Louis Gandolfi’s Earliest Cameras


The cameras we think of as ‘Gandolfi’s’ are generally a variation of sizes in only 2 designs, the Universal and Imperial, designed by Louis Gandolfi around the turn of the 20’th century. That there are still so many of a century’s production around today must be due to them being very well crafted from high quality mahogany, designed to be sold at relatively high prices to serious photographers.

However before Louis evolved these high quality models, his first forays into camera-making were much further down-market, cheap & cheerful plate cameras made for the tourist market. Less robust, and with no numbers or makers logo plates, it’s not easy finding them now, even the editor of the Photo Collectors Club magazine bemoaning the fact that although he had a considerable collection of later Gandolfi’s, he had never clapped eyes on one of the early tourist cameras. Well, one turned up on Ebay recently, identified from the features in Louis’ 1897 engraved advertertisement in the BJP Almanac.


This half-plate was sold on it’s own as the ‘Special’, camera with one darkslide costing £2-0-0, or could be bought incorporated into an outfit, the ‘Briton’ shown above, for the knock-down price of £2-10-0. So what did you get for your two pound-ten? Quite a lot, in fact – although extra dark-slides are 6/- each, the outfit in it’s case included one slide, lens, shutter, & even a basic tripod.

However there’s a sense that the tourist camera market was not what Louis wanted – in producing these popular cameras & outfits, although he kept the build standard high, he was having to cut corners in quality of materials, and to compete with other manufacturers outfits the price must have been cut to the bone. This advert represents the point in time when he was changing direction – on the left-hand page is a new model, his up-market Universal, selling on it’s own for £3-15-0. This was to prove one of the enduring designs that carried the Gandolfi workshop through to nearly the end of the 20’th century, and the ‘tourist’ models were abandoned shortly after this crucial phase of the Gandolfi workshop’s career.

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