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Stickyback and Other Cameras for Smaller Format Negatives

The studio portrait photographer of the turn of the 20th Century would have used a large plate camera on a tripod taking full plate, half plate or quarter plate sized glass plates. (full plate 6½ x 8½ inches, half plate 6½ x 4¼ inches and quarter plate 4¼ x 3¼ inches). Photographic prints made from these negatives would have been mainly contact prints, the same size as the negative, produced by putting a piece of printing out paper into a printing frame with the negative and exposing the paper to a light source through the negative. To make materials go further, and to provide small and less expensive products, the stickyback photographer would have used a device added to the camera back which, instead of allowing light through the lens to the whole of the plate in the camera, only exposed a part of the plate with each shot. Part of the camera back was moved between shots to expose different parts of the whole plate, producing a plate with multiple small images. The size of each image would depend on the design of the moveable or repeating camera back. Printing out frames were also available to match camera backs, allowing for the exposure of part of the negative as required.

Moveable or repeating camera backs were produced by a number of camera manufacturers and some examples are listed below. From some of the advertisements of the time we can find the intended dimensions of each finished image. Unfortunately it is impossible today to link, with any degree of certainty, any surviving stickyback, stamp or midget photos with particular cameras or camera backs, because the final prints were hand-cut, leading to a great deal of variety.

Spiridione Grossi

Our page on Spiridione Grossi, photographic printer, photographer and inventor, suggests that as well as the first practitioner coining the "Stickybacks" name, he was involved in designing and marketing apparatus for stickyback photographers. Spiridione’s 1916 patent application, made on 15 May 1916, No GB 108691, was for "Improvements in Strip Printing Photographic Apparatus". It seems likely that he had also at least applied for a patent for a repeating camera back which he produced. From a sale listing of all the equipment of a bankrupt photographer being auctioned in 1917 we find a reference to “Grossi’s patent sticky back repeating back slide and Camera and Grossi’s patent sticky back and postcard printer” (Chester Chronicle - Saturday 18 August 1917, Page 4 and 25 August p 4).

Billcliff's Camera Works, Richmond Street, Boundary Lane, Manchester SW.

Joseph Billcliff (1820-1899), living in Manchester, described himself in the 1881 census as a cabinet maker, employing seven men and two boys. His firm became highly successful camera manufacturers with a wide range of cameras and photographic equipment. He was joined in that profession by five of his sons: William Henry Billcliff (1854-1939). Alfred Billcliff (1866-1940), Harry Billcliff (1869-1955), Joshuah Billcliff (1872-1952) and Joseph Billcliff (1872-1954). It is not clear whether the sons all worked for the family firm. The 1895 Kelly's Directory of Manchester listed Joshuah Billcliff, camera maker, at 27 Richmond Street, Welbeck Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, residing at 95 Coupland Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester. Alfred Billcliff, camera maker, was at 59 Ludlow Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester; Harry Billcliff, camera maker, was at 28 Blanchard Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock Manchester and William Henry Billcliff camera maker was at 2 Waterloo Grove, Chorlton-upon-Medlock. Following Joseph's death, his firm, Billcliff's Camera Works, Richmond Street, Boundary Lane, Manchester, continued to trade in the name of "the Executors of J.Billcliff" (his Executors were the oldest sons William Henry and Alfred). The Billcliff firm continued to operate into the 1940s.

By 1912 Billcliff's Camera Works, selling into a crowded marketplace, had started to differentiate by specialising in apparatus for the Stickyback and "While you Wait" trade, as shown by the advertisement below, which appeared in the British Journal Photographic Almanac (BJA) from 1912 to 1916

Billcliff's Camera Works advertisement

In the 1916 BJA, p526, the firm was described as follows: "This firm of camera makers, established for over 50 years, has for some years past turned its attention more particularly to cameras and other apparatus for the “while you wait” branch of photography. Its specialities include multiple and repeating back cameras, printing frames and machine enlargers etc all designed specially with a view to the rapid production of the midget and larger portraits (up to postcard size) now made upon such an extensive scale in many establishments in population centres throughout the country. Address:  Richmond Street, Boundary Lane Manchester SW”. Billcliff's Camera Works provided products which were sold by other suppliers, as can be seen from the entry below for the Sheffield Photo Co,

Derby Daily Telegraph - Monday 30 January 1922 p2 in an advertisement for an auction at Derby included in the list of lots: "professional photographers equipment, including stickyback camera, complete with lens and all accessories, by Billclef [sic], patent printing machine, patent adjustable seat, developing dishes and tanks etc".

There is an example here on the Early Photography site of a Billcliffe camera from around 1906 with a multiposition back, used to produce multiple small photos on a single half plate film.

Midget and Stamp Outfits by the Sheffield Photo Co

The Sheffield Photo Company, 95 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, advertised in 1907 a "Complete Outfit for Midget and Stamp Photos". Illustrated below, this comprised a camera with bellows, rack and pinion focussing, rotating back for upright or group pictures and fitted with No 4 repeating back for six stamp photos size 1⅜ x 1 in on ⅓ of a half plate. Also in the kit was:

  • No 7 repeating back for 4 midget photos size 1⅞ x 1½ on half of a half plate
  • Camera stand stained and varnished
  • Quick acting short focus midget portrait lens
  • Acme shutter for exposing with ball and tube
  • No 2 printing frame for 6 doz stamps
  • No 2A printing frame for 4 doz midgets

The price for the complete set was £6.6.0. less 10% for cash for the complete set. (about £800 in today's money)

In the same advertisement, the Sheffield Photo Co offered a series of mounts to go with the stamp and midget photos.

  • Paste on squares 8/6d per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 59 Midget green oval 2/6d per 100, 20/- per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 60 Brown oval, 1/9d per 100 20/- per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 61 grey fancy line 2/6d per 100, 23/6d per 1000
  • Slip in mounts no 62 square gilt scroll 3/6d per 100, 30/- per 1000
  • No 22, 37, and 45 assorted, 1/6d per 100, 12/6d per 1000

They also offered POP postards at 2/6d per 100, 24/-per 1000 and gaslight post cards 3/- per 100, 28/- per 1000. Their full list of mounts, 75 pages in total, was available for threepence. (British Journal Almanac 1907 p.1149)

Midget and stamp camera from the Sheffield Photo Co.

This is the camera, with two backs, advertised by the Sheffield Photo Co. The illustrations show the camera backs labelled "Billcliff Manchester".

Aptus Repeater Camera, by Sharp and Hitchmough

In 1905, in the British Journal Photographic Almanac, p.386, there was an advertisement for the Aptus Repeater Camera for stamp and midget photographs. This was made by Sharp and Hitchmough, 103 Dale Street, Liverpool. The firm also produced a range of mounts to go with the Aptus, listed in the same publication p.1451.

Nos                        Opening

18A, 5, 8,              11516 x 1516 oval

7, 18                       114 x 78square

16                           2 x 138 oval

15 and 1                178 x 112 oval

14                           112 in circle

3                              1 58 x 1 14 oval

22,10                     1 78 x 1 38 square

Mounts for stamp and midget photos

Repeating backs by Marion & Co. 22 and 23 Soho Square, London W, Southgate Middlesex and Paris.

The two images below, from Marion and Co's Photographic Catalogue of 1906, are of two different types of moveable or repeating backs for studio cameras. These replaced the standard plate-holding camera back and were used to expose only a part of the plate each time the shutter was fired. The photographer moved the camera back after each shot to successively expose all the parts of the plate, leaving four or six smaller exposures or more on each plate. The second of these examples is the more complex, with a round counter on the top and a locking mechanism so that it was not possible to create a double exposure by forgetting which positions on the plate had already been used. This back was patented in 1906 by the photographer George Thomas Bayley (believed to be George Thomas Bailey b.1862 Heavitree Devon, from 3 Union Street, East Stonehouse, Devon) (Patent GB190509729 (A) ― 1906-03-15). These "midget" repeating backs would produce six images on a half plate, four images on a quarter plate or six images on a quarter plate, landscape or portrait. This would theoretically give a variety of sizes: 1.6 x 1.4 in and 1.4 x 1.09 in and 2.13 x 1.6 in, but, depending on how much overlap or non overlap and trimming of the resultant images, the finished sizes would all be smaller.

Marion and Co, repeating midget back

Marion and Co, repeating midget back, 1906.

Marion and Co Soho Repeating back

Marion and Co "Soho" repeating back for stamp and midget photographs, Bayley's Patent

The Multisecto - Jonathan Fallowfield.

The Multisecto repeating and midget apparatus from the house of Fallowfield was reviewed in the British Journal Photographic Almanac 1908 p.737. It was a Camera back to fit a whole plate studio camera with different plates with different apertures and slotted bars to match. This gave 20 different sizes of image on a combination of half and quarter plates from 15 on a quarter plate, up to three on a half plate. The firm also produced a series of different sized mounts for photographs taken using the Multisecto. On p.1047 of the same Almanac the firm stated they would be issuing a No 2 Multisecto camera back – to fit half plate cameras and provide 12 different sized negatives on a combination of half and quarter plates. A Patent No was stated for the devices: 16890 (no trace yet found of this patent). The manufacturer and supplier was Jonathan Fallowfield 146 Charing Cross Road, In the BJA for 1909 p756 the Multisectoi No 2 was advertised with 11 different formats between 3 x 2 in to 118 x 1 inches . The price, with 9 sectos and sets of notched bars, the whole set was 60 shillings.  Jonathan Fallowfield 146 Charing Cross Rd.

Stamp Cameras by Lancaster and Son

In the British Journal Photographic Almanac 1909 p.412, J Lancaster and Son Ltd, Birmingham, were offering 3 different postage stamp cameras with 6 lenses and multi positional backs. Their No 408 camera with 6 lenses was offered in 9 different versions covering various cdv, postage stamp and midget sizes.

Moore, George S.

The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1916 p 533 described George S. Moore in the following terms. " Moore, George S. The special requirements of the “While you wait” photographer and of those requiring to turn out prints quickly and in quantity are specially catered for by several pieces of apparatus designed and made by Mr Moore. There are a strip printing frame serving for the rapid exposure in succession of six impressions from the negative upon the single strip of bromide paper; a bromide exposing box, exceedingly well made in metal and suitable for use with either gas, oil or electric light, and a self contained enlarger for while-you-wait portraits, provided with dry battery and two small lamps and designed for use with the strip printing frame in the rapid production of enlarged portraits in postcard form. These and one or two other specialities for the same class of photographic business have met with a wide sale due to their entirely practical design and workmanlike construction.. Address: 69 Denmark Hill, Clerkenwell, London SE".

Moore and Co

The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1916 p. 534 also lists Moore and Co. 101 and 103 Duke Street, Liverpool as another firm which specially catered for the “While you wait” photographic trade. Its manufactures include repeating back cameras for panels, postcards, midgets etc., printing frames and other appliances.

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www.stickybacks.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring the Stickyback photograph genre and Stickyback Photographers.
This page was last modified: 29 July 2019, 21:38

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