August Semmendinger

Camera Maker


This author has maintained a list of Semmendinger cameras in museums and private collections.

 

The following is a list of the cameras (and pictures of the specific cameras when available) that are known to this author. Cameras in private collections are described, but the owners of the cameras are not identified:

  • Semmendinger Camera Collection in the Smithsonian Museum Archives

 

The archives of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. houses  two Semmendinger patent model cameras, a 4" x 5" Semmendinger Excelsior camera, and a patent model of the Semmendinger camera stand. 

 

The cameras are individually listed below.  The patent models are listed in chronological order of the patent dates. 

  • Semmendinger Camera in the Smithsonian Archives

 

This is the most beautiful of the Semmendinger cameras in the Smithsonian Museum archives.  This is a 4" x 5" camera with rotary stops.  It was given to the Smithsonian Museum as a gift on July 15, 1927 from Frank Chambers of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  This camera is labeled "Excelsior" and clearly states that it was manufactured in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  (Image Below)

Semmendinger  4 x 5 camera located in the Smithsonian Museum Archives,

Washington DC.  Copyrighted photo by Paul Semendinger.  Used with permission.

  • Semmendinger Patent Camera #1 (First Semmendinger Patent Model) in the Smithsonian Museum Archives

 

The Smithsonian has an absolutely wonderful full-sized patent model of a multi-image Semmendinger wet-plate camera (Patent No. 27,241). This camera looks like a stereo camera, but it does not produce stereo pairs. It just has two separate lenses. It can make 12 small circular images on a plate.  (Image Below of camera front and the twelve period images found in the camera in the museum.)

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Semmendinger Patent Camera #1 located in the Smithsonian Museum Archives,

Washington DC.  Copyrighted photo by Paul Semendinger.  Used with permission.

Twelve images found in Semmendinger Patent Camera #2 located

 in the Smithsonian Museum Archives, Washington DC. 

Copyrighted photo by Paul Semendinger.  Used with permission.

  • Semmendinger Patent Camera #2 (Second Semmendinger Patent Model) in the Smithsonian Museum Archives

 

This camera has two sets of bellows.  It is the author's belief that this model represents patent 29,523.  It is interesting that this model is painted black.  The top of this camera reads "Aug. Semmendinger, N.Y." indicating that is must be one of August Semmendinger's first two patents from when he lived in New York City.  (Images Below)

Semmendinger Patent Camera #2 located in the Smithsonian Museum Archives,

Washington DC.  Copyrighted photo by Paul Semendinger.  Used with permission.

  • Semmendinger Camera in the George Eastman House Collection

         This camera resides in the George Eastman House's state-of-the

         art, climate controlled vault.  (Image below)         

Semmendinger Camera at the George Eastman House . 

Copyrighted photo used with permission.

  • Semmendinger Camera at the California Museum Of Photography at the University of California Riverside


This camera has several features which distguish it from typical examples of the the period, the most unusual of which is the back. It not only swings, tilts, and shifts for perspectival correction but is designed so the the plate holder may move sideways for making more than one photgraph on a single plate. Like all cameras of its era, this one is heavely stained in the area of the plate holder.

 

An interesting fact about this specific camera is that it was featured on an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.  (Click here to see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38w2JoyPwSQ)

 

 

(Image below)

Semmendinger Camera at the California Museum of Photography. 

Copyrighted photo used with permission.

  • Semmendinger Camera at the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

The The J. Paul Getty Museum houses a Semmendinger camera in its archived collection.  This is a mammoth plate wet-collodion camera with Dallmeyer combination portrait-landscape lens; lens cap (modern facsimile); two printing frames; tripod; dark slide, clear glass board, and dark cloth with wire frame.  This camera was incorrectly labed as a camera from "John Semmendinger."  The author of this web page worked with the J. Paul Getty Museum in 2010 to determine that the true maker of the camera was August Semmendinger.  Detail of the August Semmendinger marking is below the image of the camera itself.  (Images below)

Semmendinger Camera at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Markings on the camera at the J. Paul Getty Museum that indicate the camera was made by

A. Semmendinger of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

This camera is a wet-plate, 7 X7, fixed tailboard and square-cornered bellows with brass-barreled lens. It has a ground glass, but it does not swing to one side. There is no rising front, tilt, or swing back.  (Image below)

Semmendinger 7 X 7 Camera (Private Collection)

  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

 

This Semmendinger stereo camera has radial drive lenses that are slotted for stops. It does not have a correct focusing back and is missing a couple of pieces of hardware.

(Image below)

Stereo Lens Semmendinger Camera (Private Collection)

  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

 

c1870's Wet Plate Camera for full plate ambrotypes or tintypes or wet plate collodion negatives. This unusually designed camera features a rear standard that protects the square cornered leather bellows when the camera is closed and the folding bed protects the ground glass from breakage. At the base of the front standard is a small storage area that can be found behind the hinged door. The fixed front standard contains a movable lens board that has rise and fall capabilities. (Image below)

Semmendinger Camera c1870 (Private Collection)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

 

c1875 "Excelsior" wet-plate studio portrait camera. 8 x 10. Made of light mahogany with large brass Gasc & Charconnet portrait lens. (Image below)

Semmendinger Camera (Private Collection)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

 

c1874, this Semmendinger camera has a 10x10" ground glass.  There is no plate holder with the camera.  This is the camera pictured on page 885 of the McKeown Price Guide to Classic Cameras.  This camera now resides in a private collection.

(Image Below)

  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

This is a studio version in excellent condition. The Semmendinger name, "Excelsior," and the 1873 patent date are engraved into the camera. The lens on it is a very early Darlot Opticien lens made in the 1860s which makes it contemporary with the Semmendinger camera which has a patent date of 1873. The lens board is not the original, but it was fabricated by a very fine cabinet maker who did a terrific job in replicating one. It looks very proper with the camera. The back of the camera is very old, but it may be a dry plate back rather than a wet plate back. (Image below)

 

Semmendinger Camera (Private Collection)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

This is a 5x7 camera with straight bellows.  This camera

appears to be a studio camera design that just happens to have a folding bed to make it (slightly) portable.  The lensboard is moved up and down via the knob at its top, but is not readily removable, being inside the front standard.  The back may have been altered to be spring-loaded for dry plates - the original wet-plate holder would be inserted instead of the ground glass.  (This information and more can be found at http://www.piercevaubel.com/cam/misc/semm.htm.)  (Image Below)

Semmendinger 5x7 Camera (Private Collection)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection
This seems to be a tin type camera with a vertical format. The back is partitioned off for four images. Semmendinger's name is stamped on the tailboard (rear right).  The first line says "Semmendinger" second line says "Maker NY". The camera also has a piece of paper stuck to the wood work on the same corner as the name. The paper has numbers, possibly "x291 or x391" and possibly followed by additional figures. It looks like a deliberate attachment to the camera. This may be a date or production number.  This camera may date as far back as 1860. (Image below)
Four Lens Semmendinger Camera Originally Made in New York (Private Collection)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

This is a studio version in excellent condition. A large camera, it measures 14" x 14".  The Semmendinger name and Excelsior are engraved into the camera. There is a date: Aug. 6, 1874 also on the camera.  The lens is a Darlot Opticien wide angle lens.  (Image below)

Semmendinger Camera (14" x 14") (Private Colelction)
  • Semmendinger Camera in a Private Collection

 

This Semmendinger camera is part of the private collection of  Matthew Isenburg.  (Details to follow)

 

(Image below)

Semmendinger Camera (From the collection of Matthew Isenburg)

Used with permission.


  • Unidentified Semmendinger Camera

 

This camera was found during an exhaustive Internet search.  This is an Excelsior 1 manufactured in Fort Lee, NJ.  No other information about this camera is known to the author of this web page at this time. (Image below)

Unidentified Semmendinger Camera - Excelsior 1

  • Unidentified Semmendinger Camera

 

This camera was found in an eBay listing and has since been broken - according to the eBay user who pulled the auction 2 days after bidding began. (Image below)

Unidentified Semmendinger Camera