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View Full Version : Quality makers before the Gandolfi/Deardorff Era! Post your Camera details.



Steven Tribe
23-Feb-2015, 03:58
One of the problems with finding these makers, who set the standards that Deardorff, Gandolfi and a few others continued up through the 20th Century, is that they were usually not involved in retail selling their mahogany/teak/walnut creations.

On the Continent, these cameras were mostly given the name of the retailer (if any!), whilst in the UK, there is a mix between retailers (SALEX, London Stereoscopic, Army & Navy etc.) and companies like T-P, Chapman and Lizars who may have made some of their cameras.

One of the few known confirmed links is between Billcliff and Chapman (Manchester, UK). Chapman was the retailer in Manchester for a lot of Billcliff cameras ( "The British"). This is probably due to the very special features of Billcliff's camera and plate holders - the ebony reinforced corners. I have seen a few Billcliff cameras, including a complete Studio Camera with scores of "accessories" and the quality is quite unbelievable. The advantage they had over Gandolfi and Deardorff was a large organisation were individuals could specialise in one or two specific operations. I don't have any of his cameras but just 2 full-plate holders which arrived to-day! I have seen many well designed and well executed book holders - but these are very special.

I thought others might post DETAILS of their cameras from the Glory Days of these camera (cabinet-making or brass fitment details) to show the workmanship that used to exist! Some of the details might also serve to help find the common source of these cameras.

I hope, at least, someone can now identify their Billcliff holders!

stawastawa
4-Oct-2016, 12:12
There is a beautiful lancaster plate camera on ebay. I have archived the page and made it availible on my blog via a PDF (sorry some photgraphs have been chopped in half)

https://lifeofstawa.wordpress.com/hidden/resources/

155792 155793

ScottPhotoCo
4-Oct-2016, 13:52
Where might the Watson & Sons cameras fall in the scale of "quality" makers?


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Dan Fromm
4-Oct-2016, 14:06
Steven, do you have a copy of Channing & Dunn? They list many UK camera manufacturers including makers of wooden cameras.

They give the impression that there were relatively few camera manufacturers in the UK until the late 1880s. From then on many popped up but few survived. They do report on a few founded between 1850 - 70. I have the impression that until around 1890 in the UK photography was for the very few, hence few makers and low production volumes.

RJ-
6-Oct-2016, 07:27
Hi Steve,

Are you shooting whole plate too?

The 19th century photographic carpentry skills were matched by the innovative designs of cabinet making, woodturning (such as the English conical romantic flute tradition) and diverse links with photographic retail.

There are many famed plate camera makers from the late 19th/early 20th century - your Billcliff plate holders show similar detailing to the Thornton Pickard or Sanderson styles of plate making: each series of plate holders being unique to each camera, with limited cross-compatibility between batch series of cameras. Thus it's possible to acquire a series of plate holders for a maker, only to discover that some adjustment of the wooden baffle edges might be required. Many of the English retailers did have retail links, leading to the branding of some extant OEM lenses with the retailer name, for the retailer. Butcher & Houghton are an example of an English chemist retail unit who started off selling apothecaries and moved into retail of photographic imaging material and hardward during its successive generations in London with its own retail outlet:

http://www.historiccamera.com/librarium/butcherco/butcherco_image1.gif

As well as their own camera lines, Houghtons were famous for being the first outlet for Mr FH Sanderson's whole plate camera, which originated from Cambridge and which patented the first 'Universal' swing front standard axis on a plate camera. The design is extremely successful and operates independently of the rise shift, unlike some contemporary makers.

The famed Wallis Heaton photographic store, which supplied royal photographers also undertook branding exercises for traditional photographic hardware:

https://heatonhistorygroup.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/tor074-3.jpg

Sadly Bond Street is no longer as interesting. Sands, Hunter & Co, ran their retail shop from 20 Cranbourn Street and thrived on the reputation of their Imperial plate camera. This is a much more interesting location since London's Chinatown is now located here!

The English Sanderson plates which I've become fond of have intricate brass fixtures with really intricate dark slide designs however when I've compared this against a Charten [of Japan] whole plate camera, the workmanship of the Japanese Charten is just as superb as the English Sanderson or Thornton Pickards.

Watsons & Sons were early makers of optical magic lanterns and continued photographic manufacture for successive generations trading in Holborn Street (where the City Lit; banks, commerce, restaurants and university all coalesce), London. They had a first class reputation for their photographic diversity in optics, portable cameras, larger cameras, technical cameras - everything so much so that perhaps they could be seen as the jack of all trades. Their design innovations were not as surprising as Sandersons' universal front swing, nor as impressive as Thornton Pickard's triple extension platform for accommodating telephoto lenses however were well made cameras derived from mahogany and other hard to source woods.

The history of photographic innovation belongs to England/France, however its development led to the export of technical innovation across the globe: Japanese wood craftsmen and carpenters were just as skilled as their English counterparts in the post-Meiji Restoration wave of Japanese infrastructure boom in the early 20th century so it's no surprise that the calibre of manufacturing is first class however the designs of the Charten plate camera is decisively more straightforward than the Sanderson whole plate camera, which not only has universal swing front movements, but also rear swing movements. Modern day Wista, Nagaoka (extant) and Ebony come from this legacy after the Soviet-Japanese war which saw technological development mushroom as the country gained greater economic and technical competence with expansionist ideology encompassing technical photographic domains, as well as geo-political.

In India, the more common Vageeswari plate cameras in their various format incarnations show less of that high standard, although perhaps they were made for the mass market. One of the Indian plate cameras which I have, is a copy of the Charten (or perhaps, the other way round?). Whereas Charten of Japan used tropical Lace wood to match the humidity of the country with very elegant and precise workmanship, the Vageeswari seems to have had its day and the wood itself has endured less. The Charten draws on technical qualities of wood structure, rather like Sanderson who created the tropical quarterplate hand camera, and these aspects of design aesthetics are less visibly apparent than the actual craft. With the Vageeswari, I've found it really hard to tell which kind of wood are used, even after oiling to replace the loss. They are definitely serviceable and possibly Vageeswari & Co had the work skills base under an umbrella company. In England, similar unnamed cameras exist, however in line with much of the English retail market of the early 20th century, if a maker did not put his name on it, it was probably made by an apprentice; an imitator or an OEM company, even if fairly successful.

Well done for finding the matching whole plate holders - it's tragic when they are separated since there is virtually no way to ever piece them back together again without any serial numbers or references. Recently I've found a DDS conversion back which I'm going to stud onto the rear of my whole plate Charten. It's a pleasure breathing life back into these vintage cameras.

Kind regards,

RJ

Steven Tribe
6-Oct-2016, 07:59
[QUOTE=ScottPhotoCo;1355114]Where might the Watson & Sons cameras fall in the scale of "quality" makers?


/QUOTE]

Just seen them, never handled one! Some very impressive models. Like an awful lot of retail outlets, it is almost impossible to decide whether models were made by the company themselves, which ones were made by others - to the retailer's specification, and which cameras were "taken" from a specialised camera maker. This doesn't mean that quality decreases in this order - a specialist workshop will have many advantages.

Steven Tribe
6-Oct-2016, 08:14
RJ:
"Are you shooting full plate too".

Not yet, but preparing a set! I have been very happy with 18x24cm, but it would nice to have a slightly smaller format than this which still stands up to contact printing.
I originally bought a 1/1 plate camera as it was an exact miniature look-alike with my 15x12" Lizar camera.

There are a few threads here about the Indian (with some UK influence) and Japanese alternatives to UK, European and US camera models. The "alternative" brass designs of these are great fun, but the problem with the various timbers used in Indian cameras is well known.

It has always surprised me that there is no great tradition of walnut in camera making in the UK, but then Empire meant easy access to both Mahogany and Teak.

IanG
6-Oct-2016, 08:48
Gandolfi made many of the Watson cameras, before the 1930's most of their production was for Watson or Sands Hunter, they were a trade manufacturer and in their early days only sold a few cameras under their own name. At some point by the 1930's Watso cameras were all made by Gandolfi and up until the late 1950's when Watson diappeared the models were to all intents identical.

The important dates which Dan alludes to "I have the impression that until around 1890 in the UK photography was for the very few, hence few makers and low production volumes. " are the late 1870's when Dry plate manufacture becomes more wide spread and commercial, this makes photography easier to take up and practice. It probably took 10 years growth in the market and improvements in plate production before the large expansion of the major companies in the 1890's and the many new conpanies who had entered the market.

The largest consolidation was Houghtons who had some of their cameras made by Butcher, later taking them over along with quite a number of other manufacturers. They were in the early 1900's the largest manufacturer of cameras in any country. Houghtons shareholders in the 1930's wwere still mainly the family members of the companies which grouped together in 1904 Houghtons owned Butcher for a few years before finally merging the two companies in 1926. Houghtons also made camera in India, Lord Astor and his family were major shareholders and Astor had been Aide de Campe to the Viceroy of India before WWI. Astor was a banker, the owner of The Times newspaper and held many Directorships of leading companies.

Ian

RJ-
6-Oct-2016, 10:28
RJ:
"Are you shooting full plate too".

Not yet, but preparing a set! I have been very happy with 18x24cm, but it would nice to have a slightly smaller format than this which still stands up to contact printing.
I originally bought a 1/1 plate camera as it was an exact miniature look-alike with my 15x12" Lizar camera.

There are a few threads here about the Indian (with some UK influence) and Japanese alternatives to UK, European and US camera models. The "alternative" brass designs of these are great fun, but the problem with the various timbers used in Indian cameras is well known.

It has always surprised me that there is no great tradition of walnut in camera making in the UK, but then Empire meant easy access to both Mahogany and Teak.


18cm x 24cm - so near yet so far ....from whole plate! More whole plate shooters always welcome :)

I've seen some Scottish (provenance) Lizars plate cameras in different format and dimensions although it's the whole plate format which I find alluring. I presume most of these vintage whole plate cameras are finding their way into upcycled furniture shops as a decorative focus on traditional wooden tripod legs. The wood from Istvan Soltesz' whole plate camera is crafted from walnut wood; Chamonix of China historically used recycled walnut wood (fabled to be from the door frame and arches of the ancient Hu Tong in Beijing). In England, the challenge of walnut wood is probably related to its sap wood which is soft; accounts for a third of the wood and is prone to woodworm, rendering it an expensive option (around 100 per cubic foot). Most walnut used by cabinet makers here derive from the French Dordogne region, kiln dried or steamed which might be fine but probably won't survive the stresses which an 120 year old Victorian mahogany camera has been through.

Happy whole plate shooting!

Kind regards,
RJ