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A New Mount for My Great-Great-Grandfather’s 100-Year-Old Lens

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3dprinting

Turns out my great-great-grandfather was a photographer. Born in 1850, Robert Stapleton served in the US Army for two five-year tours in the then-wild-west.

US Army at Gillems Camp, Lava Beds National Monument, 1873, representative of what Stapleton would have been doing around that time. Photographer unknown, archived by NPS.
US Army at Gillems Camp, Lava Beds National Monument, 1873, representative of what Stapleton would have been doing around that time. Photographer unknown, archived by NPS.

When he got back home to Kansas he didn’t want to farm, so he bought a camera and worked as a photographer. My uncle (also a photographer, in Washington DC) ended up with a lens of his from around the turn of the century, which he recently sent me as a gift. Manufactured in Rochester NY, with a patent date of February 24, 1903, it’s in near-flawless condition.

The Baushch & Lomb-Zeiss Tessar lens, from circa 1903. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The Baushch & Lomb-Zeiss Tessar lens, from circa 1903. Photo: Ian Tuttle
Bausch & Lomb - Zeiss Tessar lens, wide open at f/4.5. Photo: Ian Tuttle
Bausch & Lomb – Zeiss Tessar lens, wide open at f/4.5. Photo: Ian Tuttle

There was only one problem…. I needed a lens board to mount it to my 4×5 Speed Graphic. I bid on a few on eBay but kept losing the $8 or $9 auctions at the last minute. It was frustrating.

Thankfully, the guys at Glass Key Photo connected me with Lucas Saugen, a photographer and 3-D printer.

Lucas, in front of one of his printers. Photo: Ian Tuttle
Lucas, in front of one of his printers. Photo: Ian Tuttle

Always eager to solve new problems, Lucas spec’d out a lens board to fit the lens and my Speed Graphic, and in a matter of minutes he’d printed it for me!

The CAD instructions the printer uses to build the lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The CAD instructions the printer uses to build the lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle

The CAD instructions the printer uses to build the lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle

From code to real world…

The new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle

It had to be triple-thick to prevent any light leaks.

The back of the new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The back of the new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle

The old lens precisely fit, and the rough plastic actually looked perfectly weathered.

The 100+ year-old lens mounted on a few-days-old lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The 100+ year-old lens mounted on a few-days-old lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The old lens and new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The old lens and new lens board. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The lens fixed to my Speed Graphic. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The lens fixed to my Speed Graphic. Photo: Ian Tuttle
Speed Graphic ready to shoot with the lens mounted. Photo: Ian Tuttle
Speed Graphic ready to shoot with the lens mounted. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The view through the ground glass. Photo: Ian Tuttle
The view through the ground glass. Photo: Ian Tuttle

It’s a trip to use a 110-year-old lens on a 60-year-old camera with a 1-week-old lens board. The results were gorgeous. I shot an engagement series with the set-up a few days later.

Photo: Ian Tuttle
Photo: Ian Tuttle

…And then I brought it out for a street portrait.

Photo: Ian Tuttle
Photo: Ian Tuttle

Keeping the photographic tradition alive, one technological advancement at a time. Thanks to my uncle Steve who sent me the lens, to Lucas for the 3-D printing, to Glass Key for making the connection, and of course, to my great-great-grandfather Mr. Stapleton, without whom I wouldn’t be here in the first place.


About the author: Ian Tuttle is a San Francisco-based photographer and the foudner of Porcupine Photography, a portrait and headshot business. You can find more of his work and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.

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