View Full Version : question about mid-1850s lenses

7-Aug-2018, 17:51
Colonel Alexander J Greenlaw made calotypes in India in the mid 1850s, and particularly 1855 and 1856. I would appreciate any speculation about what kind of lens he might have used, and where it might have come from. ( And even where I might get a similar one! )

In the early 1850s there was a well-known London supplier of photographic materials named Richard W. Thomas. We know that he supplied Colonel Greenlaw with a camera in 1855. ( I don’t know if he supplied any lenses along with this “tropical” camera. ) Greenlaw’s calotypes were typically 12x15 inches or 16x18 inches and they appear to have a fairly normal field of view. There is no substantial distortion around the edges so the lenses were probably stopped down quite a bit, and the exposures were obviously very long.

Any thoughts or speculation much appreciated!

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
7-Aug-2018, 19:53
In the mid-1850s there wasn't much choice. He almost certainly used an achromatic landscape lens. The sample of images I see via Google do not appear to be made with a Petzval or a meniscus, which were the other lenses readily available.

7-Aug-2018, 20:54
Ross (Rofs) was a possibility for maker of the lens, as was Horne & Thornewaite.

Kent in SD

Jim Fitzgerald
7-Aug-2018, 21:44
I would say Ross (Rofs) as well. My 15 inch Rofs lens came with one stop which is a lens hood at F-8. It slips in the lens hood that is one the lens. Mid 1850's I believe. Quite well defined lens.

7-Aug-2018, 21:52
Globe lens were well regarded at that time.


8-Aug-2018, 03:33
As some members told you, it is quite likely that he used an achromatic landscape lens.

Here two different morphologies for the same design. Both achromatic landscape by Andrew Ross, from early 1840's. Long focal length and large coverage, undoubtedly for calotype cameras.

https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/800x600q90/921/3JiaZ3.jpg (https://imageshack.com/i/pl3JiaZ3j)

From early 1850's, an achromatic landscape by Horne & Thornthwaite.
https://imagizer.imageshack.com/v2/800x600q90/923/ap8pSV.jpg (https://imageshack.com/i/pnap8pSVj)

8-Aug-2018, 06:54
Depending on how late in the 1850s, there are a few other British opticians that made photographic lenses, like Fred J. Cox.


Or also from the late 1850s, Dublin, a Grubb Aplanat.

8-Aug-2018, 11:14
Thanks to all, very helpful.

8-Aug-2018, 11:29
In 1840, Joseph Petzval of Vienna invented two lenses; the first was his landmark portrait lens design ("Petzval Portrait") and the other was his landscape design. Petzval's landscape lens, the "Orthoskop," featured a double combination of lenses, which allowed for greater sharpness and flatness of field than the ordinary single lens of the day. While the Petzval Portrait lens forever changed photography almost instantly, the landscape design sat dorment until about 1856. At this time, Petzval had Dietzler of Vienna produce his lens and within a short period of time, Voigtlander manufactured a version of the lens as did Ross in England and Harrison in the United States. The Dietzler and Voigtlander lenses were rated at f/8.7, while Ross' version came in at about f/14. Harrsion's lens appears to be f/11. All of these lenses tend to be of long focus and in fact are an early precursor to the telephoto objective.


8-Aug-2018, 12:03
I believe the Ross lenses prior to the ones made by Ross from the Sutton patent were portrait lenses and were not particularly successful at the time. I found this chronology for Ross for 1859:

1859 The Negretti and Zambra Catalogue included several of ROSS's lenses at prices from £5-15-0 to £54-0-0 N & Z started issuing large catalogues in 1851 They specialized in weather recording instruments but also sold optical and scientific equipment. A son Thomas Rudolph born to J.H.DALLMEYER and wife Hannah.
Hannah dies.

5 September Andrew ROSS dies at 93 Pentonville Road. His estate is valued at £60,000. Thomas ROSS and J.H.DALLMEYER separate DALLMEYER Dallmeyer's share was worth approximately £20,000 taking his share of the estate and setting up in business at 19 Bloomsbury Street by December.
28 September T.SUTTON applies for a patent for a lens for taking wide angle views. This lens was later made by ROSS and incorporated in a panoramic camera


Mark Sawyer
8-Aug-2018, 16:09
I'd guess he used the standard equipment of the day, a Petzval with the option of using the front element as a landscape lens at a fairly small stop. The Petzval was the first convertible lens, serving as both of the two main options of the day, a fast portrait lens and a slower, wider-angle landscape lens.

The Globe and Orthoscop were made a little too late for the 1850-'55 date. The Sutton lens was an unsuccessful and impractical-to-use failure that required curved plates.

8-Aug-2018, 18:35
Maybe Salt and Silver will throw some light on it as it covers salted paper photography from 1840 to 1860. It was shipped from Koeln, Germany yesterday and is currently in the air between London and SF. UPS says they will deliver it tomorrow.


8-Aug-2018, 19:22
Here is some info on Greenlaw from Impressed By Light: British photographs from paper negatives 1840-1860, page 320:



8-Aug-2018, 22:48
Thanks Thomas.

Abney's book(s) can be found on Google Books, also I think Burbank's or Hunt's manuals might have a description of the process. I think the original 1869 photographic news article might also be found on Google Books.

Towler's is available at the albumen site (http://albumen.conservation-us.org/library/monographs/sunbeam/toc.html)

Vijayanagara: Splendour in Ruins (https://www.amazon.com/Vijayanagara-Splendour-Ruins-George-Michell/dp/0944142761) has superb reproductions of a number of Greenlaw's calotypes,.

Excellent instructions, if you'd like to try it yourself, are here (http://handmadeimagery.com/calotypist/2016/02/13/greenlaws-process/).

9-Aug-2018, 11:23
Of interest? - http://www.photomadras.org/history.php - still going so may have some archives and info?

9-Aug-2018, 21:37
Of interest? - http://www.photomadras.org/history.php - still going so may have some archives and info?

Thank you! Amazing that it is still going!