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A word about shutters

Shutters are not particularly helpful in identfying a camera. So many different shutters were made and mix-and-matched with different cameras that to try to cross-reference the variations would be futile. We won't even speak of lens combinations! It's also known that during WWI when German lenses became unobtainable, Conley substituted other lenses and shutters as stock ran out. Add to that the ability on many of the plate cameras for any owner to swap the original shutter for a different one after purchase and you can see that it is simply unreliable to use the shutter as an identification reference. Having said that, here are the shutters most commonly offered, for the purpose of better understanding of speed and aperture capabilities. Slight design variations may also help you tell an older camera from a newer one if you are relatively sure that the shutter is original to the camera.

Note that all of these shutters, including the Optimo and with the probable exception of the Silent, were manufactured by Wollensak for Conley. Notice that the early versions of the Conley shutters have "Wollensak Optical Co." stamped on the front, but on later versions the stamp has been removed.

Conley Automatic

The middle graphic shows a Conley Automatic from c.1908. The one on the far right is the same shutter depicted in 1912.

On the left, we see a Conley Automatic fitted with a double-convertible lens combination, as evidenced by the two rows of aperture stops. The front and rear elements could be used in combination, or the rear element alone for a longer focal length.

The Conley Automatic was available on the Double Extension / Model XVIa.

Conley Junior Automatic

The same shutter as the regular Automatic, but with fewer speeds to choose from.


The Conley Junior Automatic was available on the Model VIII.

Conley Safety

The Safety shutter was an upgrade from the Automatic. The shutter had to be cocked with the lever on the lower right before it could fire.

Again, the middle shutter is from 1908, and the far right one from 1912.

On the left is the shutter fitted with a triple-convertible lens combination. The front and rear elements could be used together or singly to achieve three different focal lengths.

The Conley Safety shutter was available on the Conley A Folding, Conley C Folding / Model IX, Long Focus, Model B View, Model B.W. View, Model XI, Model XIV, Model XV, Model XVIII, Model XIX / Professional Stereoscopic.

Conley Silent Shutter

I had to include this curious device, which was made for studio portrait work. The idea was that the two light-blocking panels would swing open and strike the air-cushioned paper bellows on either side, thus muffling any sound which might cause the viewer to turn their head toward the camera and ruin the picture. Although the design may appear horribly inefficient speedwise, remember that in those days studio portraits often required long exposures of up to fifteeen seconds, for which this would have worked just fine.

The Mayo Clinic's photo department used a Conley Silent Shutter into the early 1970s.


The Optimo was available on the Model XV.

Wollensak Junior

The Wollensak Junior was available on the Pocket Folding Camera / Model V, Senior Folding Camera / Model VII, Model X.

Wollensak Regular Stereo


Wollensak Senior

The Wollensak Senior was available on the Improved Compact Camera / Model VI.

Wollensak Senior Stereo


Wollensak Studio


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