Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Folding Instantograph Camera

J. Lancaster & Son

Name: Folding Instantograph
Manufacturer: J. Lancaster & Son
Country of Origin: United Kingdom (Birmingham)
Construction: Self-casing field camera of unusual design. The front folds down to form the baseboard, but the back folds through 270 degrees to support the baseboard. The design would be difficult to use in the hand and presumably was intended for tripod use.
Production Period: Unknown

While many of the Lancaster cameras you will encounter bear some variation of the Instantograph name, this is perhaps one of the least common and quite different in form.

Early versions of this camera were known (and marked) as the Portable Instantograph. The example shown here is marked explicitly as the Folding Instantograph.

Comparison of this camera with the more common Instantograph hand & stand camera will make it obvious how different in format this camera is from the 'norm'.

Plate / Film Size: ½ plate
Lens: Unknown lens integrated with the shutter (so presumably it is a Lancaster lens). Iris on front.
Shutter: Patented See-Saw shutter
Movements: The back can be tilted in two axes by loosening the brass nuts on the sides of the camera. The lens can be adjusted for rise and fall, and tilt.
Dimensions (w x h x l):  
Date of this Example: c1895?
Serial Number: No obvious serialisation. Production stamp of "2" on inner face of viewing screen.
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [ ]
  • Scarce [x]
Inventory Number: 357

Image of Lancaster Folding Instantograph Camera

(Image © Amateur Photographer 2010, taken for an article by Ivor Matanle and reproduced with kind permission)


the name of the camera is identified on a label at the top of lens standard, shown as "Folding Instantograph PATENT". The manufacturer is identified on a second label carried on the top edge of the case as "J. Lancaster & Son BIRMINGHAM".

The camera has black pleated square section tapered bellows that are in very good condition, though the top side is grubby and there is some corner wear.

The black leather covered mahogany body is of unusual shape and form. The front folds down to form the bed for the lens. The back folds through 270 degrees to form the firm base - there are no support struts on the front. This format is the reverse to that used for the Lancaster Ladies camera. The back section is asymmetric - it has one deep edge on one side; the same side section is attached to the camera on the opposite side, forming the wedge shape.

1894 Lancaster Camera Advert
1894 Lancaster Camera Advert

Refer to the advert from Photographic News at left, dated August 24 1894, which shows the Ladies camera. It also shows the Portable Instantograph, which is very similar in format to this camera.

(Click on thumbnail to open a larger version. Use back button to return to this page).

The leather work is showing signs of ageing and is a little brittle on some edges. The leather work on the two main faces is embossed with a square design with 'fleur de lis' patterns at each corner. This is repeated on the handle that is clearly original. The seller advised that the handle had been "reset" - if so, its not (yet) obvious to me.

The camera has a full set of movements. The back can be tilted in two axes by loosening the brass nuts on the sides of the camera. (Note that the version in the 1894 advert does not show this adjustment). The lens can be adjusted for rise and fall, and angle.

Ground glass screen intact, but cracked across one corner. Has the patented swing-out focusing screen. Came with 3 mahogany DDS, which have an unusual feature whereby the bottom edge is hinged and will open - no idea why! Also came with original brass tripod mount, but no legs.


This camera is sometimes confused with the similar Ladies camera, but there are clear differences. The obvious one is that the Ladies camera is a tailboard camera. Although the casing structure is similar it is reversed, that is, the rear folds down to form the bed for the tailboard and the front folds through 270 degrees to support it. The handle is also quite different as it is braided. I have never seen one and have only come across a few examples of this folding version.