View Full Version : How to use a Gandolfi Universal?

31-Dec-2014, 09:27
Here is my Gandolfi Universal camera. Apparently made between 1898 and 1910. It is a full plate camera. The mahogany and construction skill is incredible, the photos don't really show it, but in real life it is amazing. How long must it have taken Louis Gandolfi to build one of these beauties?!

Anyway, I would like to use it, and so I'm trying to work out the best way to make it usable.

The lens (a nice Taylor-Hobson Cooke brass lens) has no shutter. But the hole looks like it would fit a Copal #1 quite nicely, so probably I could temporarily fit my Linhof lens when I want to use the Gandolfi. Or maybe someone knows a way to temporarily slip a shutter on the front of the old Cooke lens?

The back is too small for 8x10, too big for any other modern size film. Perhaps I should make a simple reducing back that my Linhof 4x5 back fits into. (Then next I would probably make a 5x7 back - which is probably the most ideal modern size - and I'm even tempted to make a 8x10 back because this camera looks to be capable of making 8x8 images. Square 8x8 images on 8x10 film would be quite amazing ... except that it would be a bit of a waste of expensive 8x10 film.)

Any other ideas on what I should do to achieve a usable back? Maybe there is something I can buy rather than having to rig something up?

When I rig up a back, is the focus plane at rear of the glass, or the front of the glass? I mean do I have to get the film to sit where the rear of the focusing screen is (the surface I see) or the front of the glass (the internal surface).

By the way, I don't want to permanently modify the camera in any way. It seems too good for that. In the UK the National Media Museum has a Gandolfi Universal in its collection, but it is not in nearly as good condition as this one, plus it's a more modern 1930s one that was possibly never quite as stunningly made as this one even when new. So I'd like to preserve it.

31-Dec-2014, 09:40
Get yourself a Thornton Pickard front mounting roller blind shutter, you'll need to make sure you get the right diameter fit,


Andrew Plume
31-Dec-2014, 09:56
pm sent


Steven Tribe
31-Dec-2014, 13:07
Yes, this looks like a very well preserved one.

It appears you have no plate holders for this? I have seen whole plate Gandolfi holders at least once ( in 5 years!), but it is possible to get hold of/use other makes of plate holders, once the fitting style and width have been worked out. They should be "book" type - which can be used without modification for modern cut film. And inset frames can be made for 5x4 and 7x5"* film without damage to the holders. Many people find the old plate size very suitable for their photography and film is available.

Whilst tailboard cameras did not appeal much to English photographers in the late 19th century, tens of thousands were made in France and Germany for 13x18cm, 18x24cm and 24x30cm.

* Note, these are the correct size - rather 4x5 and 5x7!

3-Jan-2015, 14:06
Thanks very much for the posts Ian and Stephen, and for the pms Andrew, very useful info.

3-Jan-2015, 15:22
Actually the same pattern tailboard cameras from at least 2 UK manufacturers Watson & Gandolfi were still being made after WWII, by then Watson were subcontracting to Gandolfi. They were quite common in the UK although not as common as Reisekameras in Germany & Continental Europe. Many were sold to Government departments in the UK & Commonwealth.

Gandolfi survived and became better known because they were a small family run camera workshop making most of their income in their early years with sub-contract work, being small they had the flexibility to survive when the market changed to miniature formats like 120 & 35mm in the 1930s.


Steven Tribe
4-Jan-2015, 08:31
I am sure that Gandolfi were assisted by their rather non-standard surname in an English context!

There were very large numbers of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation italian immigrants who made a "name" for themselves and their families in the field of optics, instrument makers and, later, photography in the 18th and 19th centuries. Definitely an advantage compared with Chapman, Smith or Jones.