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W. Watson & Sons Manufacturers was an optician and camera maker based in Holborn, London, and later with premises in Barnet (north London), Edinburgh, Birmingham and Melbourne, Australia. The company was founded by William Watson in 1837, but was not involved in optical goods at this time. Watson began making cameras in the 1880s;[1] William Watson died in 1881, and the running of the firm was taken over by one of his sons, Thomas P. Watson. Several of his brothers were also involved in the firm.

Watson made fine wooden view cameras as well as binoculars, microscopes, movie projectors and so on. In 1900 it bought the optical/scientific firm of John Browning & Co. In 1915, Charles H. Watson, with a partner, Geoffrey Pearce, started a new company, Watson & Sons (Electro-Medical) Ltd., which produced X-ray equipment.[2] This company was bought by General Electric in 1954.[2] The optical/photographic company lasted until at least 1968.[3] At some time, the Australian company became Watson Victor Ltd, and was a distributor of British-made Watson cameras and other goods, as well as medical and scientific supplies.[4]

British companies
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  1. Watson company notes at Early Photography.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Summary of Watson companies' history from a collection of trade papers owned by Derek Guttery, at the University of Manchester Library.
  3. British Patent 1193501 Improvements in or relating to positioning apparatus, filed 1968 and granted 1970 to K.F. Hall and W. Watson & Sons Ltd., describing a precision positioning device for use in, for example, a microscope stage, at Espacenet, the patent search facility of the European Patent Office.
  4. Watson Victor advertisement in the Spike, or Victoria College Review, 1947, in the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection at the Victoria University of Wellington.
  5. Half-plate Watson tailboard camera, 1883, of unusual design, with a short front focusing rack as well as the usual rear bellows extension of a tailboard camera, at Early Photography. The notes suggest this may have been made as a special order.
  6. Ultime reflex hand camera, with five-inch Rapid Rectilinear, sold at the saleThe British Camera 1840-1960 - the Jim Barron Collection by Christie's, on 11 December 2002.


  • Watson & Sons advertisements from 1910 to 1915 at EdinPhoto
  • Pages at Historic Camera:
  • Watson & Sons Stereoscopic Camera at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum
  • Other patents listed at Espacenet:
    • British Patent 345 of 1898, Improvements in photographic cameras, granted to J.B. Lane and C.H. Watson, describing a magazine film/plate holder for cameras, with a swinging action to install the next plate in the exposing position, and drop the exposed one into a storage well.
    • British Patent 297 of 1901, Photographic enlarger, granted to C.H. Watson, describing a rigid-bodied enlarging chamber, together with a negative holder to be fixed to the back of any camera, allowing enlargements to be made using the camera's own lens. By use of removable spacers between the negative holder and the camera back, the device can be used to make enlargements in two different sizes. The text of the patent refers to negatives taken with "kodaks" or cameras, and the diagrams show the enlarging chamber with a strut-folding camera like the Folding Pocket Kodak.
    • British Patent 5741 of 1906, Improvements in or relating to apparatus or mechanism for the transmission of power in varying directions, granted to A.H. Edwards and C.H. Watson, describing various details of construction of cable releases.
    • British Patent 460718, Improvements in or related to cameras, filed 1935 and granted 1937 to Polyfoto Ltd, W. Watson & Sons Ltd and C.E. Green, describing a mechanism for use as part of cameras which make multiple separate small exposures on a single plate, the plate being moved between exposures. The invention simply prevents the plate back from being opened between successive exposures, until the plate is returned to a starting position, to reduce the risk of the plate's being inadvertently spoiled.
    • British Patent 457351, Improvements in or relating to focussing and view finding mechanism for photographic cameras, filed and granted 1936 to Polyfoto Ltd, W. Watson & Sons Ltd and C.E. Green, describing a combined viewfinder and coupled rangefinder, with automatic parallax-error correction, and said to be especially suited for use with a camera as described above, that makes multiple small exposures on a single plate.
    • British Patent 461968, 462018 and 462020, all titled Improvements in or relating to photographic cameras, filed 1936 and granted 1937 to W.E. Watson Baker and R.H. Rushton, describing various details of a camera for still photography but using cine film, with about 90 frames per load; the camera has a focal plane shutter, a combined shutter-cocking and rapid film-advance mechanism, a frame counter driven by the film's perforations, and a paper strip spooled with the film and passing under a window, to allow an 'autographic' function (i.e. to allow the photographer to note the subject, exposure details, etc. of each frame).
    • British Patent 528851, Improved photographic apparatus, filed 1939 and granted 1940 to W. Watson & Sons Ltd., S. Perkins and C.H. Fry, describing a camera for photographing documents, with a lever and/or pedal-operated rapid film-advance which also cocks the shutter. The film gate of the camera is adjustable in size (i.e. length) and the advance mechanism is automatically adjusted to advance the film by the length of the gate.