What is Burke & James history

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by bill_ketterlin_ketterlin, Apr 30, 2001.

  1. I am interested in the history of the Burke & James Photographic Co of Chicago Illinois. They made and marketed many different cameras, and I am interested in the availability dates of those cameras.
  2. Dear Bill,
    Sadly I cannot really answer your question but if you can take a look
    at the March/April 1995 edition of View Camera there was an
    interesting article by a chap called Patrick Alt about refurbishing
    View Cameras and he mentions Burke and James in his words " truly a
    diamond in the rough" cameras made in Chicago in 4X5, 5X7,8X10,11X14
    and 8X20 formats etc etc.......he also writs of many other cameras of
    the type......sorry I cannot help further
  3. I'm no expert on Burke and James so someone can correct me if I'm
    wrong, but I believe Burke and James was the name of a large retail
    photography store (yes, there really did used to be such things) in
    Chicago. The store didn't manufacture the cameras. Instead, they
    farmed out the manufacture and then put the Burke and James name on
    them, like Calumet does today with the Caltar series of lenses and
    Calumet cameras. I don't know what company actually did the
    manufacturing, probably there was more than one manufacturer since
    the store had a long life. AFAIK the cameras were available until the
    store went out of business. I forget exactly when that was, perhaps
    the 1970s?
  4. No expert here either, although I do own an nice B&J 8x10, if you
    look on EBay, old Burke and James catalogs sometimes show up, they
    might be a source of further information. good luck.
  5. I have several old Burke & James catalogs in which they stated their
    date of origin as 1897 and described themselves as manufacturers and
    representatives to the trade. They closed in the early 1970's. For
    many decades, they offered an elaborate selection of photography
    equipment focusing on studio, commercial, and laboratory gear. The
    catalogs show manufacturing facilities as well as technicians working
    on lenses and states, "Burke & James manufactures the famous B&J
    product lines--view cameras, specialty cameras, printers, enlargers,
    dryers and other photographic equipment. Complete facilities are
    maintained for metal and wood working as well as an optical shop for
    polishing, re-cementing, oxidation removal, coating, respacing and


    They had a huge inventory of lenses of all types called their "Lens
    bank". I doubt if there was a bigger or better outlet. I purchased
    several custom view camera backs from them in the 1960's which I
    believe were manufactured in house.
  6. Bill:


    Like so many others, I too am not B&J expert, but I do own an old B&J
    press camera. I have heard the tale that press photogs claimed that
    B&J stood for "Bunk & Junk".
  7. Brian,


    You don't call Helix a large camera store in Chicago?
  8. Although I must echo the reports of others as not being an expert on
    Burke & James (probably no one is) I did know the company's owner
    very well. His name was George Drucker. I would have to go find my
    old notes somewhere on specifics on Drucker's ownership but from the
    top of my head I will relate what I recall.
    According to Drucker and his chief lens man - Hans Roderweiss-
    Drucker bought the company known as Burke and James in the early
    1920's..Hans said the company at that time was simply a shell, a name
    that really no longer had much value. It had come on hard times and
    in essence was bankrupt when Drucker bought it. He built it into a
    very large general photography sales and manufacturing facility.
    Although its true that many of its cameras and other equipment were
    of less than top quality, it nevertheless filled a large niche in the
    markets for the demands of equipment, especially after WWII. The
    company was in several large multistoried buildings in Chicago thrugh
    the years, all around the edges of the downtown area. It really did
    have a large manufacturing facility and a complete lens repair,
    coating, operation.
    Several of Drucker's brothers worked there also. Roderweiss was with
    Drucker the entire liketime of the operation, becoming chief lens man
    with the company. When Drucker finally sold the company in the early
    70's it was still a large and prosperous operation but soon declined
    under its new owner (whose name escapes me now but it was a large
    eastern operation). It was basically stripped of its manufacturing
    operations and continued for a time as a mail order house but
    competition soon overwhelmed that small part of the business and it
    basically just disappeared. A lot of the lens operation was given to
    Hans who retired when the company was sold by Drucker.
    Drucker by the way, began his career-if you could call it that- as a
    youngster in the large Photographic firm of George R. Lawrence in
    1903. He was a "helper" to photographers among other things and thats
    where he learned the banquet photo business, eventually working out
    of the Lawrence Co. New York office. Drucker left Lawrence in 1907
    to pursue photography on his own. He operated in New York City as
    Drucker & Co., then Drucker and Baltes (Baltes was another youngster
    from the Lawrence Co.who died in the late 1930's having been a well
    known photographic dealer and head of the Commercial Photographer's
    Association), then the company became Drucker & Hilbert. But Drucker
    himself sold the company and name to Hilbert who carried on under
    that name for many years. Banquet photos are often seen from the New
    York City area on Ebay covering a period from the late teens through
    the early 1960's I believe. Drucker was a consumate salesman, and he
    was very well known and loved throughout the country by the
    commerical end of the photographic business. George lived to the ripe
    old age of 94 or 95 and was still going strong up until about 6
    months before he died. George was married to an "older woman", (1
    year older than he) who died one year later, probably of a broken
    heart. George often said to me "I'm a clean desk man" - stating
    that "anything that comes across my desk that day gets done before I
    go home." Thats how you do good business, he said. I suspect George
    died with a clean desk...
    For whatever its worth..
    Tom Yanul
  9. I have a Burke and James Rembrandt Portrait Camera that was purchased
    by the Comanche County Oklahoma Sheriff's Department around 1900. I
    am still looking for more information about the camera as well as the
    manufacturer. I do know that it has a Burke and James Chicago
    Illinois Plate on it and is a 4x5 camera that was used to take
    pictures of inmates in the jail.
  10. I was involved in the photographic equipment equipment industry from 1958 till 2003. Most of that time was spent as General Manager, Operations Manager and Vice President of two of the largest professional photo equipment supply houses in the USA. Both were based in Pittsburgh. I had many years of dealings with Burke and James. I recall many interesting conversations with George and Hans over the years. George had an outside salesman who called on me monthly during all their years in the industry. His name was Tony Sabatino. He was a small, very well dressed man with a pencil thin moustache. B&J (As we knew them), was a highly ethical and extremely competent supplier to us and our customers. If any of you would care to discuss the "Golden Age" of the photographic equipment industry, I have a website at: www.freewebs.com/dennyedwards
  11. Hey Denny!

    Long time, no see.

  12. At the risk of reviving a long-dead thread, I have something to add. I bought a 13" Cooke Series II Portrait lens a couple of years ago that was coated by Burke and James back in the 1950s, according to Lens and Repro. They also black anotized the barrel. It's a remarkable lens that does dreamy color and has bokeh to die for. They ran a quality operation. I wish we still had a company like that around today.

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