Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Watson Tropical Alpha Camera

W. Watson & Sons

Name: Tropical Alpha
Type: Hand & Stand / Tropical
Manufacturer: W. Watson & Sons
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Brass bound mahogany body with brass fittings. The camera is quite compact folding up to a cubic form. 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)
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Plate / Film Size: ½ plate
Lens: None (mounting flange only)
Shutter: None
Movements: Rising front, swing back
Dimensions (w x h x l):  
Date of this Example: c1905?
Serial Number: Serial 12829 on the underside of the box body
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [x]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 503


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The Watson Tropical Alpha is a mahogany box form hand or tripod camera with additional brass binding for tropical use. The camera has limited movement (rising front, swing back, rack focussing adjustment). Watson name plate fitted to baseboard adjacent to the focus scale. This is a ½ plate model. It has double extension, square section bellows in a very dark maroon colour (appears black in dim light).

There are tree or four brass binding strips to each tongue and grooved joint. Plus four on the underside of the baseboard. Brasswork has lost some of its lacquer, but is in good general condition.

This 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. There are three focussing scales for 12¼ IN, 10¼ IN (on one combined inset scale) and 6 ½ IN. So presumably the camera was originally fitted with a convertible lens.

Unusually, this camera has the capability to drop the baseboard to allow a wide angle lens to be used. This was standard fitting on the later leather covered Alpha De Luxe, but is not something I have seen before on an early example.

There was no lend with the camera and the lens board is a much later DIY replacement.

The top of the box carries an inset retailers badge for 'Sands, Hunter & Co Ltd.'. According to Channing & Dunn [2], this was used from 1915, so clearly must have been a later addition, following resale maybe? The Watson name plate is for 'W. Watson & Sons', and it has an early serial number of 12829, though as yet I am unable to pin this to a specific date (see notes below).


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.