Copyright ©2020 by Rob Niederman - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
"The P.D.Q. Camera is a detective which accomplishes
the object for which it was made and bears out its
name, the initials only of which, we adopted as a
distinguishing title. Photography Done Quickly with
this camera is also done well, and with the least
possible effort or loss of time, patience, or temper." -
Oh my, a leather-covered box camera in my collection?
Although I'm not particularly fond of solid-body (box form)
cameras-especially leather covered models-a few pique my
interest because of their strangeness and historic
relevance. Besides, this P.D.Q. Camera is in excellent
condition and includes its rarely seen, cloth covered
cardboard box with paper label. (Serial numbers on the
camera match the box.)
Since the invention of photography, camera makers looked
for ways to simplify the picture taking process. In many
cases, it was through technology advancements, such as
the invention of flexible roll film, which pushed things along.
One of the great milestones of photography was George
Eastman's 1888 original Kodak Camera, a longish
rectangular leather covered box, factory loaded with 100
exposure roll film. Attracting a hugely untapped amateur
market was the basis of Eastman's landmark achievement
and its famous slogan: "You Press The Button, We Do The
Rest". It worked!
At roughly the same time, so-called 'detective' cameras
were gaining popularity. Thomas Bolas first suggested the
detective camera concept in 1881. Detective cameras,
basically a box with a hole for the lens in front, were quite
popular yet awkward to operate. Although a detective
could be used in the "hand" or removed from the box for
use on a "stand," the process of picture taking was quite
involved - having to compose and focus on a ground glass,
set the shutter, and manipulate plate holders and dark
The P.D.Q. (Leather Version) Box Camera. c1890
E. & H.T. Anthony, New York
The P.D.Q. Camera: 4 x 5 inch box pattern, leather covered version.
Which brings me to this rather humdrum P.D.Q. Camera by the well-known
American maker E. & H.T. Anthony. As a detective camera, it's not much to look
at: Then again that's exactly the point. Ideally, detective cameras should be
inconspicuous. While some concealed cameras were quite elaborate, simple box
forms were the most popular.
On December 28, 1889, the 4 x 5 inch format P.D.Q. Camera was introduced as a
"beautiful Christmas present". Similar to George Eastman's plan, E. & H.T.
Anthony wanted to sell this detective as something that worked easily and
speedily. The company coined a slogan: "Photography Done Quickly".
That's a lofty statement but in reality, the camera was probably a clunker to
use. Dry plates had to be loaded in holders (while in a darkroom); focusing was
somewhat guesswork when using the radial dial on the camera's side; each
picture required the plate holder to be switched, and so forth. Even the
viewfinder had to be removed from the body (after taking off the front panel)
and repositioned to change from landscape to portrait picture orientations. All
that fussing around wasn't very inconspicuous if you think about it.
Yet the P.D.Q. also had the ability for more precise picture taking and
time-exposures by removing the back and composing scenes on an internal
"A new and valuable feature is the rear compartment of the camera, the cover of
which may be removed, when there will be found a ground glass, which is also
removable, and which renders the camera where time exposures are required. A
tripod screw and cap for lens, which also accompany the P.D.Q., complete its
equipment for such work, and the entire camera is neatly covered in black
The multispeed sector shutter is set using the radial lever on the front panel. A
second radial lever on the side of the camera adjusts the focus. The Anthony
brass-bound, instantaneous achromatic landscape lens looks like it throws a
decent image on the ground glass. (At some point I might load a plate holder and
take some pictures.)
Given its somewhat cumbersome design, relatively high price, and competition
from easier to use magazine and roll film box cameras, the $20.00 P.D.Q. (price
reduced to $17.50 in 1891 after barely one year on the market) had a relatively
short life and disappeared from 1892 catalogues. Anthony had other box cameras
with much longer life-spans, which makes this a somewhat rare camera.
Interestingly, a less expensive polished walnut version was offered in 1891 for
$15.00. While leather covered models were preferred (they were unobtrusive),
most collectors covet the beauty of the polished wood versions. Oddly, leather
covered models are harder to find than their polished wood counterparts.
Opened front view showing lens and sector shutter.
Original box with matching serial number: 1216
1890 P.D.Q. advertisement.