Images of Camera Obscuras in our Collection

As part of our fascination with the history and development of the camera obscura we have collected a wide range of material. We have books that range in time from the 18th century to today that include information on the camera obscura. Several publications in our collection deal with the building of both box and room instruments. Postcards, cartoons, trade cards, photographic prints, and even toys, plates, a thimble, and a pair of salt and pepper shakers are illustrated with images of camera obscuras.

This page shows a few examples and additional pages of images are listed on the home page and the bottom of each page. These pages include lost camera obscuras in the US and UK and will be expanded to include other areas of the world and additional types of images. We have also included vintage images of some of the camera obscuras we have visited in the US and the British Isles with the diary pages of our visit.

18th and 19th century encyclopedias on technical subjects always contained pages of optical devices. Many of these books have been broken and the pages scattered. We never break up books but since these books have already been broken we buy as many of the illustrations as possible. On the right is an example from an 1817 encyclopedia.

Some items are not directly about the camera obscura such as the Dutch literary classic Camera Obscura by Hildebrand shown below. This is a 1904 edition of the 1839 book. The connection seems to be an analogy of the camera obscura to the nostalgic "views" of everyday life. We love the graphic on the cover, a wonderful gold stamped box camera obscura sitting on a table.

*New information 4/2008*

Some time ago we posted the watercolor on the left along with a scan of the handwritten back. We assumed the language of the text was German but had not been able to find anyone who could identify or translate it. Our appeal for assistance was answered by Dr. Gregory Hahn of Essen, Germany. He has identifed the writing as the 19th century German "Kurrent" script and provided us with a translation. A page has been added with a transcription of the German and an English translation. Check out this link to see a larger image and read the text.

We now know that almost everything we assumed about the watercolor is incorrect. It is not a painting of a specific camera obscura but a proposed commercial camera obscura. We will continue to research the artist/architect although the job is made harder by the mixture of Kurrent and English handwriting style that leave the name in doubt. Dr. Hahn feels it could be William Bittmann/Billmann or Rittmann/Rillmann.

Thank you Dr. Hahn for your translation!

The folded panarama print above shows Plymouth Sound, England in the 19th century. The small building with a flag flying from the turret is identified in the key as "Camera Obscura" although in the enlarged detail on the left it appears that there is an open window facing the water. Either the blue color was applied to this area in error or there were shutters to close out the light when the camera obscura was operating.

In the 19th century the camera obscura room was not only viewed as educational and entertaining but was a metaphor (as was photography) for the voyeur. In the humor of the day it was a device to see without being seen, to spy on the unaware. The camera obscura on the Isle of Man was said to overlook the cliff walk favored by courting couples. On an earlier visit to the camera obscura in Edinburgh we watched as the young person giving the demonstration followed a couple down the royal mile with the lens to the delight of their children who could later surprise their parents with knowledge of their activities.

On the left is a cartoon from August 30, 1890 Puck magazine from our collection. Above on the right is a close up of upper left area of the cartoon.




Magic Mirror of Life Home Page and Site Map

What is a camera obscura?

Why we created this site

Frequently Asked Questions about the Camera Obscura (please check this page before sending email questions)

Links and a Bibliography about the camera obscura

Map and illustrated diary of
our visits to
US camera obscuras

Map and illustrated diary of
our 1996 trip to
Great Britain camera obscuras

Images of camera obscuras from our collection.

Some Images from our collection < You are here
The Camera Obscura at War
Advertising flyer for a Camera Obscura
Trade Cards with Camera Obscuras
Lost UK Seaside Camera Obscuras
Other Lost UK Camera Obscuras
Lost US Seaside Camera Obscura
Lost US Park Camera Obscuras
Melville Garden Camera Obscura
Other Lost US Camera Obscuras
Lost European Camera Obscuras
No, it's not a camera obscura

Portable and box camera obscuras from our collection.
Wooden Camera Obscuras
Metal Camera Obscuras
Camera Obscuras with the Lens at the Top
Cardboard Camera Obscuras
A French Artist's Camera with supplies
Vermeer's Camera, a 1934 teaching camera
Camera Obscura Publications

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© Bright Bytes Studio. Do not use images without permission.

Modified 4/2008