Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Vanneck Hand Camera

W. Watson & Sons

Name: Vanneck
Type: Single Lens Reflex / Hand & Stand
Manufacturer: W. Watson & Sons
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Wooden bodied, leather covered box with integral reflex mirror assembly that also forms part of the shutter. Folding focusing hood allowing scene to be viewed through taking lens.
Production Period: c1890 - c1908


Plate / Film Size: ¼ plate
Lens: Goerz Patent Double Anastigmat with iris diaphragm 5IN f/7.7, stamped Ross, London, serial number 3983
Shutter: Time & instantaneous according to advert
Movements: None
Dimensions (w x h x l): 12 x 15.5 x 22 cm (approximate)
Date of this Example: c1902
Serial Number: Serial number 122236 stamped into the base of the camera on the tripod support block
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [ ]
  • Scarce [x]
Inventory Number: 674



The Vanneck was advertised as a Hand camera by Watsons, but could be classed as a Detective camera or Reflex camera. According to McKeown [1] it is the first reflex camera to have an instant return mirror. The maker's name is shown on a rectangular label on the inside of the lid covering the changing bag.

Like the Talbot & Eamer Miral, the Vanneck allows the user to view the scene through a reflex viewer that uses the taking lens, and allows the image to be focused on a ground glass screen built into the top of the camera and viewed through a hood. The mirror assembly forms part of the shutter, so the mirror flips up automatically during the exposure.

This example also has a traditional reflecting finder built into the body that could be used for portrait format pictures. According to the Royal Photographic Society catalogue entry for the year, this "improvement" was first shown in 1893. Unfortunately the front lens on this auxiliary finder on this example has come unstuck from the inside of the front face and is floating inside the cavity.

The plateholders (12) are held in a reservoir at the back of the camera, with a changing bag built into a removable block that fits above the reservoir. A key on the back of the camera lifts the rearmost plateholder upwards into the bag so that it can then be grasped by the user and moved to the front, ready for exposure. A counter is provided in the centre of the back, tripped by the operation of the T-key that lifts the plate.

Focusing is achieved by turning a key located on the underside of the camera, The disk below the key has a scale marked on it, although this is now barely legible. The knob acts on a simple brass rack and pinion within the camera that causes the frame holding the lens assembly to move back and forth inside the camera body.

There is an additional lever at the rear of the underside that moves between two fixed screw sand has the remains of a spring attached at the moving end, but the purpose of this is unclear. There is no mechanism on the reverse of the base panel (inside the camera). However checking against an example owned by another collector, the spring was several inches long originally and was attached to the lever used to set the shutter, though quite for what purpose is not clear.

The Goerz lens was apparently listed by Ross between 1896 and about 1902, and appears to be original to the camera.

There is a thick wooden block on the underside of the camera that carries a tripod bush. There is a second tripod bush built into the side of the camera for portait use. At the front edge of the bottom panel is an odd metal plate that is unlikely to be original to the camera, as it shows the Primus trade mark around one of the fixing screw heads, and Patented around the other. The purpose of this bracket is not yet known.

The shutter controls are activated from the bottom panel,with one lever to set the shutter and another to release it. It is not clear how the timed operation is made to work. However examination of later adverts and an eample blonging to another collector suggests there should be a cord exiting through the top of the body just in front of the hinged cover for the focusing hood. There is a hole in that position on this camera, but no cord. It might be that this controls the timed function, perhaps simply by acting directly on the mirror.

<Photographs to be added>


The camera name is not shown on the label. Watsons identify it as "Vanneck" in their 1893 BJPA advert, but some references also identify it as "Van Neck".

Comparing the adverts in the 1899 and 1904 BJPAs, there was a significant design change at some point between those dates. The earlier adverts show a top handle, whereas the later cameras such as this example have lugs on the front and rear faces to which the handle was fixed. The handle itself is missing on this example. However it might be that the ealier adverts were based on a diagram generated before the final design used for manufacture was set? None of the four examples of the Vanneck camera that I have seen so far match the pattern shown in the early adverts. The later adverts also describe two qualities, "Best" and "Second". In the Best the woodwork is mahogany, while it is whitewood for the Second, and likewise the covering is stated as being of finest morroco for the Best and sole leather for the Second. The example shown here is of mahogany (confirmed after removal of the base).

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.