I love collecting old cameras and photographic equipment, and I’ve been collecting for about 3 years now. I have a few 35mm cameras, including my favorite a trusty Yashica FX-7 that I use almost exclusively for film photography. Most of my cameras were purchased at a vintage and antique flea market I often visit that takes place in the summer here in Toronto. Other than my 35mm cameras, I also have a couple of 120mm cameras. The one I will be focusing on is my favorite, the Ensign “Synchro” shutter. Since I only paid $30 for it im glad it is still in good working order with only some noticeable wear and tear which is forgivable given that it is over 80 years old.
Just the other night, I was doing my usual inspection of my cameras when I noticed a small brass engraving on the side of the camera that said “Wm Blackadder, Optician, Glasgow.” My first thought was that this was perhaps the original owner. Intrigued, I began a little research and I found that Blackadder was an optician and photographic dealer. He also sold radios and home projectors from his store in Glasgow, Scotland.
By the looks of this ad, he only sold what are now higher end cameras. Even today, old Leica and Rolleiflex cameras are still pretty pricey (trust me, I’ve been looking…).
After I found out that Blackadder was a photographic dealer, I changed my search term from “William Blackadder, Optician” to “William Blackadder, Photographic Dealer.” I found an advertisement in a magazine called “The Outpost-Magazine Of The 17th Battalion Highland Light Infantry,” a magazine from the first world war dated February 1916, that says:
“SOLDIERS IN CAMP
Who have their CAMERAS with them but have no facilities for Developing and Printing
Cannot do better than send their work to me.
I Produce the BEST POSSIBLE RESULT in the SHORTEST
TIME at the LOWEST PRICES.
A speciality is made of this work, and all Spools are developed at the uniform price of 6d. per 6 Exposure Spool 1/- per 12 Exposure Spool. (Including V.P.K. 8 Exposure).
WM. BLACKADDER, Optician and …. Photographic Dealer. 13 West Nile Street GLASGOW. TELEPHONE: 7002 Y 2 Central”.
Considering his advertisement was at the front of this magazine I assume he was well known or just had enough money to buy a section in the front, or maybe it was put there for a reason.
I find it fascinating that soldiers took their cameras to war and it makes me wonder what my camera has seen. Based on my findings, cameras were actually banned by the British government and soldiers were told to “send them back home.” If they were caught with a camera they would be arrested. This condition leads me to believe that my camera may not have made it the battlefields, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I also wonder if this was Wm. Blackadders personal camera or just a camera that he sold from his shop.
William Blackadder also provided developing services for people who continued to photograph the war while others sold cameras that were meant for “soldiers in active service” and “the soldiers camera.” These cameras were foldable and could fit in any pocket. This was likely so soldiers could easily hide them and continue to take photos, which interesting because it probably meant that he understood the passion photographers have and the lengths they will go to get a good shot. I think we’re glad today that these photographers took the risk to take a photograph of what is now a major part of history.
Modern photography isn’t like it used to be. It use to be taken seriously and enjoyed, but now cameras are made for profit and ease of use, not for quality and craftsmanship like they used to be. They used to be sold with pride. I’d like to see my current digital SLR last 80+ years without breaking as this beautiful Ensign has managed to do, but I won’t hold my breath.