British photographic history

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State of the art, British camera, 1862

I am trying to find out more about the camera Spanish photographer Rafael Castro y Ordóñez, member of the Comisión Científica del Pacífico, used during his expedition to America (1862-1865). He used a Dallmeyer lens of his own but the camera was purchased in London by British photographer Charles Clifford in early 1862. References suggest that it was a state of the art field stand camera. The plates produced are 26 x 31 (10 x 12") and 16 x 21 (6 x 8 "). The lens was probably a Dallmeyer-Petzval type combined lens, good for portraits and landscape photography. 

I regret to say I am no expert in nineteenth century camera. Could anybody help me find out about the kind of camera he may have used? I need more information for my PhD dissertation. 

Thanks very much in advance

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Comment by sara badia on March 24, 2017 at 11:22

Thank you Rob! I find interesting to see a horizontal tailboard camera, as most of Castro's pictures follow this format. I had not thought about that...And the information on the lens in relation to the camera confirms my hipotheses. Very very useful, thank you!  

Comment by Rob Tooley on March 23, 2017 at 15:42

The link below shows a typical bellows camera from the 1860s for plates around 6 x 8", this example was actually made a little later but the design was the same as earlier models.

This link will give some general information on wet-plate photography and how the plates were manipulated.


Comment by sara badia on March 22, 2017 at 18:01

Thank you Michael! This bibliography is very useful for me, I am no expert in photographic cameras! I am prettiy sure this information may be useful for other people too.

I would love to read that couple of entries from your own book, if possible.  I am writing to you in order to let you know my email address.

Thank you!

Comment by Michael Pritchard on March 22, 2017 at 10:27

Sara, the best reference on camera history for this period is: Brian Coe (1978), Cameras. From daguerreotype to instant pictures. 

R C Smith's (1975) Antique Cameras is a good, if somewhat dated, descriptive account of cameras of the period. The entry on camera history in Hannavy (ed), Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography are concise accounts of camera development. There are also a couple of entries in my own book A history of photography in 50 Cameras which might be helpful which I can scan and email to you. 

Comment by Chelin Miller on March 22, 2017 at 8:13

Buenos días Sara: Me gustaría comunicarme contigo por privado. Estoy interesada en el tema de tu investigación de doctorado. Estoy buscando material para mi proyecto relacionado con fotografía de Colombia (o América Latina en general) siglo XIX y principios del s XX. Me puedes contactar en chelinmiller (at)

¡Mucha suerte y espero noticias!

Saludos, Chelín

Comment by Jeffrey S Gould on March 20, 2017 at 13:54

Hi Sara,

I wanted to send you a picture of a Morley camera, from the period, unfortunately not part of my collection, but the file is too big to fit in this message. Send me your email address and I'll send you a picture. 

I am fairly sure the type of camera he used would have been a tail-board camera, with square bellows. This type of design was used for many years, and although I have many cameras of this type in my collection, I have no idea which, if any, are from the 1860's. The only camera I have that is definitely from this period is a Dubroni, but that is a totally different style.

Hope this helps.



Comment by sara badia on March 20, 2017 at 11:52

Many thanks Mr Gould!

I am already in touch with them, they have addressed me to this website!

I think you are right, it must have been a bellows camera on a stand, possibly made by a local manufacturer. In fact I believe Castro used two cameras with two different sets on lenses, a 26 x 31 (10 x 12") and  a 16 x 21 (6 x 8 ")  with the Dallmeyer (portrait) lens. Possibly both of them were good for field work. 

Should I perhaps stop looking for the kind of camera he used and try to understand the cameras of the time in order to grasp their technical limitations?

Anyone kind enough to tell me about a couple of cameras of the time that I could use as examples of the kind on equipment he may have used and where to find a collector to share a picture with me to illustrate my dissertation?

Anyone willing to recommend any bibliography on 1860s wet collodion cameras and their technical limitations? 

Thanks again! 

Comment by Jeffrey S Gould on March 20, 2017 at 9:21

Hi, recommend you refer to the excellent web site Earlyphotography, where you will see many early English cameras. However at this time it was quite likely that he had the camera made for him. It would have been a bellows camera of some sort for sure. But there were many small camera makers who would not normally have added their name to a camera. Good luck with your research.

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