Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Watson Alpha Camera

W. Watson & Sons

Name: Alpha
Type: Hand & Stand
Manufacturer: W. Watson & Sons
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Leather covered mahogany body with brass fittings. The camera is quite compact folding up to a cubic form. This example has a full range of movement (rise & cross front, swing back, rack focussing adjustment).
The camera was produced over a long period and there were many subtle and various changes to the design, though these are very difficult to date with any precision. (Refer to text).
Production Period: 1892 - 1930+ (see notes)


Model / Variant: Leather covered model (possibly sold as a De Luxe - see text)
Plate / Film Size: 5 x 4 plate (adapted to ¼ plate)
Lens: Clermont & Gilmer Lightening Rectilinear
Shutter: None
Movements: Rising & cross front, swing back.
Dimensions (w x h x l):  
Date of this Example: c1900?
Serial Number: None
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [x]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 498

<Photographs to be added>


This Watson Alpha is a leather covered box form hand or tripod camera, with a full range of movement (rise & cross front, swing back, rack focussing adjustment). The Watson name plate is fitted to lens board adjacent to the focus scale. It has fittings for the separate optional finder (refer to the advert in the A-Z of Photographic Advertising). The camera was originally set for 5 x 4 plate format but has been adapted by a previous owner to ¼ plate by a reducing adapter (home made). It has double extension, square section bellows in a very dark maroon colour (appears black in dim light).

This Alpha is likely to be a relatively early example, judging by the format, notably the very simple structure of the lens board and side rails use to pull the camera out to focussing range. The focussing scale has dual markings for 'SLIDES' and 'CHg BOX' (presumably Changing Box'). The fact that it is leather covered and has movements to the rear suggests that it might be an early De Luxe version (the later pattern De Luxe is quite different), but this is supposition only.

The previous user has added several additional scales, suggesting that it was used with a series of different lenses.

The Clermont & Gilmor lens carries no obvious serial number. The Lightning Rectilinear is not mentioned explicitly in the Lens Vade Mecum [10].

The top of the box carries a retailers badge for 'The Westminster Photographic Exchange Ltd.'. According to Channing & Dunn [2], they became a limited company in 1907. The Watson name plate is for 'W. Watson & Sons', so if this camera was retailed by Westminster Photographic Exchange on manufacture it must date to 1907 or later, but this seems much later than other evidence would suggest. Perhaps it was sold second hand and badged by Westminster Photographic Exchange at that stage?

There may be a section missing across the front of the focus slider as there are two empty screw holes, which are countersunk from the underside. It seems likely that originally there was a piece of mahogany across the front to prevent the slider coming right out of the rails.


I am engaged in some research into cameras made by W. Watson & Sons in order to try and establish some guidance on likely manufacturing date based upon the serial number. This is in fact quite difficult to do currently as many patterns of Watson cameras were made for very long periods with few significant design changes.

If you have a Watson camera, then I would be grateful if you could provide me with further information about your camera, even if it is not serialised. Please refer to the Watson Research Project page for further information.