When I first started this project I quickly realised that uncle Andrew had left remarkably precise details of his photographic equipment. On the back of the cards entered in competition not only had he given his own details and the exposure but also details of his camera right down to the lens numbers! The Camera was a Stereo Victo fitted with a Thornton Pickard Time and Instant shutter with a matched pair of Taylor Taylor and Hobson Rapid Rectilinear lenses.
At first I just wanted to see what a Stereo Victo looked like. The only one I could trace was in the collection at Wood and Brass (http://www.woodandbrass.co.uk/) and for a very long time this was the only Victo I had seen. But I kept looking and started wondering if I could possibly one day acquire one.
After several years of searching a rather dilapidated Stereo Victo came up for sale and I grabbed it! The camera had lost its stereo shutter and had been modified for use as a ‘normal’ plate camera. The bellows were in a very poor state and some of the brass was broken. There were screw missing and bits hanging loose here and there.
But… it bore the all important “Stereo Victo” plate on the front. Over a period of time I started to try and find a suitable shutter. The first I bought had no lenses. So I continued my search. By this time I had pretty much given up hoping I might find Taylor Taylor & Hobson lenses and I think this was wise… as I’m still looking! Eventually, another stereo shutter came for sale and this time it had a nice pair of lenses. The Wray Rectilinear lenses were not the same as Andrew’s and cruder aperture controls but for now they are a sufficient alternative.
The camera sat a pile of bits in a box until the first draft of the book was complete. With it was being proof read elsewhere, I turned my mind to the Victo.
The ‘restoration’ I’ve done is not perfect. The camera cannot be used. That would need an investment in new bellows. However, I think I have turned a pile of bits into a decent display piece.
Apart from replacing missing screws, gluing loose joints and soldering up the damaged brass I still need a lens/shutter-board and I had to do something about the bellows which became more ragged every time I touched them.
Making a new lens/shutter-board turned out to be the best option and after sourcing some mahogany from a model aircraft specialist I set about the task. It became immediately apparent to me why the Victorians used this wood so much. It is like working with a piece of metal, somewhat similar to aluminum. It can be cut, filed and has the strength of a light metal. In the end you can hardly see the board I made as its covered by the shutter. However, after a coat of varnish on the outside and blackboard paint on the back looks a pretty good match for the original camera. Without it there is no way to mount the shutter and lenses on the camera.
The bellows were a challenge as there were gaping holes on all four corners and complete tears along some of the folds. I decided that the cost of new bellows was just not justified at present (and it would change the ‘old’ look) so the question was how might a reasonable repair be achieved. The idea I settled on was to glue black silk inside the folds of the bellows with rubber solution glue. The silk was thin and flexible.
The result is a still somewhat tatty but functioning bellows folds. From the inside, as the bellows were originally silk lined the effect is much less worse that I anticipated. Once the glue has properly dried the result is quite acceptable.
Working round the bellows attaching small patches the bellows gradually started to look better. The process reminded me of my primary school days when the rubber solution glue was in common use, that unique odour and the sticking when you didn’t want it to and the rubber glue on your fingers!
The end result of my labors can be seen at the top of this page. Together with its tripod you get a good idea what it must have been like to lug around to all the places Andrew visited in his travels.