T.E. Lawrence

T.E. Lawrence’s bespoke camera

A brief break from routine provided the time for me to call in on the rebranded History of Science Museum, a department of the University of Oxford.  Among the vast array of scientific artefacts is a small collection of cameras, including the large format rosewood camera of Charles Dodgson, better know as author Lewis Caroll and more notably, for someone who considers Lawrence of Arabia to be a hero, T.E. Lawrence’s camera.

My recent research into large format photographers suggests that this camera could be ideally suited to the my practice, with the range of lenses be ideally suited for individual windows (I believe that quarter plate 135mm lens is ‘equivalent’ to a 50mm lens on a full frame DSLR).

Before his military career, T.E. Lawrence worked for the British Museum at Carchemish in Syria from 1910-1914 as an archaeologist.  For this work a camera was vital so he commissioned J.H. Dallmayer to build him a quarter plate camera.  Dallmayer were lens specialist known for the quality of their ‘stigmatic’ lenses.

Even in 1910, archaeological photograph necessitated a very specific set of less than usual extras, so Lawrence’s camera set included a reflex view finder on base-board and a ball-bearing Dallmeyer levelling device with metal plumb line. The lenses associated with the camera include a bronze telephoto attachment, a Dallymeyer rectilinear lens, and an aluminium Dallmeyer ADON eye-piece magnifier.

To maintain flexibility there were two different styles of film backs: a set of four mahogany book-form double dark-slides for 3¼” × 4¼” (83mm × 108mm) plates and a pair of mahogany double dark-slides for cut-film. Together with the obligatory dark cloth the kit was housed in a sturdy leather case.

The markings on the kit seem not as clear-cut as todays photographic equipment.  While the leather case is clearly stamped J.H. DALLMAYER / OPTICIAN / LONDON and then further marked in handwriting: Property of T.E. Lawrence, Pole Hill, Chingford, Essex, the lenses are not quite so comprehensible where aperture is concerned.  However, the Dallmayer lens are marked as follows:

  • F=5.3 135mm. J.H. Dallmeyer. LONDON.
  • F=1=11 275mm. No 75237
  • F=2-=8.5 210 mm


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T.E. Lawrence’s folding quarter-plate camera by J.D. Dallmeyer, London, 1910

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