Tips from Townsend, Part 2


In our 2nd installment of Photo Tips from Townsend T Stith (The Photographic Instruction Book, 1903, Sears Roebuck & Company) has to do with choosing the best gear for outdoor picture-taking. Keep in mind his comments and recommendations are a century old, which makes Mr. Stith's thoughts insightful from both an historic as well as contemporary point-of-view.

 Choosing the Right Photographic Instruments'Whatever style of instrument the amateur may select he will require the following articles to complete his working apparatus :Camera, complete with Plate Holder, Lens and Shutter and a Developing and Printing Outfit, consisting of Developing and Toning Trays, Graduated Measuring Glass. Printing Frame, Ruby Lamp, and if he should select the ViewingCamera, the above list must be augmented by the addition of a Tripod and Focusing Cloth.

Chemicals for making the developing and toning solutions and paper and dry plates will also be required, particulars concerning which will be treated elsewhere in this work. The articles mentioned in the above list may be purchased separately or they may be bought in the form of  a complete equipment. In addition there are many other pieces of apparatus, such as washing appliances, drying racks, plate lifters ; but they are not absolutely essential, and their purchase may be deferred until the beginner has achieved some progress and feels justified in making the additional outlay.
The cost of photographic apparatus varies considerably, according to quality, but as the cost of the plates and papers used in both cameras of good and inferior quality is the same, it is more economical in the end for the beginner to provide himself with the best apparatus that he can afford.'

As  made clear in the opening paragraph, photo jaunts back at the turn of the last century were not for the feeble or fainthearted. Camera 'systems' that fit into a fanny pack (i.e. camera, spare battery, memory cards, candy bar, and bottle of vitamin water) simply didn't exist. Neither did fanny packs and vitamin water for that matter.What did exist were heavier wood cameras and tripods, bulky (and heavy) film and/or wet plate holders, bottles of still-not-recognised-as-toxic chemicals, developing trays, drying racks, and enough canvas and support poles to build a roadside darkroom. Needless to say, today's tools of the trade are far easier to use and master, though if you can coat a glass plate while wrapped in canvas you've already earned my respect as a master of the craft.Something that still rings true all these years later can be found in the last paragraph, where it states "it is more economical in the end for the beginner to provide himself with the best apparatus that he can afford". Even back in 1903 they knew you get what you pay for.