Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Waterbury Detective Camera

Scovill Manufacturing Company

Name: Waterbury Detective Camera
Type: Detective Camera
Manufacturer: Scovill Manufacturing Company
Country of Origin: US
Construction: Box camera for single plates in plate holder, loaded through a side door. Storage on the underside for a spare plateholder. String set shutter attached to removable front panel. Leather covered wooden body.
Production Period: 1888 - 1892 (introduction of the Improved model)


Plate / Film Size: 4 x 5 plate
Lens: Unknown
Shutter: Integrated into front panel
Movements: None
Dimensions (w x h x l):  
Date of this Example: c1891
Serial Number: Serial 21 stamped into inside of plate loading door. Serial stamped on lens, but difficult to read (partially obscured). Looks like 1147.
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [x]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 403

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Leather covered variant of the Waterbury Detective Camera, made by Scoville Manufacturing Company in the US. According to McKeown [1], the leather covered version is less common than the painted wood version. In Cameras from Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures [3] Coe states that after 1890 the camera was leather covered rather than being in plain wood treated to look like ebony. The design is based on Willard H Fuller's US patent 391,236 dated 16 October 1888 (assigned to the Scovill Manufacturing Company).

The patent relates to a detective style camera that is divided into four distinct compartments: the main chamber in the middle, a forward compartment to accommodate the lens assembly, a rear compartment to hold the plateholder and finally a fourth compartment below to hold a spare plateholder.

Side door to load plates, with storage beneath for a plate holder. Focussed by a lever on the underside.

The manufacturer is identified on the lens and on a small warning label inside the removable front to which the shutter is attached, which states that they will not be responsible if the string is changed or shortened. Part of the string does appear to have been replaced at some point in its life, but the shutter still operates correctly.

The camera is a large cube - much larger than might be expected for the 4 x 5 format (7" sides). There is some slight wear to the leather, but it is sound and in very good order. It comes with a plateholder and intact ground glass screen.


US patents are accessible through the Google Patents search at