View Full Version : Which Big Cameras Were Used in 1860s?

Richard K.
8-May-2010, 21:38
Just curious, which formats were (most) used in the 1860s/70s by people like Watkins, Jackson, O'Sullivan - 11x14, 14x17, 18x22 or 20x24?

9-May-2010, 04:24
There is a photo of O'sullivan that I think was dated in the 1870's where he is using a 20x24.

9-May-2010, 07:08
At the massive Timothy O'Sullivan exhibit--Framing The West, the majority of the prints were made from plates shot with a 10x12 camera. A portion of the earlier prints are a little smaller--I think they were 8x10 or something close. He also took some smaller stereoviews. It looked like 10x12 was the primary format for his work on the western survey expeditions.

Richard K.
9-May-2010, 07:26
There is a photo of O'sullivan that I think was dated in the 1870's where he is using a 20x24.

Hi Lenser, where did you (can one) see that photo?

John Jarosz
9-May-2010, 08:00
John Fielder published a book of his re-photographs of W.H.Jackson's images of Colorado. He does not provide detailed information on Jackson's individual negatives but merely says that Jackson used 3x4 for stereo images and 8x10, 11x14 and 18x22. He does provide a list of all the Jackson photographs and where they are kept with directions how to apply the ID numbers in searching for the images at their respective institutions. Fielder's book on the Jackson re-photography is ISBN # 1-56579-347-1. While some may dismiss a re-photography book as trivial, I would recommend this book because it does give insight into the images made with the old process. Comparing the old to new images illustrates the advantages and shortfalls of both processes. Some of the old & new comparisons are haunting.

I also have a biography of W.H. Jackson by Douglas Waitley (ISBN 0-87842-381-8). It has fine accounts of Jackson's trips into the wild, but no specific detail on neg sizes for specific prints. The book does have extensive bibliography that should allow further more specific research into that kind of detail.


9-May-2010, 09:39
I believe that O'Sullivan used 9x12 and 10x12 and a stereo camera, and Andrew Russell used 10x13 and 5x8 stereographic during the King and Wheeler expeditions.

9-May-2010, 10:36

It is in the volume "Light and film" from the old Time Life Library of Photography series. I have my photographer's mixed up. That image is of William Henry Jackson instead. Page 79 with what is captioned for certain as "his 20x24 view camera". I am just opening my copy of"Timothy O'Sullivan, America's Forgotten Photographer" and Immediately found an image of him at work with what looks to be about an 11x14 and which is captioned as the only known photo of O'Sullivan.

Sorry about the mix up. Hope this helps

The Time Life Series has a some great historical information throughout and the O'Sullivan Book is quite interesting. You might also access the Library of Congress as many of these people worked for government sponsored surveys and expeditions and their work would likely be in that repository as is the work of the photographers who did the historical surveys for the FSA under Roy Stryker during the depression of the thirties. At least the FSA material is public domain and you can actually order prints and possibly digital files for dirt cheap ($5.00 per print back in the early eighties) so maybe the Western photographers' images would also be available. At least their reference librarians would be able to quickly tell you what sizes the original plates were.

Richard K.
9-May-2010, 10:58
Thanks Guys!!

9-May-2010, 11:48

Here's a photo of Jackson and some mammoth camera from Todd Gustavson's Camera.

10-May-2010, 01:02
Watkins was mainly shooting stereographs at 3x7 and plates at 16x21 and 22x28, but I know of at least one stunning 26x30…

10-May-2010, 05:23
Another fine example of "Go big or go home"...


Here's a photo of Jackson and some mammoth camera from Todd Gustavson's Camera.

Richard K.
10-May-2010, 07:38
Another fine example of "Go big or go home"...

I still like my "geezer cart"...at least I don't have to feed it!

10-May-2010, 08:52
Please tell me he is not wearing a tie!

Robert Hughes
10-May-2010, 11:34
Why not? He was getting his picture taken. Them plates are expensive, you know!

John Jarosz
10-May-2010, 11:39
Then howcum the donkey doesn't have a tie?????

Scott Davis
10-May-2010, 12:06
I don't recall if it was WH Jackson or Carleton Watkins (I think WH Jackson), but a couple years ago at APIS I saw a panoramic albumen print done by aligning at least two if not three 18x22 plates of a valley in Mexico. This was a virtuoso performance considering they would have been wet plates that size, they were perfectly aligned, and there was no visible seam or disjoint between sections, and no cut lines to indicate the print had been stitched together from three well-aligned separate prints. Needless to say, the price tag was more than the average family sedan.

10-May-2010, 12:50
Watkins has done several panoramic shots in that way.

Michael Roberts
11-May-2010, 05:59
Jackson used 5x8, full plate, 8x10, 11x14, 20x24 (shown above) and, much later, 18x22, plus a smaller stereoscopic. The stereo, full plate, and 8x10 went with him on his first several Geological Surveys in 1870-3 (the 5x8 was added in 1874). In 1872, he acquired the 11x14 and used it to make the first photographs of the Mount of the Holy Cross, a legendary and somewhat mythical wonder at the time. He purchased the 20x24 (either an Anthony or a Scovill) in 1875 specifically for work at Mesa Verde and other "lost cities." Of the 20x24, he wrote: "[M]y 20x24--although used only for exceptional shots--was worth all the extra labor it cost." Of course all of these were used for wet plate collodion.

All these cameras were bought with government funds for the Geological Survey; Jackson was allowed to buy them when the GS was reorganized after about six years and he went into private business in Denver.

He adopted the 18x22 sometime on or before 1892 when the head of the B&O RR hired him to make pictures with it all along the B&O route at $10 per picture. I recall reading that he made multiple exposures to print panos three-wide as mentioned above, but I can't put my finger on it right now. Also, he invented a 360 degree camera using coated paper negs.

If you can find a copy of his autobiography, Time Exposure, it's a pretty fascinating read.