PhotoLexicon, Volume 4, nr. 7 (September 1987) (en)

Willem Brandsma

Luc Verkoren


Willem Brandsma—a carpenter and a cabinetmaker with an interest in architecture and technical drafting—turned out to be a skilled builder and repairman of photo cameras. Together with F.W. Schaap, a friend and former colleague at the company Loman & Co., Brandsma founded the firm Schaap & Co. This company acquired several patents: on a stereo camera built according to Albada’s system, and on a folding mirror reflex camera based on Loman’s non-folding ‘Hollandse Reflex’ (‘Dutch Reflex’). Especially the latter camera became an international success, licensed to be built by leading manufacturers in Great Britain and Germany.




Willem Brandsma is born in IJlst on 19 November. His father owns a carpentry firm. Brandsma will later (for reasons unknown) refer to himself and write his name as: Willem Hylkes Brandsma.


Brandsma works with his father at his business, learns the cabinet-making profession, and receives lessons in architectural draughtsmanship from the architect Ringwaldus in IJlst.


At the advice of his teacher, Brandsma first moves to Sneek (Friesland), where he finds work with the carpentry firm of the Gebroeders Schroot (‘Schroot Brothers’). He then moves to Amsterdam.


After two years of working as a carpenter in Amsterdam, Brandsma finds employment with Loman & Co., a recently established company involved in the selling and manufacturing of cameras. Loman’s ‘Hollandse’ Reflex (‘Dutch Reflex’) camera is patented in Great Britain and Germany, marking a milestone in the development of the reflex camera.


Loman & Co. is sold to one of its employees, L.J.R. Holst. For a brief period, the company bears the name Holst & Zimmerman, later renamed as ‘Reflexcompagnie’ (‘Reflex Company’). Under its new name, the company functions as the ‘Amsterdam Branch’ of the Reflex Manufacturing Company in London. Brandsma continues working for the company after this change of ownership.


The Reflexcompagnie, located at Herengracht 259 in Amsterdam, closes. Two of the company’s ex-employees, Willem Brandsma and F.W. Schaap, set up a business themselves as photo equipment repairmen and builders (including the ‘Hollandse Reflex’) at Potgieterstraat 8-10 in Amsterdam, under the company name of Schaap & Co. On 27 and 28 October, Reflexcompagnie inventory is put up for sale at the auction house of H.G. Bom. Schaap & Co. purchases the technical equipment.


Schaap and Brandsma acquire a French and an English patent on the optical system of a stereo camera designed by Lieutenant L.E.W. van Albada. The device is put into production by Schaap & Co. By this time, the company has moved to Kerkstraat 11 in Amsterdam.


Schaap & Co. takes over Couvee & Meylink, a reputable photo dealer at Spui 8 in Amsterdam. The company remains at this address until 1939.


Schaap leaves the company. The manufacturing activities are moved from the Kerkstraat to the upper floors of the store on the Spui.


Brandsma acquires a German and a British patent on the folding reflex camera he has developed. His ingenious construction also brings him success at home.


Production is expanded, with a building on the Utrechtse Dwarsstraat in Amsterdam to be used for this purpose.


On 20 September, Willem Brandsma Jr. (born 17 March 1897 in Amsterdam), becomes the authorised signatory of his father’s company.


According to the register of the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, ‘Schaap & Co. W.H. Brandsma’ establishes a branch office, located at Amstelveenscheweg 214 in Amsterdam South. On 9 February of the following year, this location is closed.


Brandsma’s photography dealership plans to import ‘Film Kino’s’ (8mm film cameras). This is done under the name of ‘Filmo of Holland’.


On 3 May, the company moves from the Spui to Rokin 106.


‘Schaap & Co. W.H. Brandsma’ is changed into general partnership, belonging to both father and son Brandsma. The new name is: ‘W.H. Brandsma Fa Schaap & Co. Foto- Projectie- en Kinohandel (… ‘Photo Projection and Kino Dealership’)’.


Willem Hylkes Brandsma (Sr.) leaves the company. The name is changed one more time: ‘foto – BRANDSMA – kino’ (Schaap & Co.).


Willem Hylkes Brandsma dies on 29 July at the age of 92 in Ouder-Amstel.


Following new locations at Handboogstraat 15 (1948) and Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 41-43 (1951), the Brandsma photo dealership is dissolved.


When Willem Brandsma left school at the age of twelve or thirteen, he was put to work at his father’s business. Willem took classes in architectural drafting with a local architect in IJlst, named Ringwaldus.

By the time he started out with the company Loman & Co. in 1890, he had already worked for several years as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. At Loman, Brandsma began specialising in the building and repairing of cameras, just as his fellow colleagues L.J.R. Holst and F.W. Schaap. Together they witnessed the development of the ‘Hollandse’ (‘Dutch’) Reflex camera.

For seven years, Brandsma worked as a camera repairman and maker at the Reflexcompagnie (‘Reflex Company’), the company founded by Bram Loman, but which L.J.R. Holst continued to run as the ‘Amsterdam Branch’ of the London-based Reflex Manufacturing Company. In 1897, Holst shut down the company and accepted a position as technical director at Hüttig & Sohn in Dresden (Germany). Consequently, Brandsma and Schaap found themselves out of work. Together the two men continued their work as repairmen and builders of photographic equipment, establishing themselves under the company name of Schaap & Co. They acquired the last remnants of the Reflexcompagnie, when these were put up for sale at the auction house H.G. Bom. Loman’s German patents on the Hollandse Reflex, however, were transferred to Holst’s new employer in Dresden.

H.G. Bom’s auction catalogue has been preserved and provides an interesting picture of the inventory held by a small-scale photo equipment manufacturer and dealership at the close of the nineteenth century. In addition to a studio camera, there were Lancaster cameras, Brabant cameras (one of Loman’s brands), Loman’s sport cameras, and eight reflex or ‘detective’ cameras. Several of these were finished in polished walnut or mahogany, or lined with leather or linen. There was an oak daguerreotype camera and a copper prism camera for drawing landscape studies, with a tripod and a black cloth housed in a wooden box, both already antiquated by this time. A large stock of dry plates was present, manufactured under brand names such as Beernaerts, Schleussner, Weisbrod and Ultrajectum. Listed under the heading, ‘Optique Amusante’, there was a polished wooden (antique) ‘vue d’optique’, i.e. an optical mirror, along with forty optical prints. In addition, there were mahogany and oak stereoscopes, a revolver stereoscope, and magic lanterns with plates. The instrument maker’s workshop included wood lathes, an extremely large transfer machine, a small table cylinder, clockmaker’s swivel chairs, various copper swivel chairs, and a very large number of hand tools. In the beginning, the newly established Schaap & Co. did virtually nothing more than carry out repairs.

For the building of new cameras, the business initially had virtually no clientele. When D. Wilmerink, an amateur photographer in Amsterdam, took the risk of ordering a stereo reflex camera from the two young entrepreneurs, however, the first ‘Schaap’ became a fact, with many more commissions eventually to follow. Around the turn of the century, the firm offered an impressive selection of reflex cameras, tripod cameras, and hand-held cameras. Schaap & Co. also sold the Hollandse Reflex in various formats. The largest was built for a plate format of 18×24 cm. Travel cameras were also built up to a shot format of 30×40 cm. Schaap & Co. was able to continue building the Hollandse Reflex because it was unprotected in the Netherlands due to the absence of any patent law.

There was no need for the two entrepreneurs to elaborate on their past successes. L.E.W. van Albada, a young lieutenant in the military, had invented a new stereometric system at the beginning of the twentieth century. Contrary to the existing systems, Albada’s produced an image in a format that was true to life, along with a depth effect that was highly natural. Around the turn of the century, many stereo systems were impaired by an inaccurate representation of the third dimension: the depth of an image. The image was either too flat or the depth was greatly exaggerated. Van Albada proposed that the distance between the lenses (the lens separation) of both the camera and the viewer was supposed to be 65mm. This essentially amounts to the average distance between a person’s two eyes. The most suitable focal length for the objectives of a camera with a picture format of 6×13 cm would then be 60 mm. The stereo viewer should then be as well equipped with the same. These so-called ‘Albadavoorwaarden’ (‘Albada Conditions’) guarantee an accurate representation as found in nature.

Schaap and Brandsma acquired the patents on this new optical system in France and Great Britain. The very simple construction of the camera’s housing was not protected. The company manufactured the stereo camera as stipulated by Van Albada for quite some time. Just as with the Hollandse Reflex, the stereo camera had a curtain shutter directly in front of the focal plane for timed and instant shots. In the Netherlands, this shutter type is referred to as a ‘brandvlaksluiter’, a literal translation of the English term, ‘focal plane shutter’. Because the device was equipped with metal cassettes, it was seen as highly suitable for use in the tropics.

The rise of mass production, which also occurred in photography, formed a threat to this relatively small-scale company. Schaap and Brandsma, the latter partner being a stubborn man originating in Friesland, felt no desire to have their prices prescribed by middlemen. They saw selling their products in their own photography store as a way to maintain their independence. Because they manufactured primarily expensive and exclusive cameras, they chose for a location with distinction. Their first store was in the newly built ‘Beurspassage’ (‘Stock Exchange Passage’) in Amsterdam. Several years later, Schaap and Brandsma took over Couvee & Meylink, a photo dealer on the fashionable Spui. By the time Schaap left the partnership in 1907, after ten years of collaboration, Schaap & Co. was doing booming business. Brandsma subsequently continued the running of the business on his own. He now devoted himself to completing his plans for a folding mirror reflex camera, that is, allowing for whatever time and opportunity he had to do so: the photography store and camera factory often demanded his full attention. An improvement in efficiency was achieved by moving the factory from the Kerkstraat to the upper floors of the store on the Spui.

The building of a folding reflex camera was by no means a simple undertaking. A high degree of dependability was required of the folding mechanism, not only because the focal plane and the cartridge holder had to be exactly parallel, but because the mirror and ground glass screen also had to end up precisely in the right position, once the camera was unfolded. After years of experimentation, Brandsma finally succeeded in producing a device that could be patented in Great Britain and Germany. The folding reflex turned out to be a commercial success. Brandsma was able to arrange inexpensive licensing contracts with the British firm Marian & Company Ltd., as well as with the Nettel Factory in Germany. During the transitional period, Brandsma was allowed to finish off forty folding reflex cameras that had not yet been completed. Later, he purchased cameras built under licence by the Nettel Factory. The production was not of any substantial size: the license agreements permitted an annual production of approximately one hundred cameras.

It was important for Brandsma, through his success abroad, to as well gain recognition in the Netherlands. A description regarding the advantages of a folding reflex camera can best be left to Brandsma himself: ‘The SENCO (Schaap & Co.) folding reflex camera is, as its name already implies, a folding camera with a fixed pull, with the adjusting occurring on the top ground glass screen by means of the adjusting frame on the objective. Focussing occurs on the top ground glass screen, through the silvered, entirely flat mirror on the surface. The image can be seen there completely in focus and upright at actual size right up until the very last moment, just as it also shows up later on the plate. The camera is characterised by its small volume and pleasing design.’

Making the ‘Hollandse’ Reflex foldable was indeed a significant improvement. A non-foldable reflex camera with a shot format of 9×12 cm is a cumbersome object to carry around. In practice, larger formats are actually unusable. With the development of his folding reflex camera, Brandsma found himself standing amidst the upper echelon of the international camera builders. Prior to him, Frits Kricheldorff (1903), Houghton (1908), and C.P. Goertz (1909) had all introduced folding reflex cameras to the market. After Brandsma (1909), renowned manufacturers such as ICA, Ernemann, Goltz & Breutmann, Curt Bentzin, and Eastman Kodak were to follow. In 1924, Ihagee Kamerawerke Steenbergen & Co. in Dresden came out with the Patent Klappreflex. Finally, in 1930 Adams released the Minex Folding Reflex. The large reflex camera—whether folding or not—disappeared with the arrival of the Rolleiflex and similar cameras. These were more user-friendly and suitable for roll film. Ihagee’s Exakta was also an efficient and handy alternative.

In spite of the licenses that had been granted to foreign manufacturers of the folding reflex camera, Brandsma now entered a period of tremendous activity. In 1914, production was significantly expanded. Brandsma moved to a larger building on the Utrechtse Dwarsstraat in Amsterdam, where up to forty employees built photographic equipment. During the First World War, Schaap & Co. also built aerial cameras, destined for the flying division of the Dutch army. By the time the war was over, however, there was no justification for a camera factory in the Netherlands. The machines were sold to a German company. Schaap & Co. continued with its photo dealership. In 1921, Brandsma named his son, Willem, as his authorised signatory. In the 1930s, father and son Brandsma became importers of what they called ‘film kinos’. The emergence of 8mm film as a hobby for the amateur opened up a new market for sales. Brandsma’s photo and ‘kino’ store was still in business long after the Second World War. The business was dissolved in 1965, most likely due to the lack of a successor.

Willem Hylkes Brandsma is one of the first artisanal camera builders in the Netherlands and undoubtedly the last. He contributed to developments in camera building that made the tripod in most cases obsolete, opening the door to greater possibilities with respect to a more dynamic approach to photography. While not a photographer himself, Brandsma went from being a cabinetmaker to a maker of precision instruments, and in doing so, proved to be a man of tremendous inventiveness.


Primary bibliography

Prijscourant Schaap & Co., Amsterdam 1902.

Prijscourant van Schaap & Co. Fabrikanten en Handelaren in Foto-Artikelen, Amsterdam z.j. (ca. 1905).

W.H. Brandsma, Firma Schaap & Co. Prijscourant no.9. Senco Reflex Camera Fabriek W.H. Brandsma Fa. Schaap & Co., Amsterdam 1909.

‘Senco’ Vouwbare Reflexcamera, folder Ned. Camera-Fabriek W.H. Brandsma (Fa. Schaap & Co.) Amsterdam, z.j. (ca. 1910).

Secondary bibliography

Dr. J.E. Rombouts, Handboek der practische fotografie, Utrecht (H. Honig) 1902, p. 111 e.v.

A.D. Loman Jr., Brandsma’s Vouwbare Reflex-Camera, in Lux 20 (1909), p. 268-271.

Auteur onbekend, Een Hollandsche vinding op camera-gebied, in Op de Hoogte: Maandschrift voor de huiskamer 7 (1910), p. 143-148.

Ianus, Schetsen en typen uit de fotowereld, W.H. Brandsma, in Focus 4 (30 oktober 1917) 21, p. 308-310.

Auteur onbekend, Een halve eeuw in de fotografie. W.H. Brandsma jubileert, in Handelsblad 13 januari 1939.

Auteur onbekend, 50-jarig jubileum W.H. Brandsma, in Focus 26 (18 februari 1939) 4, p. 120.

J. Geselschap, Uit de geschiedenis van de fotografie, in Amstelodamum 47 (juni 1960), p. 107-109.

Dr. J.J.M, van Santen, De Loman-reflex werd vijf en zeventig jaar geleden uitgevonden, in Focus 49 (1964) 14, p. 7-13.

Ingeborg Th. Leijerzapf (ed.), Fotografie in Nederland 1839-1920, Den Haag (Staatsuitgeverij) 1978.

P.J. van der Zanden en Luc Verkoren, De stikum-camera. De geschiedenis van Abraham Dirk Loman Jr. een Nederlandse camerabouwer (1868-1954), in Camera ‘Oldtimer’ Club 3 (1980) 6, p.8.

Luc Verkoren, Instantaneous photographs and the Loman Reflex Camera, in The Photographic Collector 3 (1982) 2, p. 193.

Luc Verkoren, Bram Loman, in Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse fotografie, Alphen aan den Rijn (Samsom) 1984 e.v.

Luc Verkoren, W.H. Brandsma, Firma Schaap & Co., in Photohistorisch Tijdschrift 7 (1984) 3, p. 1-6.

Luc Verkoren, W.H. Brandsma and his Folding Reflex Camera, in The Photographic Collector, 5 (1985) 1, p.4-9.


1900 Gouden medaille, Exposition Photoclub de Louvain (Leuven).


1900 (g) Leuven, Exposition Photo-club de Louvain.


1902, 15 mei, Frans octrooi nr. 321.129, Ferdinand Willem Schaap en Willem Hylkes Brandsma (optisch systeem van een stereocamera van L.E.W. van Albada).

1902, 20 mei, Brits octrooi nr. 11488, Ferdinand Willem Schaap en Willem Hylkes Brandsma (idem Frans octrooi, met een duur van 14 jaar).

1909, 16 mei, Duits octrooi nr. 236867, Willem Brandsma (vouwbare reflexcamera).

1909, 6 oktober, Duits octrooi nr. 237219, Willem Brandsma (uitbreiding van octrooi nr. 236867, met een duur tot 15 maart 1924; verbeterde vouwbare reflexcamera).

1911 (ca.), Brits octrooi nr. 8580, Willem Brandsma (vouwbare reflexcamera).


Amstelveen, Bevolkingsregister.

Amsterdam, Bevolkingsregister.

Amsterdam, Gemeentearchief (cat.veiling)

H.G. Bom, 27-28 oktober 1897, Reflexcompagnie).

Amsterdam, Kamer van Koophandel en Fabrieken (Amsterdam archief 1965, dossiernr. 12610).

Leiden, Prentenkabinet, bibliotheek en documentatiebestand.


Leiden, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit Leiden (apparaten en documenten).