard and the baseboard can fold up to cover it (fig. 70). This is similar to Folding Bed designs.
  • Where the front standard moves along rails, but remains attached, it could be pushed to the rear and hinged forward onto the baseboard (fig. 71).
  • The bellows may be unclipped from the front standard. They can then be pushed to the rear standard, the front folds backwards covered by the rear standard folding forward (fig. 72). This is similar to the earlier Kinnear pattern cameras.
  • Another method was to make the lens board pivot, the front standard can then hinge backwards while the lens board followed by the rear standard can pivot forward onto the baseboard (fig. 73). This was introduced in McKellen's 'Double-pinion Treble Patent' camera of 1884.
  • Somewhat similar was the arrangement where the front standard is unclipped from the baseboard and pivots down whilst still held by struts (fig. 74).

The disadvantage of the last two methods is that the struts fold back and scrape the edges of the bellows.

By cutting a whole on the baseboard the lens need not be removed to collapse the camera.

Tilting back is possible by utilising the struts that hold the standard upright. There was either a slot in the strut (fig. 77) or the strut moved within a slot in the standard (fig. 77a). This, though, gave a base tilt which was not as easy to use as a centre tilt fitted to some models such as the Thornton-Pickard Tourist where the lower edge of the back moves in a curved slot (fig. 77d).

A swing back is sometimes present, fig. 77b and 77d show the method used on some Thornton-Pickard cameras, a spring engages when in the neutral position. Fig. 77c shows the swing back of a Sanderson.

The lens board can move within the front standard to give rising front, some models have a cross front provided by an extra panel added to the lens board (fig. 79a). Tilt is provided by movement of the struts that fix the front standard (fig. 78).

Focusing is usually by rack and pinion near the front of the camera which moves the inner frame forward. A second pinion, using the same rack, may also be present to move the inner frame backwards from its normal position. The rear standard may be moved by rack and pinion (fig. 80). On triple extension cameras a further rack would move the outer frame.

Billcliff produced a strange design where focusing was by rack and pinion on the rear standard, the front standard was fixed at the front of an inner frame that could be pulled out and clamped when double extension was required.

Tripod Fixing
Either a tripod bush is let into the baseboard or a turntable is fitted that provides a fixing for the tripod legs.

Field cameras were a development of Kinnear's 1857 design. The rear standard was made much thinner and permanently attached to the baseboard. The tapered bellows were retained, and the hinged front standard with bellows that could be un-clipped was used on some cameras.

It is from the mid 1880s that the design really progressed. McKellen's 'Triple Patent' design of 1884 introduced the pivoting lens board to collapse the camera and incorporated the tripod fixing into the baseboard rather than using a separate tripod top fixed by a screw. The fixing incorporated a turntable to help compose the picture. Having a large cut-out in the baseboard (usually combined with the tripod turntable) was patented and used on Underwood cameras in 1885. By 1900 the field camera had overtaken the tailboard in popularity.

Folding Bed

Here the rear standard is hinged to the baseboard, the front standard moves along the baseboard or inner frame to which it is clamped. This design is typified by the 1882 model from Hare. To collapse the camera the front standard is pushed inside the rear standard and the baseboard then folds up. A popular method of fixing the front standard was by rods extending the height of the standard with plates at their ends fixed underneath the rails on which the standard moved. Screws at the top of the rods could then tighten the standard to the rail (fig. 85). An alternative approach was to pull the two sides of the standard together to grip the focusing frame (fig. 85a), this was commonly used by Lancaster.

With a view-finder, focusing scale and lighter construction this model developed into the 'Hand & Stand' camera.

A rising front is usually provided, a swing and tilt back may also be present. Fig. 86 shows a combined swing and tilt back fitted to a Lancaster. Fig. 87 shows an unusual arrangement fitted to a Hare camera to provide a swing movement in addition to the usual tilt.

On single extension models the front standard is moved along the baseboard by hand for focusing with possibly a fine focus adjustment on the lens. On double extension models the inner frame is usually moved by a rack and pinion action though on the 1887 Instantograph a worm screw was used.

This pattern has similarities with the Kinnear pattern and with the small front focus bellows cameras produced in the wet-plate period.

Hare's 'New Patent camera' of 1882 was the first of this type, similar cameras (probably made by Hare) were sold by Dallmeyer and Watson. The design was also employed by Chapman and Billcliff on several of their cameras. The design is very important as it leads directly to the British 'Hand & Stand' cameras introduced a few years later.

Other Designs

Rouch introduced their 'Patent Portable' in 1878, this had a thin baseboard that was behind the focusing screen when not in use and hinged around to the front of the camera. The idea was also adopted on their later models.

Lancaster's series of cameras introduced in 1882 had a completely separate baseboard, the rear standard clipped onto the baseboard and the front standard was bolted to the baseboard through a slot that provided rough focusing. This was something of a throwback to cameras of the 1860s. On the Instantograph model the baseboard had an inner frame to which the front standard was bolted, a worm screw moved this for fine focus.

Several proposals were made for Monorail cameras but came to nothing. Wood was not the best material for this design and metal would have resulted in a heavy camera.


In Britain the common sizes for stand cameras were:

  • 4 ¼" x 3 ¼", Quarter-plate
  • 5" x 4"
  • 6 ½" x 4 ¾", Half-plate
  • 8 ½" x 6 ½", Whole-plate
  • 7 ½" x 5"
  • 10" x 8"
  • 12" x 10"
  • 15" x 12"

To these can be added the less common larger sizes 20" x 16" and 24" x 20". Post-card - 5 ½" x 3 ½" - was a common print size from the early 1900s but few cameras were made specifically for this format. British cameras were also produced in metric sizes especially 9 x 12 cm and 13 x 18 cm.

Common stereoscopic sizes were:

  • 7 ¼" x 4 ½"
  • 6 ¾" x 3 ¼", Adopted as a standard at the 1891 Photographic Congress
  • 6 ½" x 4 ¼", Double quarter-plate
  • 8" x 5"
  • 7 ½" x 5"

At the start of this period (1880) half-plate and possibly 5" x 4" were considered the smallest for serious use and fewer stand cameras were offered in the smaller quarter-plate size. In the second half of the decade quarter-plate became popular especially in cheaper models. An enabler for the use of smaller negatives was the increasing commercial availability of bromide developing-out paper that could be used in enlarging with artificial light.


Throughout the period to the start of the first world war prices of stand cameras remained steady when comparing similar models. But, as amateur photography increased in popularity there was a trend to produce cheaper models. This was achieved by incorporating fewer features, using cheaper materials and employing less labour intensive production methods.

It is difficult to accurately compare Victorian prices with to-days but a rough guide would be to multiply by 60 to 70 to get to-days values. For more details on this, see House of Commons Library document rp99/rp99-020.pdf.

The prices are in pre decimal currency where 12 pence made a shilling and 20 shillings made a pound. Prices are shown as e.g. £7.2.6 meaning 7 pounds, 2 shillings and 6 pence or as e.g. 5/3 meaning 5 shillings and 3 pence.

Example prices of half-plate models

1884Hare'1882' model£7.2.6Without lens. Reversing back model. Includes one slide. Brass binding £1.0.0 extra. Top-end model.
1884HareTailboard£7.0.0Without lens. Square body model. Double extension.
1884ShewTourist£4.17.6Without lens. Simple, single extension model. Medium priced model.
1884LancasterMerveilleux£2.2.0Including lens. Very cheap beginner's camera, same price to 1905.
1888ChapmanThe British£5.0.0Without lens. Includes three slides.
1888LancasterInstantograph£4.4.0With landscape lens. £2.10.0 without lens. Same price to 1899.
1892WatsonAcme£9.12.0Includes three slides. Turntable £2.2.0 extra, brass binding £1.10.0 extra. Top-end model, same price to 1914.
1912T-PCollege£2.17.6Includes f8 lens, shutter, slides and tripod. Low-end beginner's camera.
1912T-PImperial£3 15.0Includes Beck f8 lens, shutter, slides and tripod.
1912T-PSpecial Ruby£6.10.0Includes Beck f8 lens, shutter, slides and tripod.
1912T-PRoyal Ruby£10.10.0Includes f8 lens, shutter, slides and tripod.

Prices of better quality (essentially hand made) cameras e.g. the Hare 1882, varied between £6.0.0 for a 5 x 4 model, £7.2.6 for a half-plate, £8.15.0 for a whole-plate and £13.5.0 for a 15" x 12". The variance was more marked for cameras in the cheaper range, e.g. Lancaster Instantograph, £1.5.0 for a quarter-plate, £2.10.0 for a half-plate, £3.15.0 for a whole-plate and £8.0.0 for a 15" x 12". This may reflect the higher, fixed, cost of labour compared to raw material in the better quality cameras; the effort to manufacture larger size cameras was not so different to that for smaller sizes.

Prices of Outfits

For higher-cost cameras, prices quoted were usually for the basic camera with a single dark-slide, additional options might include brass binding, tropical bellows and swing back movements. On cheaper models it was normal to offer a 'Complete Set', that is camera, lens, slides and tripod. The cost of a photographic outfit, including all the ancillary items, soon mounted, here are two examples from the 1890s:

Watson Acme
Half-plate camera and 3 slides£9.12.0
Rapid Rectilinear lens£4.0.0
Turntable in camera base and tripod£2.2.0
Brass binding on camera and slides£1.10.0
Extra dark-slide£1.3.6
Focusing cloth£0.7.6
Wide-angle lens£4.10.0
Ross Portable Bellows model
Camera with 1 slide£4.0.0
Symmetrical lens£4.0.0
Two extra slides£2.4.0
Focusing cloth£0.7.6
Portable Chemical Outfit8 doz plates£1.4.1
3 Dishes£0.4.4
Paper tin£0.2.0
Glass Cloth£0.0.6
Printing ChemicalsTwo printing frames£0.6.0
Gold Chloride£0.2.3
Acetate of Soda£0.0.3
Printing Paper£0.7.6
Grand total£17.0.6

Lens prices

1884-1914Dallmeyer 6" Rapid Rectilinear£4.10.0Reduced by 5 shillings in late 1890s.
1884-1914Dallmeyer 8 ½" Rapid Rectilinear£5.10.0Reduced by 5 shillings in late 1890s.
1884-1914Dallmeyer 19 ½" Rapid Rectilinear£15.0.0Reduced by 5 shillings in late 1890s.
1884Dallmeyer 7" Wide-Angle Landscape£3.15.0Reduced by 5 shillings in late 1890s.
1890-1899Lancaster Rectigraph half-plate£3.0.0
1890-1899Lancaster Rectigraph 15" x `12"£7.0.0
1890-1899Lancaster Landscape half-plate£0.10.0
1890-1899Lancaster Landscape 15" x 12"£1.10.0
1894Wray Wide-Angle Landscape 6 ½" £2.5.0

Materials and Construction


Metal Work


Camera Backs


Tripod Fixing

Camera Types



Folding Bed

Other Designs