Houghton-Butcher Ensign Carbine No 7 - A User?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by peter_naylor|1, Jul 5, 2015.

  1. After at least a year of not acquiring any additions to my classic camera collection due to space limitations, I've broken my promise to myself and acquired a rare version of the Houghton-Butcher Ensign Carbine 'No 7' 6 X 9cm, 8-on-120 folder. All Carbine No 7's seem to be rarish, but this one is definitely a 'Hen's Teeth' version as it has a Deckel rim-Compur shutter along with a Ross Xpres F4.5 lens. Some other nice features are rapid-focussing, rise-and-fall and a small spirit level for horizontal panoramic shots. Everything on it still works fine, even the self-timer feature on the Compur shutter and the spirit level is still 'spirited'.
    I got it via a pal in the UK who was handling a deceased estate sale, who sent me the attached photo showing that its leatherette was typically scuffed. Since it arrived a few days back, I've given it the usual descuffing treatment with black boot polish and it now looks a million Dollars - or should that be Pounds? I shall be taking it along to tonight's monthly meeting of the WA Camera Collectors' Society, to see what our learned membership think about it, and what guidance they can offer about its date of manufacture. It can't be any later than 1930, because the Houghton-Butcher Mfg Co changed its name to 'Ensign Limited' in that year, and this one is clearly marked H-B Mfg Co. However! It also came with its original pristine black cardboard box, inside which was a small instruction card marked 'Ensign Limited'. So my little grey cells tell me it might just be a transitional model from 1930 itself, with the camera marked 'HBM Ltd' but the documentation 'Ensign Ltd'.
    With its bellows in excellent nick, the Compur shutter working perfectly on all speeds from 1 sec to 1/250 sec and the self-timer whirring away nicely, plus the aperture selection from F4.5 to F22 A-OK on the crystal-clear Ross Xpres lens, I can see myself trying out a reel of B & W 120 film on this venerable Old Lady From London, to see what she can do 85 years down the line. Wish me luck! (Pete In Perth)
  2. Great find, Pete; you've slipped from grace in style. A wonderful old camera in beautiful condition, and I hope you're going to post some of your forthcoming images... That Xpres lens should produce some fine results, if my experiences with the 105/3.8 are anything to go by. Going by my notes, the Compur shutter with the self-timer was introduced in 1928, if that's any help in dating the camera. You've certainly got the old girl looking pretty; I just hope you used Kiwi boot polish...
  3. To answer your question, yes!
  4. Hi Pete, a nice old camera and usable too. Here for comparison is a shot of a 'cooking' carbine of about the same age - a No 3 also taking 120 film, with Trichro 3-speed shutter and Ensign Anastigmat lens. Your model also appears to have a better design of front standard in keeping with the better lens and shutter.
    I always find dating these cameras difficult as Ensign was used as a trade name over a long period and I am not sure the change in company name was always reflected in the branding of their products. I would guess a date for your camera of late 20's - early 30's. The chap to contact is Adrian Richmond who has an Ensign website. He is also collecting serial numbers so would I expect like to hear from you.
    and here is the page relating to No 7 Carbines :
  5. Thanks, guys, for your encouraging comments! Rick, the photo was taken by the seller in England before he dispatched if 'Down Under', so it hadn't yet been given a healthy coat of Kiwi bootpolish. It certainly has now, though, and it looks really good - much better than in the photo I posted, John, thanks for your encouragement over the 'user' aspect. Colin, I actually thought at first that I had a Carbine No 3 too, because that's what the identification sticker's legend at the base of the cardboard box says. However, the identification plate on the camera body says 'Carbine No 7'. So the cardboard box definitely isn't kosher, but it's in amazingly good nick for an 80-year old plus item, resplendent in matt black with orange trim by the way, not the more usual all-orange colour of Ensign Ltd in their boxes following their rebirth as a publicly-listed company in 1930.
    I can't help wondering just where the original 'Carbine No 7' box (plus instruction manual, for that matter) went too. 80-odd years down the line, I'm hardly likely to find out though, am I?. One thing I've learnt about classic camera collecting, is that if you're lucky enough to get an original box with the camera, the identification details somewhere on the box (usually on the base) almost NEVER agree with those on the camera body or lens. Why? Well, I suspect it was because sales staff just grabbed the nearest 'nearly right' box they could find in their storeroom or wherever, and to hell with historical correctness. A sale was a sale, was a sale, was a sale, after all - and nothing else mattered other than a forthcoming commission. So my 1938 AGFA Karat's very nice orange/blue box has the wrong identification details, as does my 1955 Zorki-1's olive green box and now my 1930 HMB/Ensign box appears similarly misidentified (sigh).
    Adrian Richmond and I email each other periodically over HBM/Ensign acquisitions and also British sports cars, about which he's very knowledgeable especially on Triumphs. My sports car days are well over, so my 5-litre open-top Cobra Replica is now just a memory. I shall certainly be in touch with him about the Carbine No 7 in due course, and thanks for those links.
    I took Ye Olde Lady along to our Perth Camera Collectors Society last night, despite some awful winter rain (no, it's not always sunny here in the Golden West!) and only one guy had ever seen such a lens /shutter combination on a Carbine No 7 before. However, they all agreed that it was well worth a reel of 120 B & W to see what it can do. In view of the spirit level for horizontal shots and rise-and-fall for elimination of tapering on buildings etc, I thought I'd try four of one type and four of the other. (Pete In A Still Wet And Windy Perth)
  6. I don't know about the Houghton-Butcher Carbine, but the Lee-Enfield Carbine took many Afghans at the Khyber Pass in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. ;-)
  7. Brad, the analogy between the compact Carbine military rifle and the Carbine camera is definitely there, although I thought it came about following the Boer Wars of the early 20th century. The Carbine rifle certainly came first, with Butcher & Sons introducing a range of compact folders in various film sizes, called 'Carbine No **' soon after. For example, I have a 1909-ish Butcher Carbine No 5 in quarter-plate size, that takes both reel film or plates. Butcher & Co seem to have been importers rather than manufacturers in those early days, as this camera is almost certainly a rebadged Huttig body from Germany, fitted with a British-sourced Aldix Oxys F5.65 lens and perhaps surprisingly, a French-made Koilos Improved pneumatic shutter.
    All that convenient badge engineering came to a rapid end in August 1914 when the Not-So-Great-War broke out in Europe. So Butcher & Sons and the other big London camera company Houghton & Sons joined forces in 1915, but military production soon took priority. After November 1918, camera production was resumed by both camera companies as separate entities (in name) but they were eventually to formally amalgamate as the 'Houghton-Butcher Mfg Co Ltd', which is the legend on the back of my Ensign Carbine No 7. The 'Ensign' name was one originated by Houghton's Ltd by the way, so my 'Ensign Carbine No 7' has a bit of both original companies' histories! (Pete In Perth)
  8. Houghton-Butcher seemed to like military-sounding names. They also made the Cadet and at the end of WWII the Commando 6x6 camera. However that is all the military names and the Cupid and Cameo along with the Ticka and Midget seem to buck the military trend.

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