My 82 year old neighbor invited me over yesterday. We've lived across the street from each other the past ten years, share the same birthday (different year of course), and had talked from time to time about life's happenings. To my surprise, I come to find out he's a photography buff like myself. I knew he was into photography- he picked up both my books and asked me to sign them- but I didn't know how much. So yesterday, he wanted me to come over and check out his collection of cameras - over 110 in all.
His wife of 60 years past away earlier this year, and he's moving to a retirement community in a few months. He hoped to donate his collection to the local museum, but they said they didn't have enough space. So I walked into his office to view his collection and we talked shop about various cameras, many of which were his personal cameras that he snapped photos with, dating all the way back to 1956. Kodak brownies (even a cool red one), a few movie cameras, even an old sleek black Viewmaster.
I told him I'd help him look around to find an organization that might be interested in the collection. Then he turned to me and said, "Sean, I asked you over to let you pick out any camera you want"- totally caught me by surprise. I told him I couldn't accept the offer, but he insisted. So instead of taking one of the cameras, or finding the most expensive one (which I'd never do), and decided on something else.
He had what looked to be an old wooden film plate - what I thought might be a plate photographers coasted with chemicals and slid into the backs of their 4x5 or 8x10 field cameras to produce a glass plate image. It looks real cool and seemed original. Although I didn't chose it, he knew and liked it, so he pulled it off the shelf and gave it to me. I accepted his kind gift and told him I'd work on getting the rest of his collection into a place that could educate future generations on some of the history of photography. I also took a few old photos of him to restore as a trade for the wooden plate.
I went home, did some research, and came to find out the wooden piece was a "camera print hinged wood plate holder frame - spring loaded" - I assume to be used to frame still photographs from the day. Anthony and Scovill Co was printed on the back, the manufacturer of the piece of photo equipment, with "patented Aug 12 1880" pressed into the wood. It features a double spring hinged back with early type time indicator (not sure what that means). The frame measures 6 1/4" x 8 1/2" and apparently "will accept up to a 4 1/4" x 6 1/2" plate". Not an expensive piece by any means, but a very nice antique photography collectible over 132 years old.
It's a very cool piece. I put a family photo inside and added it to our living room decor. I wonder where it's been and who used it. I'm sure someday I'll give it away myself, trying to remember this story. I hope my neighbor enjoys the last part of his life- I can't imagine how hard it must be to not have his wife by his side.
Causes Sean Arbabi Supports
Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land