View Full Version : Some general notes about when French makers started Serial numbers

Steven Tribe
5-Jan-2018, 05:43
Unlike some UK and German (Ross and Voigtlander as the best examples) Parisian makers were apparently not very keen on giving a serial number on their brass engraving. I have looked at the following makers to see if we can deduce both when and why they introduced serial numbers.

Darlot, Jamin - Jamin/Darlot, Hermagis, Lerebours and Derogy. I have excluded Gasc et Charconnet and Auzoux et Francais/Francais as they they were all established in the 1860's and serial numbers look "artificially inflated".

Jamin has a early "Cone" lens n.172. I am not aware of the french patent info. for this design (if there is a patent date), but a guess would be 1855. The painful transfer to Darlot (Serial no. approx. 4,000) occured in 1859.

Lerebours is more difficult, as he had no patents in the 1850's. His UK agent was J.F. Shew and he started in the early 1850, but was advertising french imports in 1858. His sold Lerebours lenses were in the 6000-7000 range. But Lerebours has a recorded serial number of 2140 which probably brings him back to the middle 1850's. This matches with Lerebours' known concern about counterfeits as by 1858 he was already marking individual lenses with serial numbers.

Hermagis is an easy one. He started in 1856/57 with serial numbers. All early serial numbers are on the Convertible which was patented in 1856. Like many others, he started well above 0001. Perhaps the first known, 6895, represents a realistic figure of the number Hermagis had made alone and together with Derogy and Wallet.

Derogy in another one who appears to have started with a patent - multiples foyer, from 1858.
Although there is an achromat with 4175, the first noted Foyers multiples comes shortly afterwards at 4290. Again, it looks like there has been a guestimate of previous production he was associated with.

Not that easy to see who was the first. My guess would be Jamin, followed closely by Lerebours with Hermagis and Derogy in connection with their patents.

5-Jan-2018, 11:02
Jamin started his optical business in 1822, so was around when photography took flight and was one of the early French makers

Noel Jean Lerebours started his optical business in 1789 and at his death in 1840, his son Nicolas Marie Paymal Lerebours took over to be joined by Secretan in 1845. So another optical house that was there at time zero. The first catalog from Lerebours that shows photographic objectives dates from 1842, already third edition at that time ...


None of this makes dating any easier but it gives an idea of where things could have started ... not necessarily with serial numbers as there are unmarked lenses out there that clearly bear a Jamin or Hermagis character (lens pencil markings) but no engraving on the barrel.

The mystery continues but we're getting closer if we put our collective collection information online.

Thanks for starting this Steven !


5-Jan-2018, 11:23
Adding few pages out of the 1842 Lerebours daguerrotype document ... shows his camera and lenses, clearly Petzval ...



5-Jan-2018, 14:50
I have always said it is difficult to date French lenses because we don't know what number they started with. And some of them seem to have restarted numbers for different lines, and more complications.

But the earliest Lerebours I've had/seen I've always estimated their dates start 1840 or so. He wrote his treatise already talking about how he was making lenses https://archive.org/stream/treatiseonphotog00lere#page/n21/mode/2up They are among the earliest photographic lenses made after Voigtlander, but I don't know if they were serialized that early. And again, Ler et Sec may have just started with 1,000, or 500, or whatever number they wanted to. So you can't see a number 2,000 Lerebours et Secretan and try to extrapolate that it was the 2000th lens made (possibly incorrect because we don't know his starting number), and if he started in 1842 (uncertain) and made 500 lenses a year (guess work), then it "had" to be made in 185X.... We just don't know.

Here is a Lerebours attributed to 1842. No serial number. https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/early-lerebours-lens-c.-1842-GJUJSK4UR5#

Interestingly Darlot apprenticed under Lerebours et Secretan, and gained his Master credential about 1849. He joined Jamin in 1855.

Steven Tribe
5-Jan-2018, 15:01
Most of these early catalogues present their lenses in connection with specific cameras - with the lens playing "Second fiddle" to camera itself. I have a copy of the mid 1850's Vienna maker Waible advert which manages to have no illustrations and cameras making up most of the text. But just enough lens data to make identifications.

Paul Ewins
5-Jan-2018, 15:46
Have you tried contacting the Musée des Arts et Métiers? Collecting examples of industrial innovation was their initial purpose so I would imagine they would have at least some information on the French optical industry. Last time I visited they had an 1835 Daguerrotype camera on display along with a variety of detective cameras so they do seem to have some things from the general era. Like most museums most of the objects and almost all of the paperwork will be in storage.

5-Jan-2018, 18:49
It's a mixed bag and the early catalogs are definitely all about cameras systems.

The 1842 Lerebours treatise (French version, page is absent in the English translation afaik) has this single catalog page I've inserted in post #3.

Each entry is for a full camera daguerrotype camera system with lens, including chemistry, plates etc.

Few lenses are offered at the bottom for full plate, half plate and quarter plate with a notice that the half plate and quarter plate had a pinion for focal adjustment.

The various online images I've seen for Lerebours "only" lenses were not serialized but it wouldn't be a far stretch to accept that when Secretan joined Lerebours in 1845, they could have started with a number larger than what Lerebours produced prior. For me, 2,000 wouldn't be too far of a stretch.

The lowest number I've seen on a Lerebours & Secretan lens is a landscape lens numbered 2125 (d"Agostini) and there is at least one Lerebours & Secretan landscape lens out there that is not serialized but has both names written in pencil on the achromat. So even then, we can't be sure of the year or when they started serializing.

Like Garrett said, we don't know the year they started serializing at and what number they started with. But we can chase the lowest number and type and look at the non-serialized ones and see what features they have out of general curiosity.

One more Atelier Petzval link to a ~1842 Lerebours lens with details on the R&P (scroll down ... )



Most of these early catalogues present their lenses in connection with specific cameras - with the lens playing "Second fiddle" to camera itself. I have a copy of the mid 1850's Vienna maker Waible advert which manages to have no illustrations and cameras making up most of the text. But just enough lens data to make identifications.