View Full Version : Back When Portrait Lenses Were Cheap

Chauncey Walden
8-Jan-2010, 23:57
I was looking for something else when I ran across some pages from a Burke and James catalog from 1965 and there were two pages of portrait lenses (140+!) for sale.
Pinkham and Smith? 10 inch for $119.50; 12 inch for $149.50; 17 inch for $219.50; 19 inch for $299.50
Struss Pictorial? 9 inch for $64.50; 10.5 inch for $99.50; 15 inch for $99.50
Spencer Port-Land? 6 inch for $69.50; 11.5 inch for $119.50; 15 inch for $149.50; 18 inch for $174.50
Dallmeyer? 9 inch for $69.50 and $89.50; 15 inch for $149.50; 16.75 inch for $199.50; 17.25 inch for $229.50; 18 inch for $149.50 and $199.50; 30 inch for $349.50
Busch Nicola Perscheid? 14.5 inch for $174.50
Hermagis? 12 inch for $129.50
Beach Multi-Focus? 16 inch for $159.50
T.T.H. Cooke Series II? 10.5 inch for $189.50; 12.75 inch for $224.50; 14 inch for $199.50; 14.5 inch for $299.50; 15 inch (Portric IIA) for $374.50; 15 inch (IID) for $349.50; 16 inch for $319.50; 18 inch (IIE) $269.50
Voigtlander Euryskop? 16.6 inch for $189.50
and a bunch of Graf, Wollensak, B&L, Kodak, etc., lenses.
To put the prices in perspective, a 12 inch Symmar in barrel was $324.50, a 12 inch Commercial Ektar in barrel was $225, and a 14 inch Red Dot Artar in barrel was $342.
On another page of general lenses was a 12 inch f/2.8(!) Ektar covering 7x9 for $395.
Anybody ever see one of those? Not the 12 inch f/2.5 Aero Ektar covering 9x9 which was $485.

Frank Bunnik
9-Jan-2010, 00:40
It sounds cheap but it is not. I used this link:
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl to compensate for inflation. It turned out that US$ 120 in 1965 is the same as US$ 824.11 in 2009. That is not what I call cheap.

This week I bought a very nice 7 inch Aero Ektar lens for 55 euro. Now that is cheap.

9-Jan-2010, 10:01
I think Chauncey's point is that there were so many "portrait" lenses, and that they were comparable or cheaper in price than standard lenses. If you look at the $3350 PS945 and compare it to regular 210 or 240/250 plasmats at $1200-$1500 or so, then the portrait lenses back when they were commonly made were really cheap.

Chauncey Walden
9-Jan-2010, 11:22
You got the main point, Drew. The other thing was the relative prices of the portrait lenses to each other. And, Frank, sure $120 was a good week's wage, but compare what you paid today for your Aero-Ektar with what it cost then versus what a Pinkham and Smith would cost today versus what it cost then.

Steve Barber
10-Jan-2010, 11:53
1965, when it cost less than $10.00 to fill my 1965 Pontiac Catalina convertible's 26+ gallon tank.

10-Jan-2010, 17:00
389 0r 421?

10-Jan-2010, 17:53
Inflation aside, believe it or not, Chauncey, they became even cheaper! By the mid-1970's when used camera shows were abundant and frequent, the old portrait lenses and large format lenses in general were available in quantity for $50 and less. E-bay and the internet changed all that.


10-Jan-2010, 19:07
E-Bay is obviously what really made things expensive for us. Large format market is small to begin with so there is a big difference between the regional market in a camera swap meet to the International market on Ebay.

Steve Barber
10-Jan-2010, 22:05
389 0r 421?

389 with a 4-bbl.

Frank Bunnik
10-Jan-2010, 23:27
Sorry, I am afraid I misunderstood your point.

Lynn Jones
11-Jan-2010, 14:21
Chauncey, in 1965 I became VP of B&J, the Lens Bank, and Burleigh Brooks Optics for the central states and a couple of Canadian provences.

In late '65 all of these lenses were close outs at the B&J Lens Bank. the P&S and Specer Portland and some of the other portrait soft focus lenses did not sell very well any more. Previously the PS and SP were sold cash in advance against customer order at a somewhat higher price than you are showing, when we booked 6 of them, they were manufactured and sent to the customer. Typically this took about 6 months. After that, I believe another company made and sold some of these specialty lenses. We stopped importing the Cooke lenses and only sold Schneider through BBOI contract and American (Ilex) made B&J and BBOI lenses. B&J included Acutar (tessar type), Acuton (plasmat type), Acugon (super wides) while BBOI's were Acu-Tessar, Acu-Symmetrical, and Brooks Veri wide. All of these identical with Calumet US made and Ilex Paragons. By the way, they were very good lenses. It just happened that through some misfortunes that I would not like to discuss publicly, B&J, BBOI, and Ilex all went "belly up".

I realized what was happening and went back to Texas and started my own businesses for a dozen years and then went to teaching photography.


15-Sep-2011, 16:59
1965, when it cost less than $10.00 to fill my 1965 Pontiac Catalina convertible's 26+ gallon tank.

1988, when it cost $20 to fill my 1967 Ford Galaxie convertible's 20 gallon tank...

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
15-Sep-2011, 17:54
Portrait and soft focus lenses, and just about anything in a barrel, were at their cheapest about 10-20 years ago, when everyone was harping on and on about sharpness and resolution. I bought a big Verito for $25 from Olden's or maybe 47th Street's junk bin in 1990.

16-Sep-2011, 07:12
It just happened that through some misfortunes that I would not like to discuss publicly, B&J, BBOI, and Ilex all went "belly up".Lynn

I always wondered where these guys went. Lynn, it's been over 50 years, how about a hint -- bad management, family squables, labor problems, mob connections, etc?
Thanks, Bill