Some Wooden Box Camera Obscuras from our Collection

We have a number of box or portable camera obscuras in our collection. These devices are the "archeology" of photography. It was the magical, fugitive images that appeared on the ground glass of the camera obscura that inspired the search for a way to fix these beautiful, perfect images of the world. The first photographs were made with artists' camera obscuras adapted to take light sensitive material. On this page you will see several of our box camera obscuras made of wood.

box camera obscura

The classic mahogany sliding box camera obscura above came from England and appears to date from the early 1800s. It could well predate photography. When closed it is 10 inches long, 5 inches wide, and 6 3/4 inches high. The lens is 2 5/8 inches in diameter. The wooden lens cap has a screw thread and "Camera Obscura" is written in ink on the inside of the cap. Perhaps an earlier owner was concerned that it might be separated from the camera. The camera is about 13 inches long when the inner box is extended for focus. The lens image is projected with a mirror onto a 4 1/2 by 6 inch ground glass.

We have noticed a mahogany box camera obscura with the same style of hinge and very similar in appearance on the web site for the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford in England. That camera is identified as early 19th century.

This 19th century instrument is the first box camera obscura we purchased. It was found on Porabello Road in London around 1980. It is 9" X 4 1/4" X 4 1/4" and focus is achieved by sliding the inner section of the box in and out. The image projected by the lens is focused by a mirror up to a glass under the hood where it can be traced on tissue. Someone cut out a window on the back wall of the box. If the mirror was removed this would project an image straight through to the back of the box. We like to imagine that this was done for early photographic experimentation but have no proof.
The exterior view below is of a wooden box camera obscura of the style shown on this page. It is a detail from an 1817 encyclopedia page in our collection. Below is a cutaway view of the inside of a wooden box camera obscura from the Saturday Magazine, 1838.

A US photographic material dealer, we have know for many years heard we were working on a camera obscura project and offered the rather sad looking collection of parts you see on the left. Jack accepted the challenge, took the pieces, and with glue and patience was able to put them together to make a nice functioning camera obscura.

The only additions he had to make were the side pieces on the door and a brass knob to lift it. It is 6" X 7" X 4" and the dovetailed box appears to be an amateur construction of unknown vintage. The appearance is a little rough but it focuses a very sharp image.

Stepping forward in time, the wooden box camera on the right was built by Jack in 1982 for a gallery exhibition. It is 22" X 12" X 12" inches with a sliding brass lens for focusing. It projects a bright, sharp image on the ground glass with a fresnel screen and works very well for drawing. This is the camera he takes to his history of photography class and is one of the cameras we use at workshops and demonstrations.
Each of the two wooden cameras on the right is unusual enough to deserve a page of its own. The first is an extraordinary French artist's camera with storage for drawing materials and instructions printed in the lid. The second called "Vermeer's Camera" dates from 1934 and was used by the Anson K. Cross Art School in Boothbay, Harbor, Maine. To learn more about the two cameras visit the web page with additional pictures of each.

Learn more about this French artist's camera.

Learn more about Vermeer's Camera


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
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 < You are here
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

Bright Bytes Studio Home Page (Jack and Beverly's Home Page)

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Modified 8/2004