Burke & James Press Camera

The Watson Mystery and more Chicago Camera History



This huge Press Camera, manufactured by Burke & James inc. Chicago Ill. U.S.A. is called the "Speed Press 4x5". At the first glance, it is a look a like of the famous Graflex cameras. This Burke & James Camera also comes with the Kalart range finder and the Kodak Flash Supermatic shutter. You'll notice some differences that distinguish between the one and the other. Its name also might suggest that it has a focal plane shutter like the Speed Graphic, but it hasn't . Its revolving back is definitely an advantage comparing  to the Speed Graphic. The shining aluminium droppable bed is a typical design in the fifties from the last century. Its simple but reliable cam connection between focusing track and Kalart rangefinder works fine and accurate. The tubular viewfinder has a name impressed which reads "Watson". You'll find this name on more Burke & James products It might interest you why.  To learn more about the humoristic story about the "Watson" brand name by Prof H. Lynn Jones.

I was surprised to read that in the advertisement on page 3, that my Burke & James originally was equipped with a rotating or revolving back. Yes, I did noticed the ratchet  on the left corner of the housing and I tried to understand what was the good of it and yes I did try to turn the back, but nothing moved. Now convinced  there must be a revolving back, I dismounted the back and found out that the former owner, I presume, glued  the back to the body for some reason. The ratchet is obviously the lock of the revolving back.

The camera back of the 4x5" Burke & James, after removing the revolving back.


The 4 x 5 inch  Burke & James Speed                        The  2 1/4 x 3 1/4 miniature Watson                        

This Burke & James catalogue shows the Kochman Korelle Reflex Camera from Dresden and a Weltini II from the Welta Kamera Werke Waurich & Weber, Freital, both pre war German cameras. Burke & James was also the importer/distributor of lenses and view cameras such as Toyo plus other stuff as well.

The Burke & James Company was apart from their manufacturing business, and importer of foreign cameras also a distributor for Graflex as you can see on the advertisement on page 3.

At that time the company was established on 321 S. Wabash Avenue Chicago.

American Press Cameras

Burke &James Watson Camera                 Burke & James History        Brief Operating instructions

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