View Full Version : Help Identifying Mystery 11x14 Field Camera

Jeff Dyck
1-Aug-2004, 20:53
A few months ago I purchased an 11x14 field camera - it works fine, but I want to know a bit more about it. The previous owner purchased it refurbished from a shop, but did not know the history of the camera. There are no identying names anywhere on the camera. I have attached some photos below - anyone recognize the maker?



1-Aug-2004, 21:24
I think it is a very old Deardorff, maybe from the 20s or 30s.

Ernest Purdum
2-Aug-2004, 09:36
First of all, congratulations on your purchase. It looks like a very well-made camera, regardless of who made it.

The very large dogleg in the rear brace is very distinctive. Maybe somebody will recognize it from that.

The design origin is obviously British, but I doubt if it was made in the UK. All British makers that I know of identified their products. If made in Britain, it was sometime after such cameras had turntables in their bases and British cameras had fold-up groundglass frames and used book-form double dark slides.

If it had been made in the United States, it seems very unlikely that it wouldn't be well known.

If not made in the UK or USA, the orient, and particularly Japan, would seem the most likely place of origin. The anonymity is a strong suggestion that this might be correct, because it is very common for Japanese wooden cameras to be unlabeled. On the other hand, 11" X 14" is an uncommon size for Japanese cameras. If made in Japan, again it would have been made some time after turntables had been abandoned and the spring back with block form holders come into use. In Japan, this would date it to the 1960's at the earliest, more likely later.

There are several things that would help in identifying at least the country of origin, if not the maker. Can you, or a local woodworker, determine the type of wood used? Mahogany would suggest the UK or USA, cherry USA or Japan. Japanese cherry is "Sakura", a distinct species. I don't know whether or not an expert could distinguish Sakura wood from other cherry woods. Measuring the thickness of various components, particularly the metal ones, to see if they are made to inch or metric standards could be helpful. Did holders come with the camera? Are they the usual Sterling variety with a locking rib right up at the top of the holder, or something else?

Best wishes for good use from an interesting camera.

2-Aug-2004, 10:32
"The very large dogleg in the rear brace is very distinctive. Maybe somebody will recognize it from that."

In fact the distinctive large dogleg in the rear brace is one of the main identifying features that make me suggest it is a Deardorff, or at least a copy of a Deardorff. This feature is typical of very early Deardorff cameras and I have not seen it on any other design, though it appears somewhat more pronounced on other Deardorff cameras of this period I have seen. In any event this camera looks very much like a very old Deardorff from the mid 20s to the mid 30s. It shows the narrow knobs, natural or lacquered brass and deep red wood, which looks like mahogany from Central America, and lack of front swings typical of these cameras.

The design is in fact more similar to English designs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries than American designs, but clearly Deardorff relied much more on the English models than American models in their early designs.

Since there are no identifying marks on the camera there is always the possibility that the camera was custom built by a talented individual or made somewhere in the East. Even if that is the case, however, the relative lack of movements suggests that it is very old since more movements became common on this type of camera in the 40s and 50s. And since it appears that the camera does not have its original finish one might logically assume that the identifying marks of the manufacturer might have been lost during refinishing.

BTW, I don't have a copy on hand but I suspect that McKeown's or another of the price guide toi cameras will have illustrations of early Deardorff cameras.

Gem Singer
2-Aug-2004, 12:05
Hi Jeff,

Judging from your photos, the camera seems to share many design features with my new 8X10 Tachihara, excluding the "dog leg" design of the rear brace, of course. The red cherry wood finish is reminiscent of the finish on some of the other cameras that are manufactured in Japan.

Ernest Purdum
2-Aug-2004, 16:20
Sandy, I considered the possibility that the camera might be a Deardorff product, to which it certainly has a similar appearance, but there are a number of detail design differences, aside from the shape of the dogleg, which lead me to think otherwise.

The lensboard attaches in a common manner, but not the way Deardorff uses. There doesn't appear to be an independent rise of the lens panel itself. The nuts which lock the front rise are round rather than wing type. The back is rather distinctively sprung with four individual leaves rather than the more familiar two leaves fastened to the back at the center which Deardorff used. It doesn't appear to have a geared track for moving the back forward on the bed. There are some others.

Your thought that manufacturer's identification may have been lost during refinishing is a good one. Jeff might be able to find out something helpful if able to track down the shop which did this work.

I have a McKeown's but it doesn't illustrate any 11 X 14's, just says that the early style "looks like a giant 8x10" view camera". It also says that front swing was added in 1951 - the time period you mention. The Japanese photographers of portraits and tourist groups were a very conservative group, however. In the 1960's, many were still using roller-blind shutters on cameras which, though perhaps recently purchased, very closely resembled British products ca. 1905. It was about the middle 1960's that some started making changes, first discarding the turntable, then modifying other design characteristics and adding additional movement capabilities until in some instances the original design basis was no longer obvious.

J. P. Mose
3-Aug-2004, 04:55

Michael Jones
3-Aug-2004, 07:20

That a great looking camera. It is not a Deardorff, however. Studio cameras aside, V-11 Deardorffs look similar (and handle exactly) like their smaller siblings. The 11x14 Deardorff has a massive cast aluminum front standard. I agree with others that the dogleg on the rear standard is the best clue. Good luck and enjoy.


David Vickery
4-Aug-2004, 09:20
Its looks and specs remind me of the Rajahs from India.

Ernest Purdum
4-Aug-2004, 10:36
David, very good thought. I had considered this, but didn't mention it because my recollection is that the Indian made cameras followed Deardorff design somewhat more closely. I could easily be wrong, though. Maybe someone that has a Rajah or a Prinzdorff, or knows a website that shows them, will be able to say yes or no.

Mark Sampson
7-Oct-2004, 11:49
The Rajah cameras I have seen were a) made of teak and b) shaky.