Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Premier Camera

Rochester Optical Company

Name: Premier
Type: Box (Plate)
Manufacturer: Rochester Optical Company
Country of Origin: US
Construction: Large leather covered wooden bodied box camera for plates or rollholder. Side door allows access to load plateholder or rollholder. A small access panel on the rear of the camera can be opened to allow the image to be viewed on the ground glass screen. Focusing is by rack and pinion with knob on one side; internally a sliding box arrangement is used and unusually it is the rear section that moves to focus rather than the lens panel.
Production Period: TBC
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Model / Variant: Late model with exposed shutter assembly inside the front panel (see description).
Plate / Film Size: 4 x 5 plates or rollholder.
Lens: Unknown rapid rectilinear
Shutter: Two speed leaf shutter built onto the inner face of the front panel.
Movements: None
Dimensions (w x h x l): 16 x 18 x 29 cm
Date of this Example: c1899
Serial Number: Serial 13867 marked on inside of front door.
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [x]
  • Hard to Find [ ]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 573


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The maker of the Premier camera is identified as the Rochester Optical Co on the ivory / bone label inside the front of the camera, together with the camera name. This particular variant of the maker's name limits the date to the period between 1883 and 1899. Various online resources suggest a date span for the manufacture of this camera covering a period of 1889 to 1903.

The Premier is a 4 x 5 plate camera, with integrated two-speed shutter. It appears that there were at least two models of the Premier camera. The earlier form has the shutter built into the solid front panel (that is, the components were not exposed). The later model has the components of the shutter built onto the back of the front panel (as with this version).

The original leather covering has been stripped and replaced on this example. It has been done well (and not recently), but is quite obviously a replacement. The original leather only remains on the inside faces.

When the camera arrived, the two sliding sections that overlap to allow one to move relative to the other to focus had separated. The mating sections are of thick card and fortunately I was able to slide the outer sleeve back over the inner (fixed) section and re-engage the focussing rack & pinion.

The shutter mechanism is exposed on this example. Originally it would have had a cover over the entire mechanism, with apertures for the lens and viewfinders. There are screw holes at regular intervals around the raised edge showing where this cover would have been fixed in place.


The Premier camera turns up from time to time but is often in a distressed state. Almost every example I have seen so far has had issues with its leather covering which either has significant damage or has been recovered (as with my example).

If you have an example of this camera (in either the early or late variants), please contact me with further information about the shutter assembly and serial number.

You might like to compare this camera with the contemporary Blair Hawk-Eye Detective camera.

There is also a folding camera carrying the Premier name that shares a number of features with the box camera, refer to Folding Premier camera. The two cameras are shown side by side in the photograph below.

Image of Rochester Optical Premier Folding and Box cameras