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  Louis Gandolfi & Sons, Camera Maker

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Photo courtesy Edward Hill ( - © All Rights Reserved

In 1876 at the age of twelve Louis Gandoli started work as an apprentice cabinet maker. His apprenticeship lasted four years. He then embarked on a career as a camera maker at Lejeune Perkins and Company, of Hatton Garden, London, where he excelled for five years, to the point where his fellow workers complained that he worked too fast and too accurately, thereby earning too much money from the piecework system. He was forced to move on and in 1885 Louis Gandolfi established his own camera maker business at 15A Kensington Place, Westminster. It was a family business, since he was only assisted by his wife Caroline, who learned the skills of French polishing and brasswork lacquering.

In 1890 his first son Thomas Joseph was born, followed by Frederick Louis in 1904, and Arthur Ernest in 1907. The Gandoli's also had three girls but not much information was available on their births, however it was recorded that the Gandoli's had six children and all the boys and two of the girls worked the family business.

Shortly after the the turn of the century, Louis gained Colonial Office contracts to supply cameras for the harsh climates of India and the Federated Malay States. He redesigned his cameras and incorporated new patents for a highest quality camera called the Imperial.

In 1913 the business was moved to Hall Road, Peckham Rye, South London.

The Gandolfis business survived the 1920s recessions and by 1928 the business was moved again to an old Victorian Hatpin factory at 2 Borland Road Peckham. At this time Thomas, having completed service in the Great War, devoted himself to cabinetmaking, Frederick took over business operations and Arthur after leaving the family business during the 1920s to learn clerical work, returned to fill the job of assembly and finishing.

With the help of his sons running the business and especially the matching craftsmanship achieved by his son Thomas, Louis began to accept commissions to make custom built Gandolfi cameras. Among the first customers was the famous photographer Herbert Ponting, who accompanied Captain Scott on his fatal Antarctic expedition, and for the Earl of Carnarvon for the Tutankhamun expedition. Louis constructed some of the earliest "Big Bertha" telephoto cameras, that captured cricket matches, horse races and earliest British atomic explosion. Three years later, The Gandolfi's supplied the first aerial cameras to the Royal Naval Air Service.

In 1932 with the comfort of knowing that his three sons were running the business, Louis Gandoli died at the age of 68. With his passing the business name was changed to Gandolfi & Sons and the business continued to prosper.

During the second world war Gandolfi & Sons supplied portrait cameras and tripods to the Admiralty, Air Ministry and War Department. However, they missed out on a substantial opportunity for a government contract to supply 1,000 cameras, because they realized that they could not fulfill such a large contract, and it went to their competitor Watson & Sons. After the war they saw a boom for prison mug shots and supplied over 39 prisons and police authorities with specialized equipment.

In 1965, Thomas Gandolfi died leaving the business to his two brothers Arthur and Fredrick.

In the early 1970s the the 5 x 4 inch format "Precision" camera was supplied in great qualities to educational and scientific institutions. The Gandolfi camera became so popular with graduating students that the demand grew to the point of the company recording waiting lists that would extend for over a year. This wait list continued until in 1976, Thomas Gandolfi's son Tom junior was persuaded to join the firm by taking an early retirement from engineering and he helped with alleviating the backlog.

In 1982, Arthur and Fred realized that they could not continue to run the business by them selves, however they wanted to continue the business to make the 100 year mark. They were able to negotiate a comprise sale with with Brian Gould and his partner Sir Kenneth Corfield, where the last Gandolfi apprentice Fredrick would sign a satisfaction certificate. With this sale, the company moved to new premises in Andover, Hampshire, and The Gandolfi camera maker reached its 100 year mark. Fredrick died in his own home in 1990, and the last of the Gandolfi brothers Arthur died on 22 January 1993 at the age of 90.

Gandolfi camera is still operating to this day, carrying on the historic tradition of Louis Gandolfi. According to Edward Hill of Gandolfi the company is still alive restoring and selling parts for Gandolfi cameras.

1889 The British Journal Almanac

1993 Jan. 28, The independent - Obituary: Arthur Gandolfi

2009 Gandolfi - Family Business: a film by Ken and David Griffiths

CLICK HERE for a list of Gandolfi Cameras

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2019-01-23 21:08:41

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