View Full Version : Transitional Daguerreotype to Wetplate lens - J. H. Walzl

16-Jan-2014, 11:15
In my studies of early American lenses, I sometimes run across some pretty obscure ones. This John H. Walzl lens was made in perhaps 1859-1860 (Craig's Daguerreian Registry). He ran an early Daguerreotype supply house in Baltimore. I believe it was his son Richard that built the business into one of the larger photographic emporiums in later decades.

The long, deep hood and quality engraving make me hypothesize it was made in Baltimore, rather than a relabeled European lens, which became common with Scovill and Anthony around the Civil War. I say transitional because he was a Daguerreotypist and supplier first, which was slowly being replaced by wetplate these years. The original waterhouse slot was more useful in the wetplate process. Interestingly, while this should almost certainly be a Petzval, there appears to be no way any rear glass was ever present. There are no threads on the rear, it's just smooth, finished brass. Written in pencil in the inside rear is 10 1/8, which seems to correspond to it's focal length. Perhaps the rear was cut off, I bought the lens for it's history, knowing the rear was missing. But it's certainly strange. I have one other early American lens (gem type) that is just a cemented achromat in the front, with a washer stop in the rear of the tube.


Bio: John Henry Walzl was born, June 23, 1833, in Stein, on the Danube, Lower Austria. He received a thorough education at the University of Krems, near the above city, in which he was a student for about seven years, and graduated at the age of sixteen years. While at college he found time to make himself conversant with the trade pursued by his father, that of jeweler. His collegiate and business education completed he went to St. Poelten, near Vienna, and subsequently to the Austrian capital, where he engaged in the jewelry business. After remaining in the latter city for about a year he obtained a permit from the Imperial Government to travel beyond the confines of Austria. He made a general European tour, and then established himself in his vocation in Geneva, Switzerland. He left Geneva and went to Winterthur, where he received a summons from the authorities of the Austrian Government to return home and enter its military service. This he disregarded, and immediately turned his course toward America. He set sail from the port of Havre, France, and in September of 1853 landed in New York. He obtained a situation in the jewelry establishment of David Raith, and subsequently in the house of Tiffany, Young & Ellis. He remained in New York two years, during which time he saved enough to provide for his family a home in Hoboken, where he had purchased several building lots. Being compelled to change his business on account of impaired health he removed to Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1854 associated with him Mr. Beeckman Cooke in the daguerreotype business, under the firm style of Cooke & Walzl. Six months after the co-partnership was formed Mr. Walzl bought the entire interest of the establishment. He extended his business considerably, engaging largely in the supplying of daguerreotype stock or material to the Southern trade. Upon the introduction of photography in 1856 he again expanded his business, his establishment becoming the leading one of its kind in Baltimore. Mr. Walzl was the inventor of Tatum's Patent Oil-ground Photographs, a process whereby photographs can be printed directly on the oiled canvas. Since 1868 Mr. Walzl has devoted himself very extensively to operations in real estate. Waverly, on the York Road, Baltimore County, owes its origin and growth largely to him. As early as 1860 he purchased considerable land in that place, and has erected thereon many elegant and valuable structures. He also purchased Chancellorsville, Virginia, which was the scene of bloody conflicts during the civil war. This tract of land embraced about one thousand acres. The old Chancellor Hotel, which was destroyed during the war, was renovated by him; he built a schoolhouse, and established a flourishing Sunday-school, Mr. P. R. Uhler, Librarian of the Peabody Institute, kindly furnishing the books and exerting himself in behalf of the religious work. Mr. Walzl's aim was to colonize the above section of Virginia with industrious Germans, who would develop its resources and thus add largely to the substantial wealth and prosperity of the State. Through his instrumentality three hundred Germans were brought from their native country and located at Chancellorsville. His enterprise attracted the attention of the Governor of Virginia, and Mr. Walzl was invited by him, in letters dated January 8, 1871, and January 18, 1872, to address the Committee on Immigration of the State Senate of Virginia at Richmond in reference to the results of his colonization operations and his views on the same, which he did in proper terms, eliciting the approval of the entire State Legislature. The late Archbishop Spalding, Bishop of Baltimore, addressed a letter to the late Bishop McGill of Richmond requesting him to forward Mr. Walzl's projects in the colonizing of the emigrants. Mr. Walzl's operations in Virginia extended from 1870 to 1873, when he returned to his home in Waverly. Subsequently he and his wife made a prolonged tour of Europe, revisiting the scenes of his childhood on the shores of the Danube. Mr. Walzl married in 1857 Miss Augusta Eisenbrandt, daughter of Christian H. Eisenbrandt, a well-known musical instrument manufacturer of Baltimore. He was a native of Gottingen, Germany, and came to America in 1812. Mrs. Walzl died in 1877. Three children survive her: John Henry, Sidney, and Ellenora. Mr. Walzl married, the second time, August 22, 1878, Miss Ida Horn, eldest daughter of Benjamin and Mary Ann Horn.

Louis Pacilla
16-Jan-2014, 11:52
I'm sure you have seen this Garrett but I added it your post as I figured it might add a bit of additional info and it shows how large a dealer he became in Baltimore and country wide.
It's the seventh edition (1882) of his publication "The Photographers Friend" along with the 1882 Waltz Photographic Art Emporium catalog.

I think at this point he was importing some of his line of lenses


16-Jan-2014, 14:21
Thanks Louis, yes, Richard (I believe he was Johns son) Richard became quite famous too. As with Richard Walzl, supply houses by the 1870s were importing most of their lenses. Darlot for the cheap ones, Dallmeyer and Voigtlander for the expensive. I always wonder if this competition was just too much to maintain American portrait lens makers. Though Morrison and a few others continued to design and manufacture landscape lenses in the 1870s through 1890s. Around the turn of the century portrait optical work came back with Bausch and Lomb, a couple others, and later Wollensak.

I see in that 1882 catalog you linked they say, "With a view to the introduction of a really perfect series of photographic instruments, the proprietor….purchased a set from each of the principal European makers and thoroughly studied their points of excellence." They relabeled them Excelsior, which I had one of once. They also list the usual Euro makers. But the only American lenses by then were landscape.

That's what I find so fascinating, America became a powerhouse in the mid 1800s, inventing and manufacturing amazing amounts of things. We were early adapters of daguerreotypes, and perfected the process. At one time NYC had dozens of dag portrait studios in a few blocks of each other. All towns had a portrait studio or three, up until the 1980s. Why did we start making outstanding portrait lenses, like the CC Harrison in 1851, then let Dallmeyer take all the business starting in 1863? There were a dozen or so American portrait lens makers in 1860. By 1875 there were none.

Steven Tribe
16-Jan-2014, 15:38
Interesting - I thought he might be an early Vienna maker when one of his appeared a month or so ago (the usual place!).
Then I realised that "Balto" was an abbreviation for Baltimore!

8-Apr-2014, 17:17
John Walzl was actually the older brother of Richard. There were actually 3 Walzl brothers in the photog business. Read my bio on Richard Walzl here http://antiquecameras.net/blog93.html


PS - Garrett if you look at the John Walzl ad on my page - does your lens fit the description of the "Central Stop Camera (lens)" ??

8-Apr-2014, 18:45
I'll get my lens out and take a look. Good to see all the old ads.

8-Apr-2014, 18:51
If the focus with the lens actually is ~10 inches, wouldn't that suggest the lens is intact?

8-Apr-2014, 19:23
Oh, I see what you both are implying....maybe this lens was designed that way. Interesting. I'll get it out and take some pictures of the rear tomorrow, and maybe see how it looks on the ground glass.

9-Apr-2014, 03:12
Perhaps this is your lens ?


9-Apr-2014, 08:05
OK sportsfans, I just took another good look at the rear. I believe it was cut off for some reason, after manufacturing. I can see tooling marks around the rear under magnification, and the track for the focus knob was also ground down on the inside.

I believe it could have been the convertible type, described in the JH Walzl ad. Convertibles were being offered by early Jamin (Cone Centralizer) and Derogy. Maybe Walzl saw one, and decided to make his Petzvals convertible too. The ad is confusing, saying "...save the cost of purchasing view cameras. All that is necessary is a large box." If they're just talking about a convertible lens, why would this preclude needed a "view camera?" Also, I see they only list very large sizes. Their regular Petzvals go down to 1/9 plate size.

I think the Walzl's were one of the only early American portrait lenses that was convertible. I don't believe any of the other American makers did that, until the second era of American lenses with the Wollensak F5 Petzvals. The waterhouse slot looks original, and the ad talks about using "central stops" but we don't know if they were washer types of waterhouse. The French ones used washer stops, but they were earlier. By the time this 1866 ad was out, waterhouse was the norm. The hood screws onto the barrel, independent of the element, which would allow the front to be placed in the rear. But with the cutoff rear, we cannot be certain. Even if it's just one of their normal Petzvals, it has all the hallmarks of being made in American, before the era of cheap inports put our manufacturing out of business for a generation.


9-Apr-2014, 08:14
I just realized this is another "Great" American lens that starts with a "W", Walzl, Willard, Wollensak!


Steven Tribe
9-Apr-2014, 15:38
What have I missed? "American" lens?

I have read all the"extra material" and can find no suggestion other than Walzl was always a photographic trading house and not a lens maker. His own background gives no suggestion of optical insight other than that of a businessman/entrepreneur before he set up shop by himself. Due to his Austrian background, I would suggest the maker of the earlier lenses is to be found either there or in Germany. Due to the collapse all the smaller Viennese makers due to Voigtländer, he would have to have looked to Paris for suppliers in later years.

9-Apr-2014, 17:14
Agreed Steven. To my knowledge, Walzl didn't make lenses nor cameras, strictly sold other makers products.


9-Apr-2014, 18:04
His great great granddaughter's grandmother's aunt's uncle's pregnant neighbor told me he made the lenses with a team of German immigrants. So while they were made by Germans, they made them in America.

"Mr. Walzl's aim was to colonize the above section of Virginia with industrious Germans, who would develop its resources and thus add largely to the substantial wealth and prosperity of the State. Through his instrumentality three hundred Germans were brought from their native country and located at Chancellorsville. "
From above reference.

But with all seriousness aside, the lens doesn't look like any French or British brasswork, and I haven't seen enough German lenses to say it doesn't look like them. I sure doesn't look like Voigtlanders products. I ask you this; what German company exported lenses in 1859 with no engraving, to be engraved by the American reseller? I've only seen French companies doing that.

Steven Tribe
10-Apr-2014, 02:21
Agreed about the domination of the French "no-name" exports - but we are lucky in that they had the habit of grafiti on their glass and the stamped AD on some brass parts.

There were plenty of small makers in Vienna at this time (late 1850's) selling under their own brands. Walzl, as a fellow Austrian, would have been able to source either these "names" OR the small unnamed/unknown brass and optics workshops who were sub-contracted in production.

Photohistory.at shows a lot of typical lenses from the 1850's and 1860's for comparison with those who have a Walzl in front of them by the keyboard!

I can only add my own F2.3 Waibl as an illustration.

10-Apr-2014, 04:14
What drives me crazy on these boards is the lack of evidence & supporting research when claims are made... and while GA doesnt prove anything related to Walzl and is purely speculating, he may be right... While my previous research showed no positive evidence that JH Walzl manufactured, there is an entry in Humphrey's Journal stating he DID manufacturer his "Central Stop Cameras (lenses)". I do apply caution to this however given this is the only reference I have ever seen mentioning this. Second, magazines like Humphrey's werent always accurate (and were motivated by business relationships*) and lastly, I dont know what they mean by manufacture... did he make the glass ? did he make the barrel ? Did he employ other US makers to assemble the lens under their watchful eye ? Is the glass and barrel of european make and they were assembled by Walzl in the US ? The lenses do look more European than American and al feature a tangential drive (the ones I have seen). Not sure we will ever know - but the plot thickens...

From Humphrey's Journal Vol 17, Issue 17 page 272 1866.


* In this issue of HJ, Walzl also placed an advertisement for his stock depot.


10-Apr-2014, 06:13
I was making an assumption John Walzl made his lenses based on several things. One, time frame. In the pre Civil War days, lenses were commonly made in the US, and less commonly imported. I also an assumption it was made about 1860, (short, squat lens with long, deep hood) but could have been 1866 or so. If later, it could have been an import, but again, my assumption was based on the fact it doesn't look like a French lens, the only "blank marking" imports I've seen. All of those are Jamin Darlots, or Gasc Charconnet. Those two are very easy for me to recognize, I've had dozens go through my hands, and still have several US marked imports. I also based the assumption on the fact John was a daguerreotypist and many of them eventually made their own lenses. (CC Harrison being one). I also base it on the lack of any information in the records that his lenses were imported. Anthony, Scovill, Byrant, Ben French, and all the other import houses would often make a big point of advertising when they were importing lenses from Darlot or Dallmeyer. Sometimes they only said "we're getting these from the best European manufacturer..." But the early John Walzl ads don't say that. So, lots of circumstantial evidence. But no "facts."

Then we come to the Humphrey's Journal reference that he did manufacture in the US. Thanks Dan! We could discredit this reference, but then we'd have to discredit all the things in Humphry's that we've come to believe about Morrison, Harrison, Palmer and Longking, and the rest of the great American lens manufacturers. Because there just aren't many 1850s - 1870s references regarding any manufacturing in the optical industry. Often, they were documented years later, as the founders were interviewed or spoke at photography events in the elder years.

So, I can back down from saying for sure it's US made. But we have even less evidence it's NOT made here.

10-Apr-2014, 14:03
We do have to take into serious consideration that both Snelling and Humphrey's Journals and writings were motivated by money and their business. Their work wasnt always factual or "news." There are many advertorials and countless puff pieces that were written to flatter the firms that advertised with them. With Snelling being the main Agent for Anthony - clearly he was even more motivated to pump up Anthony and put down Scovill (when they were rivals).

Unlike Walzl, the other firms mentioned are corroborated by multiple sources including more "factual" and (more) independent sources like patents, business and court records. This is whats tricky when putting together the history....separating fact from fiction. If I saw more evidence from multiple sources that Walzl made lenses, I'd become a believer...


10-Apr-2014, 14:17
OK, I agree. Let's say "we don't know where they were made" until further evidence.

10-Apr-2014, 15:04
OK, I agree. Let's say "we don't know where they were made" until further evidence.

Would it be possible to do a spectograph of some sort to determine exactly where the glass came from? Glass is not pure--it has minute contaminants in it. If you could get a collection of lenses from that period together and check their molecular signatures, maybe you could find a match?

10-Apr-2014, 16:48
Would it be possible to do a spectograph of some sort to determine exactly where the glass came from? Glass is not pure--it has minute contaminants in it. If you could get a collection of lenses from that period together and check their molecular signatures, maybe you could find a match?
Nobody in the US made optical glass in any quantity before 1917. The first small pilot glass plant in the US, belonging to Bausch & Lomb, began operation in 1912. So all American made lenses before that period used glass from European sources. There should be a way to check the chemical signature of the brass used for the barrels, but we don't know for sure if the brass was made locally, either.

The source for the optical glass info is here:


It's a great book, worth downloading if it hasn't already been mentioned here. Lots of info on optical glass, how it was made and tested, the formulas and glass types then, and lots more.

Colin D
10-Apr-2014, 20:07
I have no technical input to add to this discussion, that's not my forte. By coincidence I found this lens a couple of weeks ago on fleabay while fossicking and now I just found this thread. Not sure if it helps the discussion but someone more knowledgable on American lens history than me can make that judgement: