Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Instanto Camera

E & T Underwood (Birmingham)

Name: Instanto
Manufacturer: E & T Underwood (Birmingham)
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Tailboard camera of mahogany and brass; black leather square section bellows.
Production Period: 1886 - ?


Plate / Film Size: ¼ plate
Lens: Barrel lens with iris diaphragm (f11 to f32) and marked E & T Underwood
Shutter: None
Movements: Rising & cross front. The rear can also be tilted.
Dimensions (h x l x w):  
Date of this Example: c1890
Serial Number: None
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [x]
  • Hard to Find [ ]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 506


Neat ¼ plate tailboard camera, with square-section parallel black bellows and original Underwood barrel lens. The camera is in very good condition with very few signs of damage or use. The brasswork is in good condition with most of the original lacquer intact. It seems likely that the ¼ plate version is less common than the ½ & whole plate versions; it was apparently dropped from their lists in later years (an 1899 advert does not give a price for the ¼ plate).

The camera carries the makers label on the front panel. The makers name is also stamped into the side of the tailboard on both edges, but on one it adds their location (Birmingham) and on the other states the camera name - "THE INSTANTO". According to Channing & Dunn, the camera was introduced in 1886, but it is unclear whether it was still being made in the same form into the next century. Certainly it is shown in Underwood's advert in the Photographic News of August 1899, but here it is shown fitted with a rollerblind shutter, although it still has square section bellows.

The makers label on this example is a small round decal. The adverts for 1896 (Photographic Advertising from A-Z, Volume 3, p432) and the 1899 Photographic News advert both show rectangular labels.

Interestingly the advert for the "Field" camera in the 1896 advert looks as though it has a lens of a very similar pattern.

The camera has both horizontal and vertical adjustments for the lens. The rear can also be angled and the screen / plateholder rotated for portrait / landscape. Double extension bellows; rack & pinion focussing.

The pattern of maker's label and its size suggests that this is as an early version.

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The Instanto is probably the most common of the Underwood cameras and is most often found in ½ plate size.