Period style Cameras

This posting is really meant as an addendum to my posting about our black arts Camera, which is designed based upon a common 1860’s era camera, the majority of the cameras looked very similar. Some of those cameras were a little more elaborate than others.

This is a slight challenge, based upon people’s perception from what they’ve seen in Hollywood, plus the overall age of the cameras. if the camera was a true wet-plate camera, that was heavily used its chances of survival for 150+ years are radically diminished, just from the silver eating away the wood.

this along with the sheer cost of an actual wet-plate camera causes a great number of modern wet-plate photographers to use 20th-century cameras with custom plate holders. or custom crafted cameras. additionally, most 1860’s era cameras are cumbersome, with limited movements.

recently, I found on eBay 1930’s – 1950’s era Agfa/Ansco with a customized wet-plate holder & back crafted by what looks like a star camera, the camera was also mounted with, what the seller is saying is a Darlot Petzval lens.


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let me state, while this is a nice camera. We have a couple of them, the camera is what’s called their Univeral model, and came in a few different sizes. We at present have a 4 x 5 and a 8 x 10.   It is long ways off from 1860’s period correct camera. To me, it would be like taking a World War II cannon to a civil war reenactment, then saying it was Civil War period cannon. There are so many things wrong that it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Yet, Sadly, the majority of people, including reenactors have no idea about the difference between a contemporary camera and an 1860’s era camera.

This was basically my choice something like the above camera, that I could have found on eBay anywhere from about $500.00 on up to about $2000.00, with the likelihood of requiring me to craft some sort of plate holder. and possibly recondition the camera.  a few years ago, I was offered one of these, with a custom plate holder, etc and I believe the seller wanted close to $2500.00

this particular camera is presently listed on eBay as a wet-plate camera with the seller asking a  buy-it-now price of 1,495.00 plus $100.00 shipping.

A period correct style camera typically have the same sized front standard as they do the rear standard, they are commonly fixed to a frame, that includes rails allowing the rear standard, which is the focal plane the ability to move back & forth allowing the photographer the ability to focus the camera. it’s very rare that they’ll have tilt & twist movements on the standards, they may have a rise and fall, or horizontal slide on the front lens board. The style is commonly called a tailboard camera.

To show, the radical cost difference, there is also an eBay listing for an 1860- 1870’s Ross wet-plate camera.  this camera is considered a tailboard camera, it uses wings to help stabilize the tailboard, allowing for more stability without having to use a sled or platform tripod. The buy it now price is  $6,550.00 +$131.00 shipping.


With the listing, the seller also includes some drawings from an 1870’s era magazine, of a photographer taking using a similar style camera.  I’ve used the same images for inspiration for my dark box.



As much as I would love to have and use the camera listed on eBay, It’s an out of our price range. However like before if you have such a camera that you would like to donate to us, please contact us, or perhaps donate the funds so that we can purchase the camera, please click on the donate button.


here’s an interesting note on the horizontal slide setup of the front standards, one of the neat aspects of this, is that it allows the photographer to take stereo views with a single lens.


The Black Arts Camera

This is our primary Camera, it’s an early camera crafted by Stephen Silipigni of Black Art Woodcraft.  He calls this design the Ross 8 x 10 field camera. Today, Thousands of children and adults alike have looked through our camera, becoming one of the main attractions of our camp. It seems as if nearly everyone is astounded by the clarity of the lenses while questioning why the image is upside down.


Unfortunately,  unannounced to us when we purchased the camera used.  We learned That it had, had a hard life. It was originally crafted for someone in Europe and was severely damaged in shipping, then cobbled back together by Steve to be used as a backup camera. It was never supposed to be resold.

When I started looking for a more period correct 8 x 10 camera, I basically had the choice of looking for an antique, with an average cost of about $2,000.00 while likely needing restoration. Or purchasing a new purpose built a camera for about the same price without restoration, I chose the latter option. This narrowed my choice between two different manufacturers, remembering I wanted a period style. leaving me to choose between a 8 x 10 crafted by Star Camera Company or an 8 x10 crafted by Black Art Woodcraft.  Out of the two cameras, I preferred the Black Art Woodcraft camera. However, the average turnaround to have one crafted by Black Art Woodcraft is 6 months to a year. At the time, We choose to purchase a used one, to reduce the overall cost and wait time.

Perhaps when my skills increase, and I start earning more money with the camera, I’ll have one crafted for me. The average cost of a modern crafted Ross 8 x 10 field camera is close to $2500.00.  I find it interesting, some of the collodionist who have been working the craft for a number of years will often end up with a camera crafted for them. Then, when articles are written about the photographer, Their primary camera often receives some notoriety. None of these cameras are mass produced and are traditionally produced for the photographer, or they are using an 1860’s era wet-plate camera.

We are always open to donations to help us purchase a new camera specifically built for me.


While my camera wasn’t specifically crafted for me, and it does have some mechanical issues which Steve is willing to address. I’ve been quoted a price of nearly half the cost of what we paid for the camera, With the additional down time. At present time I have not made a plate holder or lens boards for my 8 x 10 film camera, so, basically, I would be hobbled, limiting my ability to work. Additionally, As we are on a shoestring budget I’ve chosen to work with a woodworker and machinist to craft new support structure for the camera box. Creating a new brass T-slot track, allowing me to lock the focus of the camera.  For the last couple of years I’ve been limping along using the camera, and unfortunately, it has accidentally been knocked over a couple of times.  Causing further damage, making it very difficult if not impossible to lock back standard in place holding my focus, for my most commonly used portrait lens. This last weekend, at Red Bluff Civil War days, really proved that point requiring someone to help hold the rear standard in place.

Additionally, I have encountered a few other issues, such as creating new lensboards and inserts for different sized plates. And then finally the occasional light leak, when locking the plate holder into the camera.

So, in short, by the time we are done, I’ll have a camera that’s been customized for me. with dreams of eventually ordering a new one, or learning the skills to craft my own.

as we work on the camera, I’ll update this posting.

Here are some different photos of the camera.




The Conley Camera Company of Rochester, Minnesota, was a little-known player in the arena of early 20th-Century photography. Selling their products mainly through the Sears catalog, Conley made cameras and photographic accessories from 1899 to 1927. The majority of their cameras were by no means high-end; Conley made inexpensive cameras for the masses. That does not mean that they were poorly-made–some Conley features were downright ingenious, and their hand-crafted mahogany, cherry, and nickel-plated cameras were things of beauty. Although they would never become serious competitors with industry giants such as Kodak, their influence was widespread thanks to their relationship with the Sears catalog. In the years before the Mayo Clinic’s rise to worldwide fame, the Conley Camera Co was arguably the most successful enterprise in Rochester, MN, up to that time.Conley

Today, very little is known about Conley cameras. Their camera models are often misidentified if they are identified at all. Many people who have one of their plate cameras think that they were made in 1907 because of the date on the front. That is, in fact, the patent date of the front standard locking mechanism and bears no relationship at all to the manufacturing date. Most of their cameras can be found here, cross-referenced among the various names they sometimes sold under. Not absolutely everything is included: for example, the 700-lb Queen City Specimen Camera No 42–only one of which is known for certain to have been made–is absent (though if I can locate it, I’ll include a photo) . But for the most part, if it could be purchased on the mass market, you’ll find it here. To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive assembly of Conley products extant. No doubt, it will continue to grow as previously-unknown models come to light.

we originally found our Conley camera at an antique yard sale. I crafted a new lensboard, added a lens, and gave the camera complete tune-up, patching the bellows, cleaning and oiling the wood and metal.  My experience showed me that the Conley cameras are nice lightweight cameras, with several movements. I did take a few film photo’s using the camera


Here are some different photos of the camera.


Questions and Answers

Inevitably reenactors are regularly asked several questions, that we’ve heard over and over again, and invariably we joke about them. Some of the common questions I’ve been asked are, is that a real baby is that real food, do you really sleep here. The basic answer to all of those is yes.  One of my favorite stories, related to when I was in the 4-H and raised angora rabbits. My mother an educator and textile artist would pluck and spin yarn directly from the rabbit, this perfectly normal and doesn’t harm the rabbit. One year at the Northern California Renaissance Faire, she happened to be spinning from one the rabbits, and as a woman began calmly explaining to her son, that the woman spinning was pulling the wool out of the pile in her lap, at which point the rabbit grew tired of sitting and promptly almost as on cue hopped of my mother’s lap, nearly giving the woman a heart-attack. The point is that doing reenacting, or living history, is that we are often actually living as if we were in that time period, at least within reason. and it’s actually very easy, simply perform some mundane task, like washing clothes or cooking, only in a style that is period correct to the era you are reenacting. To do this we use items that are more often than not, reproductions, antiques or period items. This means the items are not Hollywood props or toys that were purchased at Walmart. They are real working items, such guns, or my cameras. We also often create our own items and clothing, if we do not have the skill or time, we purchase items from craftspeople who can.

Reenactors in general, do what we do out of a passion for history and educating people through creating impressions, of actual people or people who could have lived. The benefits that we get are the enjoyment of spending time with our families and friends, learning about the era as well as teaching people about what we’ve learned reenacting.

Reenacting is considered a hobby, with most of the clubs being non-profit organizations. Like any hobby or organization, there are different levels of commitment and involvement. Sometimes reenactors only come out during battles, while others, count the stitches in their clothing, trying to ensure that everything is as accurate as possible. That clothing is just that, we, however, call it garb so as to distinguish our clothing from cheap Halloween costumes. This is not a cheap hobby,  we as reenactors are not paid, we do this out of love.

With Battle Born Historical Photography, we are living history artisans. This means that when at an event, we live onsite at our camp. Everything in our camp is researched and documented for its authenticity as is practical.

Some of the questions we’ve been asked:

  • Are you a vendor?
    No, we are not vendors. We are living history artisans, using 19th-century photographic processes to take modern photos. They are not old-timey foto’s taken with a digital camera and printed out to look old. They are real tintypes or ambrotypes, taken using historic methods and equipment. We do however sell reproduction or antique cases and frames to accompany photo’s that we’ve taken, these are generally not sold separately.
  • Are you really taking pictures? 
    Yes, I am really taking pictures utilizing 19th-century processes and equipment. And as result due to the nature of the process, I am an artist.  it’s depended on a lot of different factors – I’m not taking “old-timey foto’s”.
  • Do you supply costumes?
    No, we do not supply costumes, sometimes the club can supply costumes, however, those are primarily for people interested in becoming involved in the hobby, you’ll need to make arrangements with the club about the use of appropriate garb.
    I’m taking a serious photograph utilizing 160-year-old process which has earned the respect as being the most archivable form of photography, with photographs having been processed both on glass and tin, still existing today, looking as they did when they were taken. Do you want to be remembered 100 years from now wearing a silly costume?  however, with that being said, I do have some props and you are more than welcome to bring your own attire.
  • Can you give me a discount because ________ ?
    No, utilizing this process is quite costly as is the investment both monetarily and in time. I can not just run to my local camera store and purchase items I need to take photos. If anything goes wrong with my equipment, chemicals or some major component is forgotten, I have figure out a solution to the problem or I can not take photos, I work at this year round, making things for the camp, practicing my skills and maintaining my equipment and chemicals.  The prices I list are beyond reasonable. – if you do not like my prices, you are more than welcome to shop elsewhere. I’m not a commercial Vendor, I’m an artist who practices 160-year-old photographic process to provide you with an actual tintype.
  •  That Camera is beautiful, does it still work?
    Yes, Why wouldn’t it still work? it’s a very simple device. it really is nothing more than a box with a lens, all of my lenses are minimal of 120 years old. they are true antiques, and difficult and costly to obtain.
  • Is that camera an antique?
    The answer really depends on the camera, the main camera I use is a modern crafted 8 x 10 based upon a common 1860’s view camera specific for wet-plate photography. The lenses, however, are all original 19th-century lenses.(see meet the lenses)  My small camera, as we call it is an 1880’s era Rochester Optical & Co. new improved model originally designed f dry plate or film. it’s simply a basic view camera, that was designed to be used as a wide angle single view or stereo view. I have modified the plate holders to work with the wet-plate process.
  • Did you make, or who made your camera?
    No, I didn’t make my camera. I do not have all the skills or experience to do so, I have however made several of items that we use in the camp and with the camera. My camera was purchased 3rd hand. It was originally crafted Stephen Silipigni of Black Art Woodcraft. Eventually, I will likely have Steve craft a camera for me.

    • update I’ve with some aid modified and changed the base board for my Black Art woodcraft camera
  • Is the camera for sale?
    No, I do however sell reconditioned antique cameras and/or can recondition a camera for you.
  • How much does a camera like that cost?
    Our Black Arts camera cost us $1500.00, today the camera is closer to $2000.00 – this was just for the box.
  • Where do you find such a camera or lenses?
    Commonly we find cameras and lenses through asking other wet-plate photographers. We often trade amongst ourselves, or other times, we simply find antiques at yard sales, antique stores or online through sites like eBay. Then we typically recondition and modify the camera’s to our needs. Most of my lenses are irreplaceable.
  • The chemicals are still available?
    Yes, the majority of them are commonly available. We typically purchase them from specialty suppliers of alternative photographic processes. While they are dangerous and can be considered lethal. The quantities that I work with are considered ORMD this basically means that they are no more dangerous than common household chemicals. however, as for safety, we keep a tight control on them. they often lock away when they are not in direct use.
  • Can you use my digital image to make a tintype?
    The basic answer is yes, however it is not practical or cost effective. It is at least 3 times the amount of work, with at least a month turn around. I need to charge at least 3 times the cost plus my Darkroom fees. Having me utilize the historical methods to take your photograph, so therefore, I generally will answer no. please see my basic price list
  • Do you sell any of your photographs?
    Yes, I sell framed originals, generally, I try to post images of originals on different social media sites such as facebook or Instagram, for prints of my digital photos along with a select few scans of tintypes you can visit my Zenfolio galleries.  Please note I’m working on building a stock of photographs that I carry with me to different events and processed and framed photos will always be more expensive than digital photos.