Stereoviews, 1860s–1910

At the bottom of the page is a listing of the over-270 known 19th and early-20th century stereoviews of the Hunnewell Estate, Wellesley, Massachusetts, one of the most widely stereographed private estates in America.  The table supplements an article by the author, “Wellesley’s Hunnewell Estate in 19th-Century Stereo Views,” New England Journal of Photographic History, n. 169, 2010–2011, pp. 42-64.

The estate was founded by Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810–1902), a Paris- and Boston-based banker, railroad investor, philanthropist and horticulturalist, along with his wife, Isabella Pratt Welles Hunnewell (1812–1888).  In the 19th century their estate was called Wellesley, located in the village of West Needham, Massachusetts.  H. H. Hunnewell—who went by his middle name, Hollis—named the estate in honor of his wife Isabella’s family, the Welles, whose substantial land holdings in the area became the couple’s property.

In 1881 West Needham broke from its parent, the town of Needham, Massachusetts.  The new town called itself Wellesley after Hollis and Isabella Hunnewell’s estate, in recognition of the couple’s substantial philanthropy on behalf of the town.  The name Wellesley thenceforth being ambiguous by referring to both the estate and town, their estate is now called the Walter Hunnewell Estate.  Still owned by descendants of Hollis and Isabella Hunnewell, it is the centerpiece of the United States federal Hunnewell Estates Historic District, created in 1988 and incorporating the lands of Hunnewell families in Wellesley and adjacent towns.

The Hunnewell estate’s most well-known feature is the Italian garden of topiary conifer trees cultivated in fanciful shapes.  The garden is now some
160 years old, one of the nation’s oldest, and is prominently visible across Lake Waban from Wellesley College.

The earliest known stereoview of the Hunnewell estate, taken no later than 1866 and known only in a copy photograph, is an amateur view of the estate’s house, completed in 1852 and still extant.  The latest known published stereoview of the estate is dated 1910.

By far the greatest number of stereoviews of the Hunnewell estate were made by the noted Boston-area photographer and stereographer Chandler Seaver, Jr. (1824–1902), who made at least 86 views in the early or mid-1870s.  Seaver’s Hunnewell views were printed and published by one of the most well-known third-party stereograph printers in New England, Charles Pollock (1828–1900) of Boston, whose stereo manufactory was located in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Second in rank in the number of Hunnewell stereos was the well-known Benjamin W. Kilburn of Littleton, New Hampshire, who made at least 43 views in the 1880s and 1890s.

The largest known public collection of Hunnewell stereoviews resides at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, which owns some 100 views.  The collection includes a rare and important set of several early views of the house, Italian garden and grounds, taken by an anonymous master about 1866.  The second-largest known public collection resides at Historic New England, Boston, which owns some 68 views.

My Cameras

I have been interested in cameras since my pre-teen years, and built my first darkroom from a discarded refrigerator box when I was 12 years old. My collecting interests are mostly the popular and especially low-cost cameras of the 1930s 1940s, and 1950s. At this point I have about 130 cameras. Some day when I have time I must look up each one, and attach a tag giving the make, model, year, and interesting information. I especially like folders, Retinas, and Nikons. I also have an interest in the history of astrophotography.
Argus 3C

DCF 1.0

My first 35mm camera was a (rangefinder) Argus C-3. It taught me the benefits of cartridge 35 mm film. It was a low-priced camera with a coupled rangefinder mass-produced from 1939 to 1966 by Argus in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The camera was the best-selling 35mm camera in the world for nearly three decades, and helped popularize the 35mm format. Due to its shape, size, and weight, it is commonly referred to as “The Brick” by collectors.

The C3 was constructed primarily of Bakelite plastic and metal castings. The design featured an unusual and simplistic diaphragm shutter built into the camera body, so the camera could make use of interchangeable lenses without the need for a complex focal plane shutter. The rangefinder utilized a separate viewfinder from that of the regular viewfinder and was coupled to the lens through a series of gears located on the outside of the camera body.

By virtue of its low price and reputation for rugged durability, the Argus C3 managed to outlast most of its American competition and fend off precision German-built cameras and the cheap high quality Japanese cameras that began to enter the American market in the 1950s. Eventually the design simply became too outdated and clumsy and production ended in 1966 after sales had slumped. Sales of the C3 slumped many times during its production life, and each time Argus announced they were going to discontinue the camera, dealers and photographers would rush to buy what they believed to be the last of the cameras, leading Argus to reverse their decision to end production several times.

Although the design is now over 65 years old, the C3 retains a strong following due to its simplicity and durability, as well as nostalgia value. Used C3s are cheap (about $10) and plentiful, and their simple construction makes them relatively easy to repair.
Zeiss Ikon Contaflex

My first “good” camera was a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I, which I purchased in about 1958 when my first child arrived. The optics were excellent. When it was introduced in 1953, the Contaflex SLR was the first 35mm SLR equipped with a between-the-lens leaf shutter. The advantages were compactness and synchronized flash up to the maximum shutter speed. The inconveniences were limited lens interchangeability and mechanical complexity. In particular, no Contaflex model had a rapid return mirror, and all suffered from a limited range of lenses, from 35mm to 115mm focal length. It was equipped with a fixed Zeiss Tessar 45mm f:2.8 lens with front-cell focusing and a Synchro-Compur shutter. The Contaflex was produced during the time when German optics and camera technology dominated the market, and were the world standard for quality and value.

Color slides were the technology of choice, and I took many hundreds. Although the Kodachrome slides have survived 50 years with minimal degradation, the Ektachrome slides have not done well. Most have turned into red mush. I have scanned all of my (3000) slides into the computer to stop the aging and degradation process, and to make retrieval, retouching and viewing much easier.
Nikon F

I was happy with the Contaflex for about a decade until a friend of mine showed me his new Nikon F with Photomic head. I immediately had to have one, although they were very expensive. I was tired of using a hand-held light meter to take pictures of the kids, and wanted the advantages of a built-in light meter. The original standard pentaprism viewfinder did not contain a light meter. Later viewfinders were offered that included a meter, the Photomic series. The first Photomic had an independent photocell, then Nikon introduced the Photomic T (superseded by the Photomic Tn), which featured through-the-lens metering. The final metering prism for the Nikon F, the Photomic FTn, had a center-weighted through-the-lens design, which became the standard metering pattern for Nikon cameras for decades afterwards.

I also wanted interchangeable lenses to experiment with wide-angle and telephoto lenses. And of course there was the famous Nikon quality. Because of the quality, Nikon became the camera of choice for professional photographers. As evidence of the high esteem achieved by Nikon, an F body still brings about $100 on eBay. Over the years I have purchased each major upgrade in the Nikon product line, including the EM, Nikkor X, FTN, 6060, Coolpix 995, Coolpix L-11, Coolpix 18, and D40-X. Nikon cameras have a reputation for being extremely resilient to damage or mechanical failure. The F became known as “the hockey puck”. I had occasion to test the reliability of the 995. It has taken about 90,000 exposures and still functions perfectly.

The person who perhaps did the most to establish the durability, quality, and versatility of the Nikon system was the American photographer David Douglas Duncan, who was the foremost combat photographer of the Korean War. In gratitude for this, Nikon gave the 500,000th F to him.

I remain a loyal Nikon user today and use all three Nikon digital cameras. I appreciate the fact that Nikon has retained excellent compatibility of its lens systems, and I interchange the lenses among several of the bodies. As each of the nine Nikons was superceded by the next improved model, I would add the old model to my “museum”. The only exception was a Mamayia 1000S 6X6 cm that I bought for taking “good” pictures and for wedding pictures. Now I use the Nikon D40-X for that.
Kodak Retina

One folding camera that has always interested me is the Kodak Retina. The one I have is a model IIIC, manufactured from 1961 to 1964. “Retina” was the name of a long-running series of German-built Kodak cameras. Retinas were manufactured in Stuttgart by Nagel Camerawerk, which Kodak had acquired in 1931, and sold under the Kodak nameplate. Later versions included the addition of flash synchronization, wind levers rather than knobs, a range finder, and a selenium light meter. Retinas were noted for their compact size, quality, and low cost compared to their competitors and retain a strong following today. The original Retina, introduced in 1934, was notable for being the first camera to use the modern 135 film cartridge. The Retina line continued through the 1960s with a variety of folding and nonfolding models, including the Retina Reflex SLR.

The Retina was a favorite with adventurers and explorers because of its small size, ease of changing film, and quality. Sir Edmund Hillary took a Retina on his first trip to the summit of Mt. Everest for these reasons.

More later.

Handyman’s Corner: Better Than Botox

Skin wrinkled, cracking, dried out, sagging or scaly? If the skin is on one of your cameras I can help. (Anywhere else try the Yellow Pages; Cosmetic Surgeons are the best bet.)

Older cameras sometimes show the ravages of time when their covering fails. Covering material has ranged from the inexpensive embossed paper, to exotic reptile leather, and everything in between. No matter what it is, age extracts a toll. The question is then to repair, restore, or to re-cover?

Real leather lends itself to restoration rather well. Saddle soap, neatsfoot oil, and other commercial preparations often do an excellent job. Minor repairs are often possible, IF, and this is a big if, matching material can be found. Sources to be considered include old wallets, pocketbooks, leather book coverings, old gloves, and anything else your imagination can come up with.

Artificial leather normally doesn’t restore well, but vinyl repair kits sold in auto supply houses can go a long way if you are willing to experiment. These kits can provide a number of surface types and also can be colored to taste.

Finally, embossed paper can be improvised sometimes, but again, a lot of trial and error work is involved and in many cases the cameras involved aren’t worth the effort required. (But remember, a challenge keeps the mind working overtime.)

Attempting to re-cover a camera is usually beyond the average person’s abilities. If you want to try, I suggest that you start with a very simple body that has panels that are square or rectangular in shape. A pattern is helpful as it prepares you for making templates that are more complex if you continue on to more advanced projects.

Finally, there are several companies that make covering kits for any number of cameras. In some cases the coverings are still available from manufacturers or other parts sources. A company that I have experience with is Leathercrafters. Their products have been excellent and their instructions are also excellent. One source of these kits is Morgan Sparks of Burlington, VT. The photos of the Yashica, before and after, were made during a project of re-covering using one of their kits.

Speaking from experience, this type of project is very rewarding but also very time consuming and tests patience and skills considerably.

Handyman’s Corner: Dead Battery (RIP)

As you settle down in front of the fire with a glass of very good “medicine,” you gaze fondly at your newly acquired Photofantsiamatic. You jump up when you realize the battery it uses is no longer made.

Rushing to the workshop door, you tear off your shirt revealing a grease stained, oil splattered tee shirt emblazoned with Super Fixer. A few pieces of plastic tubing, a couple of assorted springs, a bit of Superglue™ and voila, a workable battery! As strange as this sounds, the photos show proof it can and has been done.

To accomplish this, imagine the unimaginable. A glass of good “medicine” helps the thought process, or at least dulls the pain of failure.

A Yashica Electro 35 (1966) used an E164 5.6 volt mercury battery that is no longer manufactured. Using a 6 volt battery will have some effect on the exposure meter, but the wide latitude of today’s film should more than compensate for this.

An A544 is a current 6 volt battery. It fits easily into a piece of 3/8” OD plastic tube, 1 5/8” long, after the tubing is slit lengthwise. A couple of spare spring battery contacts soldered to copper washers for spacing and contacts complete the product.

An Olympus 35 EC2 (1966) used a pair of EPX640 1.4 volt mercury batteries. Again, no longer produced. In this case, a common A76 battery is used. Slipped inside a piece of plastic tubing, negative contact made with a spring and washer allows for business as usual.

No plastic tubing? You can roll thin cardboard, construction paper, poster board, heatshrink tubing, etc. for the outside. This was done by maufacturers as the photos show.

For springs, use your imagination. Old clocks, flashlights, cameras. Perhaps a trip to the local hardware store.

In some cases, it may be easier to solder a couple of batteries together to insure good contact and correct spacing. A warning — use a very minimum amount of heat!

Proper cleaning and fluxing are required, as is wearing protective eyewear. Too much heat can cause a battery to rupture, sometimes violently. Not a pretty sight.

Finally, have fun with this.

Handyman’s Corner: ThereIsAFungusAmongUs

You have just opened your camera case, the one you have not opened since who knows when. You reach in and take out your prized Teliflorist Telephoto 290mm 11.4 and swiftly mount it on your Doeverythingmatic SLR, planning on using it to capture that once in a lifetime shot of a Doublebreasted Yellowbellied Stool Pigeon on your birdfeeder.

“Why can’t I get it to focus clearly?” you ask no one in particular. A quick assessment discloses that there is an obvious growth on the lens surfaces. FUNGUS! If you are very lucky, the fungus will be on an exterior surface. But, in all probability, it will have grown on inner surfaces.

The first and best method to solve this is “Do not let it happen.” Proper storage will, in most cases, prevent fungus. All bets are off if you store your cameras and lenses in a climate that has continuous periods of hot and humid weather.

Storing gear in an airtight container with an ample amount of a good desiccant (silica gel), along with very regular examination to assure that the desiccant is still working, is the best and simplest method. It helps to maintain fairly constant temperatures.

A quick warning: simply putting the gear in a plastic bag that can be sealed is not a good idea. When stored, the gear may have enough moisture in or on it, even though it is not visible, to encourage a growth of fungus.

If the fungus is on an exterior surface, start the cleaning process by using a blower to remove any loose dust. Follow this by using rubbing alcohol, available at any drug store (not denatured alcohol since the agent in it is usually sodium hydroxide, a very corrosive material). Use the alcohol as you would use any other cleaning liquid.

If the lens is coated and the coating is very soft, it is possible that the coating will be removed. This is the choice: leave the fungus and not be able to use the lens or try to remove the fungus and have a usable lens without coating.

You can try a mild abrasive material if the alcohol treatment does not work. Common tooth paste works very well. Use a well dampened cleaning tissue, put a small amount of tooth paste on the tissue, and use a circular motion over the entire surface with minimal pressure. The fungus, if left in place long enough, will actually etch the glass, and only professional polishing may remove the etched mark – and it may very well not.

For fungus on interior surfaces, the task is probably best left to professional servicing. In order to expose the interior surfaces, the lens has to taken apart. Not too many do-it-yourselfers will have either the specialized tools or the expertise to reassemble the lens correctly.

If you really want to try this cleaning I strongly suggest that you attend the next PHSNE Auction. Buy an inexpensive lens that fits one of your cameras and experiment with it. Take several photos of subjects that will be available after the experiment. When the cleaning is completed, take repeat photos and compare them for quality.

Many older lenses will have their elements permanently spaced and this will allow reassembly without the need for collimating the lens. Newer lenses may require adjusting elements to achieve proper focus. This requires considerable knowledge and equipment making it more difficult than the average person can do.