The Aldis Story

Famously the only good thing to come out of Sparkhill, Birmingham (a long way from Alabama), the Aldis brothers were to set their family name on a handful of British icons. In the grand scheme of things, Aldis can be considered as spawning from Dallmeyer in 1901.

The company quickly established itself with a range of competitively priced, high performance taking lenses. However, when the Man from the Ministry came knocking in 1914 to ask not what the War can do for you, but what can you do for the war? – the answer was: long distance signalling. From 1914-1918, Aldis’ output of photographic lenses almost completely dried up: initially all research, and subsequently all production, facilities became occupied by multiplication of the Aldis Lamp.

Shortly after the war ended, He Who Must be Obeyed walked through the factory gates again, carrying a captured Zeiss 20-inch f4.3 reconnaissance lens under his arm, and a new edict in his briefcase: “We need one of these.” Initially, Aldis refused. The Man insisted, but reasonably offered: “If it makes it easier, we don’t necessarily need a lens this fast. Maybe f5.6.” As much to the company’s surprise as anyone, Aldis’ 20″ f6.3 triplet was production-ready in 12 months, and was promptly alleged by the unimpeachably non-partisan BJP to be superior to the Hun’s bauble.

Standing securely on the cornerstones of its wartime contract and new, peacetime opportunities, Aldis threw itself into the roaring Twenties with the momentum of a reputation few British companies enjoyed. By 1930, Aldis lenses, enlargers, cameras and projection equipment were market leaders in the UK, and had healthy exports. The partnership of Aldis with Neville Brown and Co (subsequently Nebro) saw them dominate the burgeoning slide projection boom of the 1940s and on into the 1950s.

Aldis lenses were the Yorkshire pudding of the optical smorgasbord: plain, cheap, and not terribly clever but nonetheless homely – and popular: in 2024, you can still find thousands of solidly hewn projectors and projector lenses on the used market – every one a triplet, summarised below.

Serial Numbers

Collectors have shown little interest in building an Aldis timeline. For Delta’s purpose, there’s little by way of ‘alt-lenses’ to catalogue. However, we have attempted a cursory overview:

1901: 0-100
1910: 11,581
1912: 11,774

Aldis Butcher Ensar Anastigmat 4-inch f4.5 present in 1933 ad. Also Aldus Uno f6.3.

Neville Brown (Nebro) had big success as sales outlet for Aldis 35mm slide projectors from late 1930’s thru 1940s. DPS ads from 1955-1957.

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