What is Burke & James history

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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.

-- Bill Ketterlin (ketterlin@thegrid.net), April 30, 2001


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 Robert

-- Robert White (robert@obertwhite.co.uk), April 30, 2001.

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?

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), April 30, 2001.

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.

-- Bill Zelinski (willy226@yahoo.com), April 30, 2001.

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 auto-collimating."

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.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), April 30, 2001.


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".

-- Ken Burns (kenburns@twave.net), April 30, 2001.


You don't call Helix a large camera store in Chicago?

-- Bob Salomon (bobsalomon@mindspring.com), May 01, 2001.

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

-- thomas yanul (tyanul@aol.com), June 21, 2001.

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.

-- Jerry Pierce (snooper@sirinet.net), March 03, 2002.

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