André Ruiter Stereoscopy

Mackenstein Stereo Camera

January 27, 2021
Mackenstein Stereo Camera - B&W photographer and collector of antique photographica
After a long search I finally added a wooden tailboard stereo camera to my collection which is made by the renowned manufacturer Mackenstein from Paris.


The story of Mackenstein is fascinating and illustrates the turbulent history of Europe around the turn of the 20th century. Hermann Josef Hubert Mackenstein was born in Germany on 17 December 1846. He learned the trade of carpenter and in 1867 he left for Paris to improve his skills. In Paris he was called by the Prussian army to do his military service. He was serving in the Prussian army when the Franco-Prussian war broke out on 19 July 1870. The war was disastrous for the French. A major defeat at Sedan led to the fall of the French Emperor Napoleon III and the new republican government was forced to sign an armistice. On 1 March 1871, the German armies marched on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Mackenstein was demobilized in 1872 and returned to Paris. He started a workshop as a carpenter but at the end of the 1870s he began with manufacturing cameras. His company developed into a leading manufacturer of high-quality cameras. He emphasized that his company was French because anti-German sentiments were strong in France at the time.

Mackenstein catalog
Cover of a catalog

In 1914 the international situation deteriorated and led to the outbreak of the First World War. Mackenstein's factory had to be guarded by the police because he was seen as a German spy. In 1915 his possessions were seized and in 1916 he fled to the neutral Netherlands.

After the war, he got his posessions back after a lengthy trial and Mackenstein returned to Paris in 1922. He died on 24 March 1924. The company was continued by two of his employees, Henri Suffize and Léon Molitor. The company was renamed Francia and later Suffize & Molitor.

Mackenstein's catalogs also included stereoscopes, but it's certain that not all stereo viewers in its portfolio were manufactured by the company. Some viewers I've seen were sold with a Mackenstein nameplate but were built by Mattey.

Mackenstein advertisement from 1911
Advertisement from 1911

The Camera

The camera is a model Série IIIB that was produced between c.1888 and c.1915. It's a large foldable tailboard camera for 18 x 24 cm glass plate negatives. The top contains a nameplate with: H. Mackenstein Paris ~ Constructeur. The name of the manufacturer is also engraved in the wood on the front side.

Mackenstein Stereo Camera

The front panel has two Rapid Aplanat No 1 lenses with a maximum lens aperture of F6. The name of the manufacturer of the lenses is missing, but as far as I know Mackenstein didn't make lenses. The panel can be exchanged for a panel with one lens to use the camera as a normal mono camera. My acquisition also included a front panel with a single Carl Zeiss Jena 250mm Tessar F6.3 lens with serial number 287732. The rear has a folding ground glass with a grid and there's a spirit level at the back of the tailboard. Inside the camera, a removable thin partition (called "septum") separates the two halves of the camera, so that light from the left lens does not reach the right-hand part of the glass plate negative.

Mackenstein advertisement from 1902
Advertisement from 1902