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.
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 also manufactured stereoscopes, but it’s certain that not all stereo viewers in its portfolio were made by the company. Some viewers were sold with a Mackenstein nameplate but bear one of the trademarks of A. Mattey.
- Princelle, Jean Loup; Scheiba, Dieter. Mackenstein – Suffize & Molitor, Le Rêve Édition No 13, 2004. p.3-6
- Mackenstein. Appareil pour la vision d’une série de vues photographiques sur verre, patent FR436338, 19 January 1911 – via: Data INPI
See also: blogposts about Mackenstein