Re: Pinkham and Smith

From: Laszlo Layton ^lt;[email protected]>
Date: 01/21/05-03:23:32 AM Z
Message-id: <>

--- John Cremati <> wrote:

> Does anyone have any knowledge on Pinkham and Smith Lenses? In particular
> I am looking for information on a lens that we bought named "Pinkham" (no
> Smith designated) " Bi- Quality" .... I have no Idea what the Bi Quality
> means as well........ Any information would be appreciated.......
> John Cremati

The Pinkham & Smith lenses are my favorites. I've had the good fortune to
collect and use all of their various soft-focus models (the Semi-Achromatics;
Visual Quality; Synthetic; Artistic) and use them exclusively in my work. I've
been researching what very little written material is available about the
company and their lenses--and will attempt to provide you with a little
information regarding your particular lens.

The "Pinkham Bi-Quality" lens is actually not a true Pinkham & Smith lens, but
a later reproduction of an original Pinkham & Smith lens formula. Although I
haven't yet been able to pinpoint the exact date of manufacture, to the best of
my knowledge the lens was manufactured as a limited edition most likely in the
mid-1950's. The lens formula used was taken from the Pinkham & Smith "Visual
Quality" lens. [Interestingly, this same lens was used as the basis for
another limited edition soft-focus lens made recently by Cooke Optics: the
PS945.] Frank Peckman, a fine portrait photographer and lab owner, was a fan
of the old Pinkham & Smith lenses. Pinkham & Smith were opticians in Boston,
Massachusetts whose primary business was dispensing eyeglass prescriptions as
well as making lenses for binoculars and telescopes. They had an interest in
photography and gradually grew to have a store location on Bromfield Street,
Boston's camera store street, which sold a full line of photographic supplies.
In 1901 photographer F. Holland Day brought to Henry Smith a soft-focus lens
made by Dallmeyer which he had brought back from a trip to Europe and asked if
he could duplicate the lens. While Mr. Smith didn't duplicate the lens he did
create his own formula for a new soft-focus lens which was new for an American
lens manufacturer. Smith and Walter Wolfe, another Pinkham & Smith employee,
would go on to produce several different styles of soft-focus lenses which
would become the favorites of most of the U.S. pictorial photographers through
the teens. Their "Visual Quality" lens is generally regarded as being their
best (it has the least amount of diffusion) and was made from the late teens
through the 1920's. Long story shorter (sorry!) Frank Peckman did his own fair
amount of research into the defunct Pinkham & Smith Company and located the son
of former company owner William F. Pinkham. He convinced the son that there
was a legion of photographers who admired his father's legendary lenses and
that they should manufacture a limited edition lens based on the original lens
formula since it was becoming increasingly difficult to locate the original
lenses. Pinkham's son was living in Lexington, Massachusetts which is why that
is the city engraved on the lenses. They chose the most popular lens size for
the time, the 14 inch (f4.5) which covers 8x10 and fits the large studio
cameras. I haven't been able to find who did the actual lens manufacturing.
Though based on the "Visual Quality" the "Bi-Quality" does not appear to have
the hand-ground lenses of the original. The aperture appears to be most
similar to the aperture used by Kodak for their own soft-focus lenses. I have
compared image quality between the two lenses ("Bi-Quality" and "Visual
Quality") and they are very similar, which is BEAUTIFUL! Since the vintage
lenses were hand-ground I have noticed that image quality actually varies with
each individual vintage lens--akin to a hand-made musical instrument having its
own distinctive voice. Some lenses have a greater or lesser degree of softness
at full aperture. As for the name "Bi-Quality", unfortunately I have yet to
uncover the definitive answer to that as well. My guess would be that it is a
combination of an homage to the original's name and references that the lens
can either be used soft-focus or as a sharp focusing lens when stopped down.
I'm also trying to find out how many of these lenses were produced in the total
edition. I had heard an (unreliable) estimate of only 50, but I have
personally seen three examples of this lens now bearing the engraved serial
numbers: 45, 51 and 102.

Do you mind my asking how you came to purchase your lens? Also, do you have
the original lens cap that was made for the lens (brushed aluminum with purple
velvet interior and riveted engraved black enamel name plate)? Also, I would
love to know what serial number is on your lens. It is very small, stamped
into the aperture ring.


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Received on Fri Jan 21 03:23:52 2005

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