Rare John Nesbitt camera for sale.

Terry Bamforth

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This is a 7 by 5 inch camera with a 5 by 4 inch (a 7 by 5 back could be made for it). This difference allows for larger camera movements that would be possible with a 5 by 4 body. It's made from Brazillian mahogany and is very solid ( I think the large control knobs are walnut). All components, apart from the bellows, were manufactured by John Nesbitt. The camera was constructed in about 1990. Although it has a few external marks, it's in very good condition and had very little use. There are four lens panels (three shown in photos). The bellows extend out extensively to allow significant enlargement (see photo). At full magnification, a 50p piece fills the viewing screen.
Buyer to collect.

Size when folded approximately; 26cm by 30cm by 12cm. Weight approx 4.2 Kg.

Price...£450


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Martin2475

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#2
I know it's a long time after the listing, but is it still available? I have one of the 8x10" cameras John Nesbitt made, must also be around 1990, he wasn't making them for many years. I think eventually his cameras will become recognised as a true classic design. They're heavy and the finish could be considered rough compared to some, but very robust with wide ranges of movement.
 

Paul Kay

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Sorry Martin, but to save time - I bought it and repatriated to Wales I'm afraid. Just waiting for a rebuild of a PPE lens (also made in Wales) and then it will be put into use.
 

Martin2475

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#4
Well, if it doesn't work out drop me a line. Nice to see a 5x7" version, never clapped eyes on one of the smaller format Nesbitt's before. John told me he made the knobs from Lignum Vitae, extract from wood database where it's 2'nd from the top;

Lignum Vitae
(Guaiacum officinale)
4,390 lbf (19,510 N)
Widely accepted as the hardest wood in the world–this wood has been listed as an endangered species and is listed in CITES. Consider Verawood as a very close substitute.

... I think he did get a bit of earache from a few people for using that wood - but then he hardly used very much of it.
 

Alan Clark

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#5
Well, if it doesn't work out drop me a line. Nice to see a 5x7" version, never clapped eyes on one of the smaller format Nesbitt's before. John told me he made the knobs from Lignum Vitae, extract from wood database where it's 2'nd from the top;

Lignum Vitae
(Guaiacum officinale)
4,390 lbf (19,510 N)
Widely accepted as the hardest wood in the world–this wood has been listed as an endangered species and is listed in CITES. Consider Verawood as a very close substitute.

... I think he did get a bit of earache from a few people for using that wood - but then he hardly used very much of it.
He would get more than earache now from anyone trying to get through customs with a camera partly made from Lignum Vitae, which, I believe , is on CITES Appendix1. As a guitar maker I have heard quite a few cases where customs refused entry of guitars with Appendix 11 listed wood in them. And Appendix 11 is a less stringent listing, where things on it can get through customs if they have appropriate certification.
If I had a Nesbitt camera with Lignum Vitae knobs on it, and wanted to take it abroad, I'd take them off and replace them with knobs turned up from a nice bit of Blackthorn or plum....
What to do with the Lignum knobs then? Well, in the old days extract of Lignum Vitae was regarded as a very useful medicine - its name does mean Tree of Life - It was regarded as the best cure for syphilis apparently...not that there is any lurking round here, in rural North Yorkshire, of course.

Alan
 

Martin2475

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#6
...just realised I've probably got that 5x7" Nesbitt camera already! In the sense of the camera body. I'm pretty sure John just made a reducing back for 5x7", and the basic camera is the same 8x10" model.
 

Ian Grant

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#7
The one here is a 7x5 with a 5x4 reducing back Martin, I'd looked but not read the initial,posing but had thought a 7x5 might fit.

7x5 is a rarer format here in the UK, film holders are rather expensive. I bought most of mine from the US where they are cheap. It was never really a professional format here after Half plate and Whole plate disappeared. I didn't know any commercial photographers using it, they all shot 5x4 and 10x8 when requested often hiring in a 10x8 camera and lenses. The exception were the catalogue companies who shot on E4 then E6 to the exact print size, that dictated the size of the catalogues usualyn10x8. I went to the Kays studios a few times, they had about 12 actual studios and room sets and around 20 photographers, and their own E4 then laterE6 process line. From memory I think they were probably shooting E4 Half plate and Whole plate along with 5x4 and 10x8 when I first went there early 1970's.

How much 7x5 film were you selling Martin compared to 5x4 and 10x8 ? My dealer in Birmingam Leeds Cameras later Calumet never stocked any 7x5 which essentially meant no customer used it, they stocked Record Rapid but years later I was told I was the only customer buying it, same with APX100 120 & 5x4.
Ian
 

Martin2475

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#8
Got it at last, a 5x7" with a reducing back, I was seeing it as a 10x8" reduced down to 5x7". I remember now that John wouldn't make a dedicated 5x4" model, if anything the workload would be higher because the precision needed would be greater with the smaller pieces.

Fred Gandolfi in some of the recordings he made for the filmmakers puts a new light on the way formats developed in Britain. It was for many decades all status quo with 1/1 plate, 1/2 plate & 1/4 plate until the advent of Kodachrome in sheets just before WW2. Kodak weren't compromising on what they viewed as these special sizes, so there was a strong commercial pressure to convert over to the US formats to be able to use the new film. Quoting from Fred, 10x8" was established in the UK by the end of the war, which finished 1/1 plate off effectively - any studio working with these big formats was at the top of their game so the expense of moving to 10x8" wasn't a problem, & then they had a bigger format to impress clients.

Following that it was an infiltration of the American 5x7" & 5x4", displacing 1/2 & 1/4 plate. So we can blame the Yanks, it wasn't only chewing gum & nylons. But 1/2 plate seemed to have a strong grip, I seem to remember it was a stock line with Ilford into the 1980's - 5x7" never really became established & still isn't. So a lot of those 1/2 plate users must have dropped down to 5x4", no problem as the emulsions were improving all the time. On Foma imports it's currently a ratio of around;
10x8" - 10 / 5x7" - 3 / 4x5" - 100

I've put a lot of Gandolfi archive stuff on the darkside.photography site, there's a menu bar to the right that puts it up, the transcript where Fred talks about formats is in 'Beta Masters 4' in 'The Gandolfi Conversations'. There's a lot of entertaining stuff, I rather like the bit where Fred says Don McCullin can't be much good as a photographer because they'd never dealt with him!

https://darkside.photography
 
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Ian Grant

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#9
Thanks Martin, my only comment is that 5x4 was definitely a British format long before WWII as was 10x8, in fact back into the late 1800's, although not as common as Quarter plate and Half plate and not offered by all camera manufacturers. Going through the 1898 BJPA there's a lot of British 5x4 cameras, lenses, Plates, POP etc but perhaps no surprise Louis Gandolfi only offers Quarter Plate, Half Plate, Whole Plate, 10x8 and 12x10.

From the bits of video I've seen and articles read I think Fred and his brothers were artisan craftsmen living in the past, they were still making cameras with backs with matching book-form plate/film holders after WWII when the International backs had become standard. I'll have a look at the Gandolfi archive materail you's linked to.

Ian
 

Martin2475

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#10
You're right, I've actually got some 5x4" plates made by Imperial from around the Edwardian era, but of all the old plate packs that turn up on Ebay the great majority are imperial sizes like 1/4 plate. Gandolfi seemed responsive to customer's requirements, so perhaps the user demand for 5x4" was quite small. Would be worth looking further into that history of formats, & also relate it to the continental sizes.
 

James T

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#11
Kodak weren't compromising on what they viewed as these special sizes, so there was a strong commercial pressure to convert over to the US formats to be able to use the new film.
Even though Kodak's 118 roll film (which continued in production till the early 1960's) was the same image size as 1/4 plate!
 

Ian Grant

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#12
I have an early 5x4 Marion & Co Soho Reflex, the only SLR with movements.

A simple answer to the plate sizes is Half Plate and above were ideal for contact printing, and still quite portable. Whereas Quarter plate and 5x4 were smaller and lighter but the negatives often enlarged. I have restored a Houghton King enlarger (just awaiting bellows) with condensers and negative carrier for Quarter plate, but it would accept condensers and an insert for 5x4 negatives.

While there were a lot of wood and brass Quarter plate cameras it's really the metal bodied smaller mostly German Avus style cameras that make the format popular. The German format was (and still is) 9x12 some cameras just had a slight variation to the back and were sold as Quarter plate, but then some companies made dedicated Quarter plate versions. The other difference is these metal bodied 9x12 and Quarter plate cameras could be used hand held, huge numbers were made from the early 1900's to WWII. This is why you see a preponderance of Quarter plates on Ebay etc.

In real terms Gandolfi were a tiny bit player compared to so Houghtons who by 1905 were the largest UK manufacturer by a long way, soon encompassing Butcher who remained as a separate trading entity for few years longer, and had financial backing from Lord & Lady Astor and family. Gandolfi survived because the market for wood & brass had shrunk significantly and they were small, also Watson had Government contracts and sub-contracted camera manufacture to them up to the 1960's.

Ian
 

Ian Grant

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#13
Even though Kodak's 118 roll film (which continued in production till the early 1960's) was the same image size as 1/4 plate!
I have an Alliance Roll Film Camera Co Ltd 110 camera which is a 5x4 foll film format, Kodak made film and cameras this format as well it was introduced 1898, my camera dates from 1898 to 1904 when the company was absorbed into Houghtons (who were a partner in the company). The 118 format came out in 1900.

A 1930's Parliamentary report shows the shareholdings in Houghtons and effectively it's the families of the companies that amalgamated with them plus the Astor family. As Lord Astor was Aide de Camp to the Viceroy of India before WWI it's no surprise they set up a company there which eventually became Ensign (India).

Ian
 

Paul Kay

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#14
I have a 5" x 4" reducing back (L Gandolfi) for my (later) half plate Gandolfi (& Sons) camera. From what I have read Gandolfi built much of their production to order and so to their customer's requirements. I would suspect that the half plate was a versatile size and probably not a great deal more costly than a 5" x 4" camera so buying a slightly larger camera may have been seen to have been a good option and more versatile if the price difference wasn't that big. I have a friend in Ireland who bought a half plate Gandolfi new in the 1960s - its identical to mine but is black. So even then, when 5" x 4" was more of a 'standard' Gandolfi were still building half plate cameras.
 
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Ian Grant

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#15
Kodak were still making and selling Half plate cameras into the 1960's, I have some Kodak Professional and Dealers catalogues and around 1960 they stopped production of the wooden bodied Kodak Specialist 2 and replaced it with the metal bodied Specialist 3.

Martin will have a better knowledge of the weird and wonderful cameras etc that Harringay Photographic Supplies, AW Young, and Marston & Heard, used to sell. I remember 5x4 cameras that were ex-RAF, very light and quite simple and Bailey's assistant in one shop (can't remember which now) buying one for a shoot, that would have been earlyto mid 1970's.

My experience is that many British half plate field cameras (and I have a few) aren't really much heavier than my 5x4 Wista and similar oodern cameras and only a little larger. My half plate Gandolfi is the same so I think you're right Paul, Kodak sold a 5x4 reducing back for their Specialist 2, I bought a De Vere Monorail which came with Whole plate, Half plate, and 5x4 backs around 1976/7 reducing backs and the ability to shoot more tahn one format wasn't uncommon back then.

Ian
 

Ian Grant

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#16
Looking at three companies selling second-hand plate cameras in 1910 the break down of formats is quite interesting.

The first was Sands Hunter and Co a professional dealer, then Westminster Photographic Exchange - more amateur biased, and the third Arthur Spencer in Edgware Road.

Total SH WPE AS
18x16 1 - - 1
15x12 3 - 2 1
12x10 2 1 - 1
10x8 7 4 1 2
8½x6½ 13 6 2 5
6½x4¾ 20 10 7 3
5½x3½ 13 4 8 1
5x4 14 7 5 2
4¼x3¼ 27 5 19 3

Of course this is a small sample but shows clearly that Quarter plate and Half plate were the most common formats in between is split between Post card size and 5x4 (together around the same volume as Quarter plate) followed by Whole plate.

Ian
 
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Paul Kay

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#17
Until enlarging became increasingly common the 5" x 4" format was regarded as one of the smaller formats (along with quarter plate) viable for contact printing I believe. By the 1950s 5" x 4" enlargers were readily available and perhaps more importantly, larger format 'professional' enlargers attracted higher sales tax, so 5" x 4" cameras became far more common - MPPs being one of the manufacturers who adopted this format very successfully (and building cameras for the RAF amongst others). Perhaps quarter plate was losing popularity due to the convenience of roll flm, which is not significantly smaller, and thus leaving 5" x 4" as the more usable sheet film option? 5" x 4" is an old format as many Victorian lenses were engraved as for use with 5" x 4" format but it may have peaked in the 1950s to 80s perhaps which would explain the popularity of other formats prior to this?
 

David M

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#18
I have seen glass plate cameras which had pencilled lines on the ground glass. I surmised that these were for framing the image so that a simple contact print would fit into a standard frame. There must have been a whole ecosystem of sizes, from plate to finished retail article that would persist because changing one link in the chain would mean changing all.
 

Paul Kay

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Yes, I've spent a fair time cleaning up ground glass screens with a variety of lines on them. I think that some film holders were designed for smaller formats internally too, and one camera I have (a 12" x 8" format) has had its film holder modified to shoot 5" x 7" wetplate and the screen was marked accordingly in permanent marker (fortunately its not). This film holder is going to take quite a lot of restoration.
 

Ian Grant

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#20
The pencilled lines I've seen have usually been for use with smaller format plates, I have inserts to allow 10x8 plates in 12x10 book-form holders. Kodak sold Half plate sized film holders adapted to accept 5x4 film for the Specialist 2 after WWII, later they offered a reducing back as well.

Paul, I think you're right that the growth in the enlarger market affects demand for certain formats. In 1898 there's plenty of daylight enlargers but these are fixed magnitude enlarging Quarter plate to Whole plate for example. Some horizontal enlargers are available and use Incandescent Gas, Lime-light or an Oil burners.

There's far more by 1910 and in formats up to whole plate but still using gas, lime or oil. It's post WWI before we really begin to see more modern style vertical enlargers using electric light bulbs, some with auto-focus as well. Kodak's Auto-focus model takes up to 5x4 negatives, and they have large professional enlargers for up to 10x8 negatives.

Post WWI also sees quite a large number of German 9x12c,, cameras imported and sold so now there's three formats between Quart plate and Half plate, 9x12, Postcard size, and 5x4 but fewer 5x4 cameras were made for hand held use.

Ian
 
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