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The Hunter Penrose 'process camera' was first manufactured in 1893. They were used to make photographic plates from which letterpress or 'process engraved' printing plates were produced.
The process involved a light sensitive emulsion being coated on to a copper or zinc plate. The glass negative produced by the camera would be exposed in contact with the printing plate and the image transferred. The metal plate was then chemically etched to produce a relief of the image, which could then be loaded into a forme with text (hot metal) and printed.
In the early 1890's a process of halftone screening photographs with a dot structure was invented to allow the continuous tone pictures to be reproduced by letterpress printing. Before that, although photography had existed since 1842, it had not been possible to incorporate photographs into printed matter and all illustrations had to be laboriously hand engraved.
The advent of 'process engraving' was therefore almost as impactful as the Apple Mac years later, in changing the face of the printing industry.
Hunter Penrose built thousands of the these cameras and sold them all over the world. The last wooden bodied cameras were built in about 1962!
An interesting extract from an article on the development of camera reprographics at the Survey Department of Queensland Government is shown as a pdf file.Click here
Using its camera building technology, Hunter Penrose also, at times, built cameras for purposes other than reprographics for printing. An interesting example is a camera recently found in a museum at the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore (shown right). The camera was used for taking portrait photographs of guests.
Probably one of the biggest Penrose cameras we've seen recently is the one shown below installed in Australia. It would probably originally have been built for a cartographic application. The camera was built in 1920, and takes a 35" x 45" plate. Standard lens (not the one in the photo), is a 1800 mm f18 (depth of field can be measured with a micrometer).
Hunter Penrose Cameras turn up in the most surprising places and often in unusual condition. One of the oddest must be this one which had been made into a coffee table. This adaptation forms the focus point of Campbell McCubbin's camera room in White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, which holds a collection of some five hundred cameras.
Today, cameras are hardly used in the reprographic process, except for special applications such as cartography and screen printing. The image capture process is now done by digital scanners.
If you're trying to date a camera and yours says A W Penrose, then it is fairly old and certainly prior to 1927 when the company became Hunter Penrose. Valuations can vary between £150 and in excess of £5,000. Higher prices have been heard of in the US. There is no set market for these cameras.