The Henry Clay Camera information appearing on this website is part of a personal research project that innocently started during a routine business
trip in the fall of 1997. A chance meeting with a fellow collector yielded an interesting camera with a stiff carrying handle and large brass shutter –
a Henry Clay Camera. Interestingly, this particular camera had a strange yet elegant sliding-bed, which represented an intriguing technical
departure from a hinged bed and locking strut design – the norm for folding dry plate cameras of the period. A quick sifting through the usual
references and price guides did not produce any information or pictures of similarly designed cameras. Additionally, responses from major collections
and collectors to numerous inquiries were disappointing and succinct – the few other Henry Clay Cameras residing in collections had hinged beds and
Yet no one had heard of a sliding bed version. However tantalizing clues abound. An unidentified body matching the sliding bed description appeared
at a camera show a few years back. Although the body was gutted, one well known collector commented that it exhibited the hallmarks of a Henry
Clay Camera. Aside from this one sighting and the odd camera now residing in my collection, knowledge of Henry Clay Camera lore, other than it
being made by the American Optical Company and sold by The Scovill & Adams Company of New York, is practically nonexistent. Even more
intriguing, early Henry Clay Advertisements clearly illustrate a sliding drop-bed camera, yet none of us in the collecting community took notice. It
was time to dig into the past. (Additional Henry Clay Camera references at the end of this page).
Although not the first mass produced folding-plate camera, The Henry Clay Camera is historically significant because it represents the first
self-casing, folding-bellows dry-plate camera of the 1890s. As a note, the No.4 Folding Kodak Camera was exclusively a rollfilm camera from its
introduction in 1890 to 1891. The Henry Clay Camera's innovative front standard also incorporated an extensive array of movements such as rises,
double shifts and swings for controlling pictorial perspective.
Early folding-plate cameras (pre-1895) are very hard to find but were instrumental in ushering in the numerous lower cost models of the late 1890s.
As a result, I felt The Henry Clay Camera's overall rarity and even rarer sliding drop-bed design variation merited documentation. Fortunately several
private collectors, major collections, and institutions shared this view and provided reference material from their vast archives.
Research results based on the reference material were intriguing. In addition to the original Henry Clay Camera a total of four models were identified,
and for the first time, a few Henry Clay cameras residing in major collections were correctly identified. These four versions make up what was
advertised as the "Scovill & Adams Henry Clay Series." Moreover, 1891 has now been identified as the first year of production and 1892 as the year
in which the hinged-bed body style, rollfilm capability, and stereoscopic versions appeared. The research also yielded some interesting design
variations and insight into the types of custom orders clients made during the early 1890s.
The camera’s name is also an oddity. American Senator Henry Clay first comes to mind as a suitable namesake. Although Henry Clay is not a central
figure in the history of photography, his farewell speech of 1842 was made at a time when daguerreotype photography was available to record the
important event. Except for a daguerreotype of his historic speech being made into an award winning engraving entitled "The United States Senate
Chamber", there does not appear to be any relationship between the famous Senator and photography.
Otherwise, the camera may have been named after Henry Clay Price who wrote a book entitled How to Make Photographs. The book was published
by Scovill & Adams and had at least four editions. The 1901 issue of The Photographic Times reviewed an article entitled The Evolution of a Camera
that appeared in Munsey's Magazine for August. In the article, Mr. W. I. Lincoln Adams (son of W. Irving Adams) notes the development of a folding
Henry Clay Camera Research Uncovering an Historic Camera
The passage is interesting because it alludes to the Henry Clay Camera being designed and named after Henry Clay Price without acknowledgement
of the 1890 No. 4 Folding Kodak of 1890.
A monograph about Henry Clay Cameras was published in the February-March, 1999 issue of the Cascade Panorama: the publication of the Cascade
Photographic Historical Society. Any further information that can contribute to this research or Henry Clay Cameras for purchase is greatly
Selected Sources Referencing The Henry Clay Camera (Refer to note below):
As lenses were improved, and dry plates became more sensitive, instantaneous photography became possible, and this
led to the manufacture of the 'detective' or hand camera. Magnesium, as an artificial source of light for photography,
made it possible to take pictures at night and in dark places where the sun's rays never penetrate. The types and
forms of photographic apparatus were rapidly multiplied. The hand camera was developed into the folding camera by
Henry Clay Price, and his design became the model for most of the present hand cameras of this class.
- J.C. Somerville, Jobber of Photographers Supplies, Saint Louis, Mo. Complete Catalogue No. 13. June 15th, 1891. A letter to patrons says that the --catalogue was two months late. This implies that the Henry Clay Camera was available in early 1891.
- 1892. Scovill & Adams Co., How to Make Photographs and Descriptive Catalogue of Photographic Materials
- 1892. Scovill & Adams Co., Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus
- 1892. Scovill & Adams Co., The American Annual Of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac
- 1893. Scovill & Adams Co., The American Annual Of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac
- 1894. Scovill & Adams Co., The American Annual Of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac
- 1896. Scovill & Adams Co., Catalogue of Photographic Apparatus
- 1898. Scovill & Adams Descriptive Catalogue
- 1899. Scovill & Adams Co., The American Annual Of Photography and Photographic Times Almanac
- 1901. The Photographic Times Publishing Co., The Photographic Times.
- The Henry Clay Cameras. Product Catalogue. n.d.