Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Unknown Field Camera

Walter Lawley

Name: Unknown Field Camera
Manufacturer: Walter Lawley
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Spanish mahogany with distinctive ebony binding to the side panels. Dovetail joints and brass fittings. Dark mauve leather square cornered bellows.
Production Period:  


Plate / Film Size: ½ plate
Lens: Walter Lawley lens, serial #530, unknown type, aperture control by waterhouse stops
Shutter: None
Movements: Rising front, tilting front and back. Reversible back (portrait / landscape)
Dimensions (w x h x l): 20.5 x 22 x 7cms (closed, excluding lens)
Date of this Example: c1890
Serial Number: No serial found (yet)
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [ ]
  • Scarce [x]
Inventory Number: 669


Very well made ½ plate field camera with very fine dovetail joints. Interestingly the top edge of the side panels of the rear standard are reinforced with an ebony strip. The front lens standard is mounted between brass outriggers that slide beneath the brass rails affixed to the lens board.

The camera body appears to be made of a mixture of Spanish mahogany for the sides (wide, multi-coloured grain), with Honduras mahogany (close grain) for the base board, lens board and back. The side panels are reinforced with a narrow strip of ebony, much in the same way as the "The British" field camera by Chapman.

The brass lens is marked Walter Lawley / Optician [indistinct] / 76 Farringdon Street / No 530. It has a slot for waterhouse stops (missing).

The camera carries a clear label on one side identifying Walter Lawley as Manufacturer. It lists two addresses: 76 Farringdon Street E.C, "AND LATE 8 Coventry Street London W" (see Notes).

The brasswork is in good order. Screw heads are all aligned.

Maroon square section bellows (double extension), which are in very good condition. Rising front, tilting front and back. Reversible back (portrait / landscape). It is fitted with a rotating turntable marked "Royalty".


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The Coventry Street address is not mentioned in Channing & Dunn, but investigation has found a Lawley advert in an online copy of Photographic News dated July 1888 that shows both addresses, so hence the best guess at the date of this camera as being about 1890. It might be that the "LATE" in small font size to the left of the address is an amendment to an earlier label to correct it after the address ceased to be used. Coventry Street was to be significantly remodelled and developed during the late 1880s and early 1890s, including the opening of the Trocadero restaurant in 1896 by J. Lyons & Co.

There is some wear and tear to this example, which hints at a possible design flaw. The lens panel is made up of two thin layers of mahogany, with several joints. Three screws are used to fix the small brass plate that forms a key part of the slider assembly to the edge of the panel. The panel has split on one side at this mounting point, as can be seen in several of the photos shown on this page. This makes it quite difficult to slide the assembly on its tracks on the baseboard as it is not as stable or rigid as it should be.