Scovill Camera

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

J. M. L. and W. H. Scovill Co. was founded in 1802 in Waterbury, Connecticut.  While they initially produced brass and copper items (such as brass buttons and sewing hardware), the company began to manufacture silver-plated copper sheets for daguerreotypes soon after photography was introduced to the US in 1839.  In 1849, the company was renamed the Scovill Manufacturing Co. of New York (although it continued to make its cameras in Waterbury).  With the acquisition of Samuel Peck & Co. of New Haven in 1860, Scovill could now add wooden camera boxes to encase its cameras.  Another camera company, American Optical of Waterbury, was purchased in 1868.  In 1889 the company was again renamed as Scovill & Adams and became one of the largest suppliers of camera, lenses and other photographic equipment in the United States.  In 1901 it merged with the largest American distributor, E. & H.T. Anthony and became Anthony and Scovill.

This large studio camera had four plate holders with spaces for five different plate sizes:  22 5/8"x22 1/2", 20 1/8"x17 1/8", 17 1/8"x14 1/4", 14 1/8"x11 1/8", and 10 1/8"x8 1/8".  Because there was no practical way to create enlargements for photographs at the time, the final image could only be as large as the negative.  The different plate sizes reflect this need for different sized photographs.

Everett A. Scholfield (1843-1930), who used this camera in his New London studio, was primarily a portrait photographer, although he did capture many landscape and maritime themes in his photographs.  Much of his work was done in Mystic and New London, Connecticut between 1865 and 1913.  He learned photography from his father, who had a studio in Westerly, Rhode Island.  Between 1860 and 1861, he may have been involved in portrait photography in Noank.  In 1862, for two months, he served in Company B, 9th Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers.  Following his brief sojourn as a soldier he returned to Westerly and likely engaged once again in photography with his father.  From 1863 through the 1870s, he lived and worked in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and St. Croix.  In 1885, he finally put down roots in Mystic and New London.  His partner, George E. Tingley, managed the studio in Mystic and Scholfield ran the New London establishment.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Do you think there was a relationship between studio photography and class in the 19th century? How has this changed today?
  2. Was photography in the 19th century considered a respectable job? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think the Scovill company made the change from brass and copper manufacturing to photographic equipment?