short schrift

25 Oct 2014 -- click here for earlier articles

watkins book


From time to time, I'm putting reviews of books (and magazines) old and new into Short Schrift. Here's one now:

The Watkins Manual of Exposure and Development. Alfred Watkins, The Watkins Meter Co., Hereford, fifth edition of 1911, about 160pp (not all numbered) 4.75 x 7.1 inches/122x175mm

If you were an amateur in 1911, this little soft-back told you pretty much all you needed to know about the technical side of photography, though you would have had to have quite a high tolerance for Mr. Watkins's relentless self-promotion. As well as the famous Watkins Bee Meter (including a Chronograph version, with built in Swiss stopwatch at 35/-) he also manufactured or sold developers, clocks, thermometers, developing tanks, a 'factorial calculator' (he invented the Watkins factor, the ration of development time to the appearance of the first image), wallets, exposure notes, speed cards (he was one of the first to apply serious speed tests to a wide variety of plates), and more, including, of course, the Watkins Manual, 1/- Nett.

It is however packed with useful information, much of which is still useful today. For example, the Snap Shot Beginners' Chapter (“For those beginners who have already decided to commence with a hand camera”) opens with, in capitals, A HAND-CAMERA IS A TOOL, NOT A MACHINE. A few lines later he adds, “The possession of the 'cutest camera' and the desire to snap everything, will not alter the stern fact that only a minor proportion of desirable subjects are well lighted enough to be snapped with success.”

As usual for the period, the half-tone reproductions are flat and grey, but there are quite a lot of rather good line illustrations, especially among the advertisements at the back. A curious feature is that many of the photographs are mounted 'sideways', so you have to turn the book to look at them, but presumably dear old Alfred reckoned that it was better to have a slightly bigger picture, and turn the book sideways, than not.

Overall, even though the vast majority is now of historical interest only, there is still plenty to learn and to reflect upon in this book, and it's well worth buying a copy if you can find one.