Hidden Treasures of the Wilder Museum

Local professional photographer Joseph MacQueen donated this antique camera to the Warren County Historical Society in 2008 and it is housed at the Wilder Museum of Warren County History. Mr. MacQueen owned several portrait studios in Warren on Pennsylvania Avenue East and in North Warren, and originally assumed possession of this camera when he purchased a studio from another photographer, Mr. Lou Manfredo. Manfredo owned studios in Kane, Bradford and Punxsutawney.

This unique early camera was manufactured by the Folmer Graflex Corporation in Rochester, N.Y.; a company originally created in 1889 for the gas lamp market. It changed into the Folmer & Schwing Manufacturing Company selling cameras and bicycles before being purchased by George Eastman in 1905 and was absorbed for a time into a division of the Eastman Kodak Corporation.

The manufacturing plate on this camera identifies it as a Century Master Studio Stand camera and due to it’s bulk, was a popular choice of portrait studios for the first half of the 20th century. The product line dates back to 1902. This camera was probably manufactured in the late 1920s to early 1930s.

According to MacQueen and Carl Wolf, retired photographic specialist for the Warren State Hospital, this is a dry-plate camera which uses glass plates coated with a dried gelatin emulsion. Dry plates didn’t require the photographer to develop the picture immediately as the wet plates of the previous years did. Prior to the 1880s, photographers had to remove the wet plates (coated with a sticky emulsion) from the camera immediately after taking the picture and develop each in a dark-room, or in a packed-along tent if they were in the field.

Before the invention of dry plates exposure times were extremely long. This is why so many early portraits show unsmiling sitters; it was too difficult to hold a smile for the length of time necessary for exposure.

The lens on this camera was made the by Eastman Kodak Corporation based in Rochester, N.Y., and it is not original to the camera. It is an Ilex Optical Corporation lens which Carl Wolf stated, “are the finest commercial American lenses made.”

This and many other treasures are on display at the Wilder Museum of Warren County History. The museum is open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. through Oct. 5 and is located at 51 Erie Ave. Irvine. For more information on events at the museum, visit www.warrenhistory.org or call 723-1795.