View Full Version : Tracing Previous Owners of Vintage Lenses

Steve S
02-28-2014, 04:26 AM
I have always been intrigued by the life history of some of the items in my camera collection. However it is unusual to be able to establish previous ownership. Occasionally cheap folding cameras may have the owners name and address written inside the case.
Recently I bought a brass rapid rectilinear lens of 5x7 coverage. It was Inscribed 'Chevalett, Opticien, Paris Rapid Rectilinear 5x7' and ' PACKER Hanley '.
I was unable to find out much about the Chevalett Optician in Paris. However a speculative Google search turned up some listings from the Staffordshire Photographers Index drawn from Trade Directories (1861-1940). It would seem that this lens was previously owned by Frederick G Packer of 34 Pall Mall Hanley, Stafforshire, United Kingdom. His studio was listed as active in 1896.

I was for some reason ridiculously pleased about this, so much so that I feel impelled to pass on the news.
It joins only two other items in my collection with a known provenance. I have a 270mm f6 Cooke Aviar Series IIIB previously owned by a gentleman named Geoff Senior who specialised in automobile photography. Also a 1939 Leica III with the name ' Otto Muller ' scratched onto the baseplate. I would love to know where that camera has been.

Anyone else have items of interesting provenance that they would like to share?83267

02-28-2014, 06:47 AM
If camera and lenses could speak ... :)
What I like as well is when I find some film in old camera that I bought, that is like time traveling.

Question: do you plan to put your name on camera and lenses that you use, so one day somebody else can check the internet for you :)?

02-28-2014, 07:16 AM
no, I do not plan to ever give them up.

Steve Roberts
02-28-2014, 07:44 AM
This would be interesting to know about so many of our cameras. If only they were registered with a central body such as DVLA do with cars .... then again maybe not as the government would then be quick to find a way to tax camera usage (apart from VAT!)

I once bought a Pentax ES2 in a second hand shop (before the days of eBay) and found a name and address inside the case. I tracked down that person, who was the previous owner, had owned the camera for many years and had been around the world with it as he'd served in the Merchant Navy. I'd love to have list of all the places the camera has been, but the chap wasn't very forthcoming with information. Perhaps I'd phoned him in the middle of Coronation Street!
Best wishes,

02-28-2014, 08:07 AM
This thread reminded me about a quote from Ken Rockwells M3 review: :)

"Most LEICA M3s sold today come from owners who have left this world; like any other masterpiece, the timeless LEICA M3 outlives its mortal owners."

Richard S. (rich815)
02-28-2014, 08:24 AM
One of my cameras has a social security number etched into the back. Funny that there was a time that using SS#'s to keep something identified for yourself was actually not that uncommon.

02-28-2014, 09:16 AM
This would be interesting to know about so many of our cameras. If only they were registered with a central body such as DVLA do with cars .... then again maybe not as the government would then be quick to find a way to tax camera usage (apart from VAT!)
Best wishes,

They don't track that stuff for no reason. Taxes and surveillance would be motives for cameras. If you use a registered digital camera to record something illegal or subversive, they'll track down the serial number in the exif data and you'll be an inteilligence target. Bad guys will have film cameras. Jaguar is saying it's good to be bad?

In this country we're resisting the registration of guns. The state of Connecticut is requiring registration of semiautomatic rifles, and practically nobody is registering. On cars, we get taxed on sales, annual registration, and at the fuel pump (we have it easy at the pump compared to europe), maybe with cameras we'd have big taxes on memory cards and film and inkjet ink and all photo supplies? It's more of a luxury than cars.

02-28-2014, 11:47 AM
I have two lenses that I wished I knew more of their provenance: a 14 1/2" Verito, which I bought from an individual dealer. He said that the lens was used to photograph the Beatles, when they first came to America in 1964. Alas, I never asked who the photographer was. I'm curious about the name on a second lens - an Aldis Anastigmat that I bought from a dealer in India. Stamped/engraved on the side is the name "Babajee Sakharam & Co Bombay". Was this an individual photographer, who had ordered this British lens from England, or, I suppose more likely, an Indian dealer in British lenses? A simple Google search doesn't turn up anything.

Knowing some small tidbit of a lens's history make them special.


02-28-2014, 12:04 PM
I have a few cameras and film holders with previous owners' names or notes associated, but the only ones where I know anything more than a name are the ones handed down within the family.

My Speed Graphic has a whole mess of reference information written on it; you can tell what lenses the previous owner had, that s/he favored Tri-X and used several different types of flash bulbs, and there's a whole table of numerology that I've never managed to decode at all. Whatever it was, they wrote it out meticulously and taped the notes carefully in place on the bed for quick reference, so it must have been fairly important. (I've been working on reconstructing the original kit; I think the only think I'm missing is the 100mm, which I theorize was a WF-Ektar in shutter.)

For some reason I never thought of adding my name to the "roll call" on any of this stuff, but maybe I should for the benefit of future spelunkers. At least my great-grandfather's Voigtlaender Bergheil should have a note in the case about its provenance.


02-28-2014, 12:13 PM
I looked at a very old Burke & James camera a few months ago, in AZ, that was engraved as 'E Kolb'. No way to prove anything, but it's fun to speculate that it was used by the Kolb Brothers while dangling off the side of the Grand Canyon.

02-28-2014, 03:01 PM
Not a camera but my copy of "Corrective Photography" by Kellsey was signed to John Palmer from Merle Deardorff.
John E Palmer was a Galveston Texas photographer of 1916 to 1960 vintage, who mostly photographed African-Americans.

E. von Hoegh
03-01-2014, 01:27 PM
I picked up a 9 1/2" Goerz NY Dagor in an early Compound at a show. Scribed on the back of the front plate of the shutter is the name "Wm H. Pfister Cinti. Oh." and a date in 1915. The lens' serial dates it to about 1910.
William Henry Pfister - http://www.surveyhistory.org/herman_pfister.htm

My Deardorff V8 has a SSN on it, I looked it up (you can do this with numbers belonging to the deceased) but neglected to make any notes.

03-10-2014, 08:22 PM
The name and address of what I believe was the original owner of my 1920s 9x12cm Ica Universal Palmos 275 camera was written inside the viewing hood. I did some research and found a few 9x12cm negative scans in the archives of the Library of Congress from the WPA taken by the same person, so I am pretty sure the same camera was used.

I agree, it's pretty neat to know the history behind things. I wish I knew more about the previous owners of our house and why they made some of the remodeling decisions they did!


03-10-2014, 08:44 PM
when i was living outside of boston i used to go to ep levines all the time, they were at the drydock still
they had a case full of barrel lenses, some cheap some cheaper, some xerox machine process stuff some more expensive ..
it was a thursday and i was there poking around. my pal paul wasn't there at the time, but an older guy named mike was attempting to sell me
something telephoto for my speed graphic. unfortunately his idea of telephoto wasn't really a very long focal length, and more like a 7" ...
anyways, a guy behind me saw me eagerly trying t extricate myself from the sale and tapped me on the shoulder. he gave me his phone number on
a slip of paper and said, " i have the lens you probably want " ...
a few days later, maybe a week, i called him, arranged a visit, and voyaged to central square, blank check in pocket ...
i found his house. he had a 4x5 telegraphic in the window with a monster of a 15" teleoptar on the front. he had the camera pointed out the window,
made and exposure peeled apart the polaroid and showed it to me ..
i paid him the $$ he asked for ( can't remember how much it was, maybe $50 - 100 ? ) and rode home to somerville.
i dug up a round cornered lensboard and put it on my camera and started to use it almost immediately ... it was perfect.
i talked to my friend across the hall about the lens, and told him the story behind it.

he laughed ..

he said the guy's name again ...
and then told me the story behind the lens ..
he said the fellow who sold me the lens was a teacher in town ..
and he pointed to my place and said this studio you live in was built by him ...
and he looked at the lens smiled and i laughed as i put it on the shelf it probably sat on 20 years before.

a little while later i was on the corner of boylston and washington streets in the combat zone
it was about 8am and the wrecking ball and pincers were pulling down the hotel avery.
i climbed up and stood on one of the switch boxes across the street and took a few photographs
and the head reference librarian from the mbta looked up at me and laughed ...
he told me the betty crocker cooking school was in the hotel avery ... and at one point everyone who was anyone
in the city had a room in that hotel ... there was just a pile or rubble soon after ..
(in the 16x20 you can read the room numbers on the doors )

Richard S. (rich815)
03-10-2014, 10:57 PM
Awesome story!

Bill Burk
03-10-2014, 11:47 PM
...he pointed to my place and said this studio you live in was built by him ...
and he looked at the lens smiled and i laughed as i put it on the shelf it probably sat on 20 years before.

There is no possible story that can beat yours...

Anybody know Linda Zackelfoose? I've got her Rollei 35.

Richard S. (rich815)
03-11-2014, 12:03 AM
I've got Joe C. Tuomy's Rolleiflex SL66 kit. At least that's the name on the engraved plate on the Rollei hammered-steel camera carrying case I got it in.

03-11-2014, 07:36 AM
bill + richard .. thanks ..
i wish i could remember that guy's name ...