A Crowded Market As the end of the 1890s approached, the market, already
saturated with inexpensive folding plate (self-casing) cameras, was shifting to
cheaper box and rollfilm cameras. While an air of anticipation maintained that
the trend would continue, new models of self- casing cameras still found their
way into the hands of eager "advanced" amateurs.
Room for more? Terrence D. Wilkin, Charles E. Welsh, and Edward P. Wilkin
must have believed so. On February 27, 1900, papers of intent forming the
Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company in Syracuse, New York were signed. The fledgling
company was launched with $10,000 in capital and 100 shares of stock
distributed to its three directors. According to the filing, the purpose of the
company was, "The manufacture of Cameras and Photographic Apparatus, and
Photographic and other specialties of various kinds."
While small companies trying to carve out a niche were common at the time, the
Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company is noteworthy for its incredible obscurity and
business brevity. Unlike many of its competitors, the company was apparently
overlooked as a desirable merger or acquisition candidate.
Onondaga No.6, c.1900-01 Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company. Syracuse, NY.
Who Was Behind Wilkin-Welsh?Listings show Wilkin-Welsh at 307 N. State Street in 1900 and 134 S. Geddes Street in 1901, with no address
listed in 1902. In its two (or less) brief years of existence, with little or no marketing or advertising, a small variety of box and folding plate cameras
were produced. Other than the few examples found in collections, a lack of reference material makes it difficult to know more about the cameras
and "specialties of various kinds."
Two models of basically the same folding plate camera are listed in a 1901 catalogue; the Onondaga No. 6 (with an externally mounted shutter) and
the Onondaga No. 5 (the same camera with a wood encased shutter). Construction was inexpensive. A leatherette covering was used instead of
pebbled leather. Some cameras had leatherette on the drop bed while others had polished wood. In all cases, the Ononadaga Nos. 5 & 6 had
reversing backs and bed mounted reflex finders - the No.6 had a round viewing port on the reflex finder.
Ironically, almost more is known about Terrence Wilkin than the cameras. It is also interesting to note that Terrence and Edward were father and
son holding a 70% majority stock ownership in the company (T. Wilkin, 40 shares; C. Welsh, 30 shares; E. Wilkin, 30 shares).
Dan Smith, Local History/Genealogy - Onondaga County Public Library, kindly provided additional information about Terence and Edward Wilkin. Born
in Rochester in 1847, Terence served in a Union cavalry unit as a teenager, and spent eight months in Andersonville. He was active in civic affairs
upon coming to Syracuse and served as a city alderman in the 1880s. In 1899 Terence purchased one of the first automobiles in Syracuse and
served as the first president of the local automobile club. Terence died suddenly at age 56 of a stroke.
Edward Wilkin is listed in the late 1890s as employed by the R.G Dun & Company, as an early business magazine publisher and analyst. The 1900
census lists Wilkin as a "dealer in cameras" and the 1902 directory shows him relocating to Utica - this would also be a good indicator that the
Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company had probably dissolved. The 1910 census lists Edward as a commercial Traveler dealing in guns and on the 1920
census as simply a traveling salesman.
Successor to the Niagara Camera Company?Details of the Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company and its products are still unknown, and there is the
possibility of a connection to the Niagara Camera Company of Buffalo, New York. Historian Eaton Lothrop Jr. owns several Wilkin-Welsh and Niagara
box cameras and commented that one particular Niagara camera was identical in all ways to a Wilkin-Welsh model. He also noted that the same
camera illustration appeared, in one instance, on boxes from both companies.
Eaton also speculated the possibility of a timeline connection, without any overlap, between the two companies. The Niagara Camera Company
appears to have operated in Buffalo only in 1899 while the Wilkin-Welsh Camera Company apparently operated in Syracuse in the years 1900 - 1901.
Did Niagara go broke and Wilkin-Welsh buy out the tools, etc? Were the Wilkin-Welsh cameras still produced in Buffalo, or were they actually made
in Syracuse? (The papers of incorporation list Syracuse as the "principal business office.") Eaton speculated that the Erie Canal would have provided
a nice transportation connection, either to move the tools and left over stock from Buffalo to Syracuse or to move finished cameras from Buffalo to
Maybe answers will disclose themselves over time. Otherwise, the Wilkin-Welsh folding plate camera represents an interesting, albeit, a short-lived
historical side-bar in an already crowded market.
10 June 2012 Update: The correct camera name is now referenced as Onondaga No.6. Special thanks to Tom Kowach at Historic Camera for the
reference information and scan of the catalogue listing.
Onondaga No.6 Reversible Back, 4" x 5" format
Rauber and Wollensak Shutter with meniscus lens.