Thornton Pickard Cameras

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2015-06-26 10:27:15

Thornton Pickard Cameras are cameras manufactured by the Thornton-Pickard Manufacturing Company, formed in 1888 by John Edward Thornton and Edgar Pickard, and with premises at Broadheath, Altrincham, Manchester, from 1891 onwards. History

Prior to the partnership, Thornton himself, together with a previous partner, Reginald Nixon, and working from small workshops in 10, St. Mary's Street, Deansgate, Manchester, had designed and marketed his first camera, the "Patent Jubilee" camera, which was made for him by Billcliff.

The "Thornton's Patent Tourist Camera" was made (or retailed, possibly bought in from Bilcliffe to Thornton's design) by Thornton, before he joined in partnership with Edgar Pickard in 1888, and was discontinued in 1891. It was re-introduced in a different form, in 1903. An earlier form with rotating lens panel, was discontinued in 1890.

Pickard entered the business in 1888 by buying out Nixon and putting much needed finance into Thornton's operation. The new firm was at first primarily concerned with the design and manufacture of roller blind shutters, on which Thornton held the patents.The string-set Time and Instantaneous shutter was introduced in 1892. After the move to Altrincham, they began to produce their soon to be famous range of Ruby cameras, and by 1896, the cheaper version of the Ruby, the Amber, was available.

It appears that the two men did not work too well together and there were frequent disagreements, mainly over finance. The middle-class Pickard felt it was right for him to take a large salary; Thornton, from a working class background, felt otherwise. When the company became Limited in January 1897, Thornton's patents and effective control of the company passed over to the Pickard family, who were major shareholders; Pickard himself died in March of that year. Thornton resigned, was voted off the board, and left the company. He died in 1940.

After going limited in 1897, the company continued to manufacture cameras and shutters, under the Thornton-Pickard Limited name, and the number of camera models was diversified, to include the Tribune, the Praetor, the Amber, the College, the Ruby, the Royal Ruby, etc., all of which were well-regarded. (It is worth mentioning here, that the shutters with the Thornton-Pickard nameplate were available to the public and to other manufacturers, for attachment to any camera, and therefore a Thornton-Pickard shutter on a camera does not necessarily mean that the camera is a Thornton-Pickard camera. This is often a source of confusion among collectors.).

Their 'Imperial Double Extension' camera, usually called 'The Imperial', was a design that the public never took to. It remained in production for only four years, 1902-6, but in 1904 it was superseded by, and is consequently rarer than, the 'Triple Extension Imperial'.

Colloquially called 'The Triple Imperial', this was a much more successful design, and became Thornton Pickard's best seller, being made by the thousand, right through into the late 1930s. The price of the in-stock 'Imperial Double Extension' was discounted by 25%, but the public still preferred the 'Triple', so the 'Imperial Double Extension' was discontinued in 1906.

Finding increasing difficulty in continuing to maintain its high standards through the depressed 1930s, the firm began to produce down-market products such as the 'Puck' box-camera, and ventured into the press market with a number of differently named but outwardly otherwise almost indistinguishable Black Box Reflex cameras, and a variety of strut folding cameras.

Finally, its Wood and Brass heyday outmoded, and unable to compete with mass production overseas, Thornton-Pickard went into liquidation in 1939, after which date no more cameras were produced, although the name was used as late as 1959.

A pair of Japanese binoculars is known, carrying the Thornton-Pickard name and a JCII "Passed for Inspection" sticker, presumably manufactured since 1954 when the Japanese Camera Inspection Institute was founded. It is believed also, that someone used the Thornton Pickard name in the 1980s or perhaps early 1990s, to sell a small range of optical goods, but there was no direct relationship with the original company. What was left of the company and the trading name was purchased by Alister Harrison who owned a small number of camera shops in Altrincham Cheadle and Urmston trading as Photocraft. He used the Thornton name on projector table and then purchased a small range of binoculars from Pyser Britax and had the Thornton Pickard name put on this range ( the were good quality from Japan). In 1968 he sold the company (Photocraft) to the Carter family from Yorkshire, shortly after he sold the Thornton Pickard name to them. After a few years the closed the second shop in Altrincham and then the one in Cheadle. The shop in Urmston was sold in the 70's to the manager Ray Holland, and the Altrincham shop was sold to myself Ray Dormer who went in partnership with photographer June Morgan.

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