at yer Beck and call …

Beck Cornex (image © 2014 – 2020 David Purcell)

Toronto. You may have come across a British camera called a Cornex or one by Houghton’s called a British Ensign. Both camera lines were made by a microscope manufacturer on Cornhill Street in London, England.

It was not uncommon for microscope makers to branch out into photographic lenses and even cameras (Leitz and Zeiss come to mind in Europe). The Smith and Beck company was founded in 1853 as the Lister Works after the famous surgeon. In 1865 the company moved to 31 Cornhill Street and became R & J Beck. The company became one of the most important firms in the British microscope industry.

Conrad Beck signed on in 1879 as an apprentice. Over the years he wrote or co-wrote numerous books and papers including Photographic Lenses – A Simple Treatise written jointly with Herbert Andrews. In 1881, the firm moved along Cornhill street to number 68. I have the 7th edition of this photography book which saw the light of day around 1920. A small catalogue at the end of the book covers the filters, lenses, and cameras sold by the company.

The above image is courtesy of David Purcell via and looks much better than a black and white scan from my c1920 catalogue photo. For more material on R&J Beck, see “Notes on Modern Microscope Manufacturers” by the late Brian Bracegirdle.

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