Fads are a funny thing. In hindsight, they are often hard to understand. Take this rather substantial, sturdy, wood, cast iron and steel, 8x10 studio camera and stand. Likely made in the 1920s, you could order it in its lovely natural cherry wood finish or, for a 20% premium, they would paint it a stunning, flat battleship grey for you. They would paint it grey. Yes, indeed, it is true, you would pay extra to have the stunning cheery-cherry wood painted grey.
I found this weary and forlorn studio camera in southern California, buried for years in someone's garage, and drove it back to Tucson, after disassembling it into manageable size pieces so it would fit in
the sedan we were driving. Remarkably, as I proceeded through a months-long restoration project, to my great surprise and pleasure, I discovered that, while rather worn and sad looking, the camera and stand were entirely complete -- every piece of wood, screw, nut, and bolt was present and accounted for.
Every piece and part was completely disassembled, every piece of wood carefully stripped of its (lead) paint. Every piece of metal relieved of its corrosion and paint. Piece by piece it then all started to come back together, rising again, but this time, no paint. No grey. Just the stunning cherry, stained with a modern stain closely matching what would have been the original.
The lens that came with the camera, buried separately in a box, was a corroded, brown mess with no discernible identifying marks...at least at first. The glass was opaque. A couple of weeks after dragging the mass of pieces and parts back to Tucson, I dug the lens out of a box and started inspecting it closely. A little bit of rubbing started to reveal its true identity...an 1876 Voigtlander Euryscop VI, number 4 (actually a "C," which apparently was a pre-production number 4). This lens was definitely worth whatever effort it was going to require to bring it back to life.
The work progressed slowly but surely, day-by-day, piece-by-piece, seemingly endless hours at the wire wheel cleaning metal parts. Who knew there were so many pieces in the puzzle!
One of the most satisfying parts of the project was restoring the original metal labels on the camera and stand. Each one took significant time to carefully remove the corrosion and ten decades of grime. Happily, the grime seemed to create a protective barrier to the original finish, and most of the labels turned out beautifully.
Now this treasure stands complete and ready for service. It is currently configured with its 8x10 back; it also came with a 5x7 and 4x5 reducing backs, neither of which have been restored yet. I think I am just going to stick with the 8x10 for a while.
I am indebted to Tom Lazaroff for his astonishing wealth of knowledge about studio camera restoration and his inspiring and unparalleled craftsmanship.
Following is a collection of after-shots.