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Thornton Pickard, Junior Special Ruby Reflex, Quarter Plate SLR, c1924

Thornton Pickard, Junior Special Ruby reflex. Constructed in the mid 1920s in Altrincham, in what is today's Greater Manchester, UK. This example is unmarked - as Thornton Pickard were known to supply unbranded cameras for third parties to sell, this was less common in the 1920s, but was still evidently happening. Easily confused with Houghton Butcher's reflexes made by Houghtons and to a lesser degree with some of the Kershaw Soho cameras, although the latter are more sophisticated and have a different mirror system. However the Thornton Pickard cameras will have a small identity plate pinned inside the bottom of the viewing hood, visible when the hood is unclipped and swung open, it will have the Patent No. 6238.12. This patent covered the shutter mechanism which is the heart of the Ruby Reflex. The shutter consists of two curtains whose speed of travel is constant, it's the slit between the two curtains that determines the length of the exposure, the larger the slit - the longer the exposure. Maintaining a constant slit during the travel of the two curtains is the challenge, and Thornton's solution was to lock the two gears that control the curtains together for the exposure duration, then de-couple them at the end of the travel so the second curtain would catch up to close the slit totally. The latter feature is called "self capping". Self capping shutters were desirable as it meant the shutter could be set safely with the light sensitive plate loaded and uncovered. At the time, some regarded this as poor practice, and that the photographer ought to remember to set the shutter prior to putting the plate in. The two curtain/slit arrangement wasn't that uncommon, and would be almost universally adopted by all SLRs, but there were variations and patents on how to achieve the same result. When setting the shutter, the first and second curtains advance in their capped state, the first curtain then draws taught and stops, whilst the second continues to move, opening up a gap. The gap is determined by how far the setting knob is advanced against a scale, and the photographer can also hear the click as the patented lock clicks into each detent. Additionally a preset stop can be set, so that the shutter can be set without the need to look. The camera also has a setting that stops the shutter so the full area of the plate is uncovered. It can be held in this position either by keeping the release trigger depressed, or by locking it down with a catch. Though not engraved on this camera, these settings are known as B (Bulb - an archaic reference to the rubber pneumatic release bulbs once used) or T (Timed). The practical application being long exposures or to use the ground glass screen focussing back. This screen might be used if a wide angle lens were being used, as these protrude too far into the mirror box and prevent the reflex mirror from being used or if the camera was mounted on a tall tripod, preventing the photographer looking into the hood.

The camera also featured a very early remote release, a small hook is incorporated into the trigger, the photographer would set the camera up on a tripod, tie a piece of string around the hook, and arrange it to pull the trigger from a distance. The serials for these cameras can be hard to find, but is usually stamped into the wooden shutter frame, as the shutter is integral it serves both body and shutter. It seems that the branded Thornton Pickard cameras made it visible, whereas the unbranded ones had it arranged so it was covered and it can only be discovered by dismantling the camera. Construction is essentially a mahogany box with a mix of machine cut tenons and glued butt joints, covered with thin leather as was the fashion of the day. The focus racks are set into routed recesses to keep the lensboard parallel to the focus plane. The mahogany lensboard allows for the lens to be shifted vertically, or exchanged for a different lens. Under the top hinged mahogany hatch is the collapsible leather viewing hood, attached so that it unfolds when the hatch is opened. The hood can be unlatched and swung aside to allow access to the top ground glass focus screen. The shutter and mirror mechanism is built as one unit onto a frame and will function out of the camera for testing purposes. Most of the metal used is brass, finished in black lacquer. Oddly, the shutter plate is steel, finished in clear lacquer and can rust. Whilst the box is competently made, the shutter mechanism is really quite shoddy and the design is very poor in a number of respects. The finishing of the components is, well, "atrocious" is the word that springs readily to mind. The gear teeth of the two main wheels being particularly poorly formed, stamped components. To stop the whole shutter falling apart, a number of strategically placed hooks, stop the top wheel from coming off. Rubbing, as they do, on the gear teeth they act as brakes and wear the teeth. The drag this places on the system means that considerable tension needs to be applied to the shutter curtain springs to keep it all moving. Thornton Pickard had made a name for themselves early in the 20th Century and late 1890s with their Roller Blind shutters, sadly they appear to have "rested on their laurels" and they would be rendered extinct as the refined instruments that would cascade from Dresden in the 1930s would spell the end for the big wooden boxes that TP were fond of.

This example was acquired in September 2017, specifically as we wanted to experiment with making shutter cloth, this camera was cosmetically okay, but with totally rotten shutter curtains - so was an ideal candidate. The process can be seen documented in the workshop pages, as project 6. Now in full working order, the camera is in regular use and as you can see in the camera's gallery, below.

Thornton Pickard SLR Camera
Patent Ruby Serial No.

Body No. 22549, stamped into shutter frame - hidden from sight.
Shutter, 1000, 500, 300, 200, 100, 75, 50, 25, 15, 10 & B
Lens, Aldis Anastigmat 6" f/4.5, Serial 143952 Although it see s likely to have been changed.
Condition, 5F

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Go to 360 degree view These two images show the patent plate located inside the bottom of the hinged viewing hood, and the camera serial number obscured on this unbranded Ruby.
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