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spotmatic
20-Jan-2011, 05:08
I appear to have bought a brass rack & pinion lens marked "John Vilt", "Portrait" and "13x18". This according to the seller who did not know what it was. I don't even know how large the lens is. But it's on its way to me now.

I hope it's a Petzval-type lens. It has a slot for waterhouse stops and on both the front and rear end there are glass elements. The name "JOHN VILT" is engraved in capitals.

I'd guess this lens is from the 1880's or thereabouts. I have googled the name, but it is clear to me that it's a rebranded lens from one of the "mainstream" lens makers (like Darlot, Emil Busch, Hetc.). John Vilt may be a camera maker, but I have found only one example so far: http://collectiblend.com/Cameras/Vilt,John/Field-Camera.html

That's about it. I've found no other interesting/applicable information regarding John Vilt. Anyone knows more about this maker and the approximate date of the lens?

http://www.plaatjesupload.nl/bekijk/2011/01/18/1295324170-720.jpg

http://www.plaatjesupload.nl/bekijk/2011/01/18/1295324228-980.jpg

Jim Galli
20-Jan-2011, 07:27
This is surely a petzval type. I don't see any family resemblances that would lead me to say who it's maker was. Maybe John had visions of giving Voigtlaender a run for his money and built 10 lenses before he went broke. It looks like 1860's - 80's to me though.

spotmatic
20-Jan-2011, 07:37
Thanks Jim! So my idea of its age appears to be correct. However, I have an additional question: at that time, was it common for lenses to be rebranded? I often see wooden field cameras for sale with no maker's name on them, but only a tag of the shop where they were bought. Did the same happen with lenses around the 1870's?

Jim Galli
20-Jan-2011, 10:27
Thanks Jim! So my idea of its age appears to be correct. However, I have an additional question: at that time, was it common for lenses to be rebranded? I often see wooden field cameras for sale with no maker's name on them, but only a tag of the shop where they were bought. Did the same happen with lenses around the 1870's?

Not entirely sure. By 1890 it was very common for the big retail houses to put their names on. Walzl in Baltimore is an example of an early adopter. I have a lens the same age as yours with his name on it. Hopeful that others will comment also.

spotmatic
20-Jan-2011, 12:38
Well, I just received it! I have disassembled it a bit and it looks like it's a Petzval design indeed (the back element is almost flat; the front is a cemented pair). I have not disassembled the back elements yet because I don't want to rush too much :)

It's a nice lens though. No apparent scratches, a bit dirty glass but that cleaned up nicely. The focusing mechanism works fairly smooth. What else can I ask for?

Here it is, standing next to my SMC Pentax-FA* 85mm F1.4 [IF] for size comparison:

http://i385.photobucket.com/albums/oo293/spotmatic/JohnViltPetzval/johnvlt00.jpg

spotmatic
24-Jan-2011, 03:22
So far I have not found anything about this mr. John Vilt. Nothing, I only found my own topics regarding this lens :)

By now I had the lens completely disassembled. And it's indeed a Petzval: a cemented doublet in front and two airspaced glasses in the back. No writings on the rims of the elements, sadly. The black ring on the front of the shade does not appear to be original; I removed it and it seems it can be used as a flange. At least it screws into the screw mount of the lens.

This "13 x 18" marking, is that supposed to be in centimeters?

Steven Tribe
24-Jan-2011, 04:51
Yes, the 13x18cm is the Continental European version of 5x7" (or 7x5").
Why a retail outlet (or import agency) would put a cm coverage on an obvious American/UK market item is a puzzle. May be a rebranded French/German Petzval rather than a B&L (etc) rebranding?

spotmatic
24-Jan-2011, 05:02
Thanks for your reply! FYI: I'm living in The Netherlands (Europe for those who did sleep during their geography classes :P) and the lens was bought here also. The seller did not even know that it was a lens.

Is it an obvious UK/USA market item because of the name and "Portrait"?

I have been searching through old Dutch newspapers, but to no avail. I'll try to search through English newspapiers.

Steven Tribe
24-Jan-2011, 05:25
I have seen your previous postings elsewhere - nice images.
I think I have solved the question of origin.
We need a German speaker/reader to clear it up, though - through german language google. In spite of the "John" there was a John Vilt in Austria (the old empire remember!) who was born in Austria about the middle 19th Century. Vienna, and elsewhere in Austria, had lots of small camera makers and objective makers.
My guess is he was a small camera maker and this lens was mounted on one of his 13x18 cameras. English text? Export reasons, perhaps?

spotmatic
24-Jan-2011, 05:29
Thanks again Steve! Living next to Germany it's not rare for us to have been teached German at high school, so I can read German perfectly. Thanks for the lead, I'll now try the German Google! Of course, if I know more I'll post it here.

goamules
24-Jan-2011, 05:29
I find reference to this maker mark in two European Photo Review mags from 1905 and 07. That's all I can find. The knob and black band below the hood look french.

http://books.google.com/books?id=vLgaAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22john%20vilt%22%20photographic&pg=RA1-PA12#v=onepage&q=john%20vilt&f=false

http://books.google.com/books?id=cLoaAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22john%20vilt%22%20lens&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q=john%20vilt&f=false

spotmatic
24-Jan-2011, 05:50
Well spotted Garrett, thank you! It appears to be the same maker indeed. He seems to have sold "Planastigmat" and "Extra-Rapid" lenses. So now I have a few leads to investigate...

Steven Tribe
24-Jan-2011, 06:27
If you had listed "The Netherlands" in your profile - it would have made things a little easier. When there is no country, we all assume that it must be the US. Hence all the contributions about America Retail names! I think this was camera plus lens sale from Vilt, as European lenses at this time usually have No. sizes rathe than plate sizes.

Sevo
24-Jan-2011, 07:39
We need a German speaker/reader to clear it up, though - through german language google. In spite of the "John" there was a John Vilt in Austria (the old empire remember!) who was born in Austria about the middle 19th Century.

Found that one. Born 1875 of unspecified Austrian origin, an American by 1919 registers, surname Vilt entirely unknown in easily accessible Austrian registers of the time - chances are that he assumed the name upon immigration into the US. Wrong guy, he is too young to be a lens maker in the latter 19th century time frame, and would, as an American (after he assumed that name), hardly have used metric designations.

Sevo

PS: I see, my original suspicion of a Dutch origin has been confirmed.

Steven Tribe
24-Jan-2011, 08:14
No it someone born around 1850.
Under previous auctions "Invaluable" has 3 combinations camera/lens attributed to John Vilt - plus a "John Vilt" objective on a bizarre wet plate reproduction item. Sales were in Germany and the UK - with lenses described as RR. There is no garantee that the camera maker was J. Vilt as auctioneers often just read what is inscribed on the barrel lens. Seems to be the standard mahogany tailback - the illustrated 18x24 is rather splendid.
I am aware that dutch Vilt means "Felt" in english translation.

Two23
24-Jan-2011, 08:32
The black ring on the lens looks like a filter adapter. I've been thinking of putting one on my Petzval so I can screw in 60mm filters such as a vari-ND and colored filters.


Kent in SD

Sevo
24-Jan-2011, 08:58
No it someone born around 1850.


Well, perhaps a sr. and jr, or more distant relations. But never mind, neither can have been the one we're looking for.

Vilt is a Dutch (or rather, Limburgs) place name as well, and place names frequently made it into surnames, while it is no word or place in German.

Sevo

spotmatic
24-Jan-2011, 09:20
Thanks everyone! Yes, I should add my location to my profile. But nevertheless, I like the new leads. I haven't searched on Invaluable previously, although I know the field camera presented there. The other one with a photo is interesting too (see attachment).

I also found a camera in France.

spotmatic
25-Jan-2011, 04:52
A little update. I have searched extensively for a photographer named "John Vilt" in The Netherlands (there is a large Carte de Visite database of photographers in The Netherlands), but I didn't find one. It's true that "Vilt" is a small village in the Dutch province of Limburg, but it's very small (it does not even have its own church), so I think it's not very plausible that the man (or his ancestors) we're looking for has a connection with that village.

On top of that I have been looking for Victorian photographers in the UK with the "Vilt" name. The name does not exist in all of the registers I checked.

Why searching for photographers/photo studios? Because I think John Vilt could be a Photo shop owner with a studio. I don't think I'm very far off with that; how big are the chances that John Vilt was trying to start his own lens making factory? But it's still possible of course.

According to some of the previous links there were a few John Vilt lenses sold in France (and the tailboard camera in a bad shape in the post above was also sold in France). So I'll continue my search in France for now... Starting with Paris.

Steven Tribe
25-Jan-2011, 07:10
The chances of finding a "John" in France at this time are about zero. France and the UK were still culturally at war (mid 19th C) and a child called John instead of Jean would not have been baptised or have survived childhood! Think Anglophile nations mid century!

eddie
26-Jan-2011, 04:07
do you also own this camera? it looks perfect....i want one....:)

Steven Tribe
26-Jan-2011, 04:19
The auction description said "reproduction". Really eccentric metal work!

Sevo
26-Jan-2011, 05:38
It's true that "Vilt" is a small village in the Dutch province of Limburg, but it's very small (it does not even have its own church), so I think it's not very plausible that the man (or his ancestors) we're looking for has a connection with that village.

Even though the majority of surnames obviously originated with places or professions, almost nobody has a surname which is traceable to an actual ancestors origin or profession - we usually only assume the latter by surname rather than vice versa.

Vilt is a Dutch word and place name, and as such has better roots there than in any other (likely) European language, which makes it most likely a Dutch name. And John, while no Dutch name proper, is at least Frisian and as such not uncommon in the Netherlands. Dutch names are all over Europe, though, and many a bearer of such a surname has no known connection to Dutch speaking regions any more, so that does not prove an origin.

The chances that a camera bought in the Netherlands from a maker with a Dutch name originated significantly elsewhere (i.e. beyond the related languages of Belgium or adjacent Germany) are rather slim. Finding a smaller maker or camera shop without knowing a place name might be near impossible though.

goamules
26-Jan-2011, 06:27
I'm going along with this tangent. Have you seen this website study? http://worldnames.publicprofiler.org/ You put in a name and it shows where the name occurs most, today. Vilt is showing up more in Hungary than anywhere else, though there are a lot in the Netherlands and Austria.

Steven Tribe
26-Jan-2011, 06:45
I still think he was located in the old Austria-Hungarian Empire. Vilt is a surname (now also in the US!) in the Bohemia/Moravia region that was! A search using modern day Austria wouldn't find him.
This was first posted about 30 minutes - but must have got lost!

spotmatic
26-Jan-2011, 07:42
Thanks for the most interesting links - again! Interestingly (but of course coincidentally) Joseph Petzval is from what then was Upper Hungary. That the name is possibly Hungarian doesn't make the research any easier, but it's one step closer to the truth :)

Maybe I should also check if there were Hungarian camera makers in the late 19th century...

Sevo
26-Jan-2011, 07:46
I still think he was located in the old Austria-Hungarian Empire. Vilt is a surname (now also in the US!) in the Bohemia/Moravia region that was! A search using modern day Austria woudn't find him.


I doubt Bohemia is the right direction. Slovakia would be a better bet, having a considerable Hungarian minority. The name is Hungarian - but the given name John would be very much out of line there (while it was used in parts of the Netherlands and Germany). Of course, he may have assumed a more international spelling of Johannes/JŠnos to promote his business abroad - but why did only a handful of objects survive if he was dealing at such a scope?

The name does not occur anywhere in http://www.photohistory.at/ or the documents linked there, and a early Austrian photography expert I am acquainted with does not know it either. Maybe digging through the registers of Budapest or PreŖburg/Bratislava might turn him up, but the history of photography in imperial Austria is unusually well researched - there can't be that many unknown actors on that stage. If he really was from there and is not already known, he left so little traces that he'll be incredibly hard to identify.

The closest which we have to a location is "our" lens, recently sold in the Netherlands, and a camera offered used in 1908 in Northern France. The former of course is relatively vague - the majority of cameras should have been relocated over a considerable distance between then and now and lenses were sold and shipped over greater distances. But the latter makes it rather likely that the origin is somewhere within the major region - transport was disproportionally more expensive back then, and entire cameras did not that often get shipped across a continent unless they were very unusual in their properties or from a famous maker.

Steven Tribe
26-Jan-2011, 08:40
In addition there are these 2 (could have been the same set which went from one auction house to another in 1998). No photos available. Could also be one of those recently sold.

View Lot Details
Lot 804: A Mahogany Tailboard Camera with brass mounts the brass lens possibly adapted engraved John Vilt, Rapid Rectilinear, 18 x 18 10in high
A Mahogany Tailboard Camera with brass mounts the brass lens possibly adapted engraved John Vilt, Rapid Rectilinear, 18 x 18 10in high

Rosebery's: United Kingdom

Auction Date: 1998



View Lot Details
Lot 349: A mahogany continental pattern tailboard camera circa 1870 the wooden body with brass fittings, leather bellows and a John Vilt rapid rectilinear brass bound lens, lacking glass focusing screen and dark slides
A mahogany continental pattern tailboard camera circa 1870 the wooden body with brass fittings, leather bellows and a John Vilt rapid rectilinear brass bound lens, lacking glass focusing screen and dark slides

Sotheby's: United Kingdom

Auction Date: 1998

spotmatic
30-Jan-2011, 03:39
I've got the flu at the moment, so researching is a little bit hard for me. But based on the latest information I've tried to contact Michael Pritchard from the UK, Christie's The Fine Art Auction House's former Photographic Specialist. Much to my surprise he did reply. Based on his reply, which stated that he does not known any "Vilt" related to the UK photographic industry, coupled to the fact that all of the examples shown are continental pattern cameras and the lens marked 13x18(cm), it's clear that John Vilt is an European maker.

In my collection I have a 1991's book "Cameras from Belgium and Holland" and while many wooden field cameras/tailboards are shown, there's no mention whatsoever of "John Vilt".

So for now it seems a good idea to continue my research in mainland Europe. I'll not write off France at this moment, but central Europe seems to be the area I should investigate further. I'll try to contact someone from Hungary (Budapest) to see if he can help me with my research.