Rochester Cycle Poco 1897-99
Originally established in 1883 as the Rochester Optical Co. only to change its name several times through the next decade, eventually emerging as the Rochester Camera & Supply Co. in 1897. A series of mergers with other companies such as Monroe, Ray, and Western camera companies led to the formation of Rochester Optical and Camera Co. in 1899. These attempts at remaining autonomous in the face of agressive competition from Eastman Kodak were to prove fruitless and George Eastman devoured them in 1903.
The Rochester Camera & Supply Company made the very popular Cycle Poco models. These were literally made to fit beneath the cross bar of a bicycle. This example is the 4"x5" No. 2 model built between 1897 and 1899 and has the B&L Rapid Rectilinear lens and Unicum shutter. Today we have largely forgotten what is was like in the late 19th century to have portable cameras. Trips into the countryside were very popular and to be capable of carrying your small camera on the bicycle was considered to be a wonderful convenience.
Although this camera is not really rare, it is a wonderful example of the state of photography by the end of the 19th century. What is rare, however, is the original bracket designed to hold the camera on the bicycle.
These cameras were made of wood, the inner surfaces of polished mahogany with labels and distance scales made of ivory (actually it was bone). The red leather bellows, still supple after over 110 years, were obtained from Imperial Russian producers and were chromic acid tanned and dyed. These would eventually disappear by 1914 to be replaced with black leather from domestic suppliers.