American Optical 4x5 Dry Plate Camera

This American Optical Company camera was made by Scovill Manufacturing Company, New York, circa 1884. It is a wooden bellows 4 x 5” plate view camera for use on a camera stand or field tripod. Photographers used the wet-plate collodion process to prepare glass plates, inserting each into a plate holder before attaching to the camera back. Once the image was exposed through the lens to the glass plate, photographers needed to quickly develop and fix the photograph in the darkroom, readying for making paper prints.
From its invention in 1839, the camera has evolved to fit many needs, from aerial to underwater photography and everything in between. Cameras allow both amateur and professional photographers to capture the world around us. The Smithsonian’s historic camera collection includes rare and unique examples of equipment, and popular models, related to the history of the science, technology, and art of photography.
Currently not on view
date made
American Optical Company
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 17 cm x 16 cm x 25 cm; 6 11/16 in x 6 5/16 in x 9 13/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of James R. Burton
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Artifact Walls exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History


Re the 4x5 American Optical Co. camera: 1. Could dry plates be used in it? 2. Did it have a shutter or was it necessary to remove the lens to expose plates? Thanks.

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