Alpha hand camera
The Alpha is a folding hand camera, made from 1892 by Watson of London. It is made from mahogany, and unfolds from a rather deep box. The few examples seen are quarter-plate; notes at Historic Camera state that 4x5-inch and half-plate models were also made. It was made, and the specification refined, until the 1930s. As the advertisement shown here states, by the 1930s the camera has extensive movements. By contrast, Historic Camera describes early and much lower-specification cameras: the standard Alpha No. 1 does not have front rise, or even rack-and-pinion focusing, though there is a special-order model with these functions. The Alpha No. 2 has more extensive movements, double-extension bellows, a small reflex viewfinder, with mounting shoes on the top and side of the camera, a spirit level, and it was supplied with a front-mounted roller shutter. There is a stereo model of similar specification.
The de luxe model shown in the advertisement here was made from 1909; the notes at Historic Camera describe it as a continuation of the No. 1 model, but the specification described is more like the No. 2. The camera has black leather covering, and it has brass internal fittings and black-painted external ones. The advertisement shown here seems to show a camera with a dial-set Compur shutter. The catalogue illustration shown at Historic Camera has a different in-lens shutter of some kind. There is also a tropical model, with polished wooden body without leather covering, brass reinforcement to the wooden joints, and dark-red leather bellows
Christie's sold a Watson camera (not identified as an Alpha, but it appears to be one) taken by Charles Wright on the British Antarctic expedition of 1910-13. Another example not exactly matching any of the models described above, but perhaps a No. 2, was sold at Westlicht; it has polished wooden body, a high specification, and red leather bellows, but no reinforcement to the joints.
|Quarter-plate Alpha c.1896 |
image by Grant Kornberg (Image rights)
- Alpha No. 1 and No. 1 special-order, with front rise and rack-and-pinion focusing, at Historic Camera.
- Alpha No. 2 at Historic Camera.
- Alpha No. 2 with Perken, Son & Rayment Rapid Rectilinear, at Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment.
- Alpha stero camera at Historic Camera.
- Alpha de luxe at Historic Camera.
- Half-plate Tropical Alpha with Perken, Son & Rayment Rapid Rectilinear, at Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment.
- Quarter-plate tropical Alpha with 15 cm f/6.8 Voigtländer Collinear III and Koilos shutter, sold at the 25th Westlicht Photographica Auction, on 22 March 2014.
- Quarter-plate Alpha camera used by Charles Wright on the British Antarctic expedition of 1910-13, sold at the sale Expedition and Travel, including the 'Polar Sale', by Christie's, on 22 September 2010. The lot notes suggest that the camera was bought second-hand by Wright for the expedition; the case is initialled 'C.B.', and Wright said in letters on the outward journey that he had not yet mastered the camera.
- Alpha hand camera serial no. 120011, with red leather, sold at the first Westlicht Photographica Auction, on 15 November 2002.