View Full Version : Novice, plate camera find - any info/help much appreciated !

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bill spears
07-10-2009, 12:46 PM
Was chuffed to bits to find this at a local auction room yesterday. It's a whole plate, manufactured by 'Billcliff' - I think that's Joshua Billcliff of Manchester England ?? The lens is a Dallmeyer portrait anastigmat 12" F4.5. Unfortunately the elements are very cloudy and hazy. It's difficult to tell where the haze lies, ie: on the inside or the the outside of the glass. Ive unscrewed the rear element so I'm left with the lens separated in two parts but can't work out if there are any further elements within each section. What's the deal with getting this clean or is it possibly beyond cleaning ??

The camera seems in remarkably good condition inc the bellows and definately hasn't had a lot of use judging by the the lack of any wear marks, dings and rubs etc. I'm guessing the period to be around the late 1800's ?? Can't really work out all the plate holders and how they function yet and I expect it's gonna be a long haul before I ever get to actually using this beast !! Would it be possible to adapt the back to take sheet film and what roughly would be the max size I could cover ?

Any info or suggestions most welcome


Ian Grant
07-10-2009, 01:09 PM
Hi Bill, those look like sliding backs so you slide the screen over and insert the dark-slide.

It'll depend what's wrong with the lens, is the balsams damaged then it need disassembly, cleaning, re-cementing etc an expensive business. Although some have done it themselves :D The lens is quite desirable to many.

Looks like a Packard type shutters fitted behind the lens, there were UK shutters which pre-date Packard's.

Better to make a new back so as to keep the camera intact. You don't give the dimensions but it'ssprobably Whole plate so a 7x5 back might be a good idea.


bill spears
07-10-2009, 01:49 PM
Thanks for that Ian.

Must admit, am a bit out of my depth with this stuff but totally fascinated with it though ! I think for the time being it's gonna just be a display piece but hopefully will put it into operation when I gain more knowledge.

I dont think it's a balsam problem with the lens. The glass just looks very cloudy - kind of like when you breathe onto the glass. Very difficult to tell whether it's on an inside or outside surface though.
On the shutter, looking inside the camera there's a label that says 'Dallmeyer, London' so dont know if they made shutters aswell ?

I'd love to know what that 'mirror frame thingy' is aswell ?? - top left in the photo

07-10-2009, 01:58 PM
Looks like a full plate camera with reduction frames for smaller sizes.
Wow what a beauty ! And what a find !
Cleaning up the lens can be tricky, a repairman has to hold it in his hands and see for him self you give you any idea of what is wrong with it and what can be done about it and the cost involved.

The Dallmeyer is a very desirable lens.

If you can have it cleaned I would building a modern back for it aswell and keep all the original pieces.
In that way you can photograph with it and still retain it value.


Ian Grant
07-10-2009, 02:12 PM
Don't know what the mirror thing is, but I should I've seen one before.

The Dalmeyer Pantent Portrait lens dates I think from 1866. You can maybe find something here (http://www.antiquecameras.net/petzvallens.html). I have a Wray lens of maybe the same rough vintage, same focal length, the elements unscrew, easy to clean with care. I use glass cleaning fluid and it restored a Dagor that I was assured had separation, it had 70 years of accumulated grime that was all :D

Try careful cleaning :)

My guess is probably right that you're camera is Whole-plate at the most, my own early 12" rectilinear lens is designated for 8"x5" (with movements), but yours is a Portrait lens so a touch longer than a standard lens.

I have some old books 1880's with Dallmeyer equipment in but they are in storage back in the UK or I'd scan and send you what I have.


07-13-2009, 03:09 AM
Hi Bill,

I'm a little puzzled by the lens being called a 'Portrait Anastigmat'. The name is almost a contradiction in terms

The Dallmeyer Portrait lens was of the Petzval type, Ian has already posted you a link to information on this.

The Pertzval lens has four pieces of glass, the front two being compound (stuck together ;) )

"Anastigmat" was first coined by Carl Zeiss in 1889. I simply don't know when the word would have appeared on a Dallmeyer lens, but obviously later than this. An anastigmat lens is more highly corrected than the Petzval and so may contain more glass, but without finding more info on the lens I'm not sure of the configuration, so can't advise exactly how to dismantle it. A quick google didn't help. I've several Dallmeyer lenses in my collection, but alas not this one. I might be able to find something in my books, I'll report back if I do.

Some general advice, though... the lens is probably 100 years old or so. Leaving it as it is for a little longer will not do any harm. Incorrect cleaning or cross threading the elements when re-assembling could scrap it completely.

Cleaning isn't difficult, but I've seen some terrible adviced given out on the interwebby thingy. DO NOT be tempted to rub the lens gently with a blob of toothpaste on your finger!!! :o Do not use acetone, either, it seperates the cemented surfaces. The safest solvent to use is probably either pure propanol or ethanol. There are better solvents to use but they are difficult to obtain, these days. Thanks to all the health and saftety rules modern 'Lens cleaning solution' is usually mostly water with a bit detergent and maybe a spot of propanol it. It doesn't do any harm to the lens but isn't that good a cleaning it either ;) The idea is to try and wash the lens, rather than scrub it with a dry lens cloth. If it is very mucky then you will end up with a scratched lens. A good technique is to blow off as much dust as you can first, use wooden cotton budes dipped in the solvent of your choice and gently work around in a spiral from the centre to the outside. Keep changing the bud and expect to take a good few minutes going over each surface several times. Be careful not to get compound lenses too wet, there is a risk of capillary action pulling the solution into the edges of the lens mount and ultimately even between the elements. Lens surfaces that were inside the barrel really shouldn't be that dirty and a gentle clean with a little solvent on a cotton bud or with lens tissue is all that should be needed. The only surfaces that should ever be at risk of getting get really filthy are the front and rear - in extreme cases unscrew the element, put a drop of detergent (photo flo is fragrance and colour free detergent) on the glass and wash it under warm water from the tap using a bud or lens tissue to get the stubborn bits off. This will do much less damage than scrubbing with a dry or damp lens cloth or tissue, but obviously use your common sense about getting water into places it shouldn't go. If after careful cleaning it is still hazy then you may have either cloudy balsalm or mould growth. Either of these is pretty bad news and may mean either professional help or a 'show piece only' lens.

Can you get a macro picture of the lens elements? Mould has a definate look to it, it might be recognisable from a picture.


Ian Grant
07-13-2009, 05:02 AM
Dallmeyer adverts show they still made the f4.5 Portrait Anastigmat in 10" to 18" in the mid 1930's, there was one for sale in a View Camera advert for $925 last year :D

I did scan some early adverts from an 1899 Photo book I'll see if there was a Dallmeyer page.


bill spears
07-13-2009, 05:24 AM
Steve - many thanks for your detailed info, will try some of your suggestions.

It's frustrating trying to determine how many actual pieces of glass there is in this lens and whether the damage has gone too far, especially if it's a desirable piece ..... $925 Yikes !!

It's definitely f4.5 Portrait Anastigmatic 12". Will post some close up pics this eve

eddie gunks
07-13-2009, 08:59 PM
looks like a dry plate camera. probably late 1890s....just a guess. FWIW my cooke series II f4.5 knuckler lens says anastigmat portrait on it. does it have three sets of glass in it? probably not as you said the rear came apart in two pieces.

measure the ground glass and show us more pictures. be careful modifying the camera....it may be worth more unmolested.

have fun


bill spears
07-14-2009, 02:15 PM
Have managed to safely clean the rear element (the one in the pic looking through - before cleaning) with a proprietary lens cleaning fluid Turned out to be heavy grime that had baked on over all the years ! Appears to be just a single piece of glass.

The main body of the lens (the larger piece that contains the aperture) should come up ok aswell, I hope. Can't tell if this is made up of several elements cemented together though. Seems like it could be a single lump that's quite thick ?

The aperture in the rotating back is 8" x 61/4" approx, which makes it whole plate I think. Don't know what the real difference between dry and wet plate is ..... was hoping to eventually get round to doing some wet plate with it in the future.
Won't do any heavy molesting to it !!

Mighty impressed with your lenses Eddie .... makes mine look like digi compact !!

eddie gunks
07-15-2009, 07:29 AM
looks like asweet lens/rig.

wet plate holders open like a buook and then you put the plate in. dry plate holders act and look more like film holders. you can use ry plate holders for wet plate you just need to do mods of some sort....not as easy to use as WP holders but hey, it gets you going.


03-19-2010, 07:34 AM
That mirror thingy - are you supposed to put a contact print in the wooden uppermost section, then view the image by looking into the mirror? That way, the image will be reversed (corrected).

Just a guess.


03-23-2010, 09:53 AM
For the life of me I cant think exactly how they are meant to be used at the moment, it was ages ago I last saw one, but you on the right track. They are used for touching up negatives and or prints and making it easy to view and work on them..exactly what, goes where (and if it is right side up), eludes me for the moment!!

05-04-2010, 11:24 PM
I think the mirror was for capturing sunlight and directing it to properly light the subject being photographed. the wooden part is either part of a stand for it or for making it so the "subject" doesn't squint - chances are good this was still when they used to clamp you into a chair to take your portrait.... maybe not that early, but still, it took a lot of light to make an image with those cameras, even with all the advances made by then - a whopping 20 or 30, maybe 40 years of 'modern' photography at the time or somewhere in there. Check out some photo history books to get some ideas of how mirrors were used for lighting. People used all kinds of contraptions for it but most of them redirected the sun.

05-05-2010, 01:12 PM
The retouching stand (the mirrored thingy) was used with the glass plate set into the middle frame and the mirror faced toward a window. The upper portion shaded out room light. In effect it was a pre-electric light-box. The plate was then augmented with graphite to increase density- allowing more sharply edged highlights, etc.

I've used a method proposed by Jim Galli to successfully clean old, uncoated lens glass. I take the glass and immerse it in a bath of warm water with a good swish of dishwashing liquid. Leave it in there for 15-20 minutes, take it out, rinse and gently dry with a very clean cotton or linen cloth. It beats lens fluid and rubbing every time.

bill spears
05-05-2010, 03:22 PM
Still haven't got round to doing anything with this stuff yet .... been too busy accumulating more gear !
Must concentrate on doing more photography, not collecting it.

Ian Grant
05-06-2010, 03:56 AM
That Dallmeyer portrait lens needs using Bill :D


bill spears
05-06-2010, 04:23 PM
Don't make me feel any more guilty Ian !

Off to the auction rooms again tomorrow where there's a juicy Sanderson 1/4 plate waiting for me .....

07-04-2010, 01:04 AM
Stop buying gear. USE the stuff! ;-) dont fall into the trap, no more gear...lots of gear is bad...so says the guy whose wife has stated that I am in an intervention moment. :-)

Enjoy the art, beautiful finds.


07-05-2010, 03:40 AM
Stop buying gear. USE the stuff! ;-) dont fall into the trap, no more gear...lots of gear is bad...so says the guy whose wife has stated that I am in an intervention moment. :-)

Enjoy the art, beautiful finds.


Wise words...