Established - Glasgow 1830


John Lizars was born around 1810 and brought up in Berwick on Tweed.  He died in Glasgow in 1879.

In 1830, he founded the Lizars business in Glasgow  based on his faith in his ability to provide a useful service for all afflicted with defective eyesight. 

The original business was at at 12 Glassford Street in the Merchant City,   It later moved to larger premises, a shop and workroom at 14 and 16 Glassford Street, where all types of optical instruments were made and repaired.  In 1859, the company advertised:


24 Glassford Street, Glasgow

Mr J Lizars, Optician


Spectacles, Eyeglasses, Telescopes, Microscopes, Barometers, Thermometers, and a great assortment of other articles, of which an inspection is solicited.

Patronised by Sir David Brewster

Spectacles from 1s 6d to 3 3s per pair.  Every description of Repairs done.



John Lizars died in Glasgow in 1879, and the business was placed in the hands of trustees for three years, until 1882 when Matthew Ballantine, son of a photogrpaher from Ayrshire who had married John Lizars' youngest daughter Juliet, was invited to run the business.  Under his management, the company began to sell photographic apparatus.

From the 1890s onwards, Lizars began to build their Challenge range of cameras at their Goldenacre factory in the East End of the City.  Here is an advert for one, placed in Transactions of the Edinburgh Photographic Society:

Lizars Advert  -  May 1910

The Company won a bronze medal for its photographic apparatus at the Glasgow & West of Scotland Exhibition in 1891 and a bronze medal for its cameras at the Glasgow International Photographic Exhibition in 1897.

The company also specialised in magic lanterns and lantern slides from the nineteenth century until the 1960s.  They hired out the equipment together with a "Lanternist" to operate it.


The business continued under the management of two of Matthew Ballantine's three sons, Arthur and Stanley, in the early 1900s.

By the 1920's photographers were increasingly turning to roll film.  Some of Lizars' cameras were designed to operate with either film or plates. 

Lizars started to produce metal-bodied cameras and ceased production of their mahogany cameras in the late 1920s.  However, they were facing increasing competition from Kodak and other major manufacturers.

By the 1930s, Lizars established further branches in Glasgow (from 1880s),  Belfast (from 1891),  Edinburgh (from 1895), Paisley, Greenock, Motherwell, Aberdeen,  and Liverpool.

Details above have been taken from the following booklets:

-  Lizars:  A Century of Progress:  1830-1890

-  A History of Lizars:  1830-1990 by Rachel Pateman, The Glasgow File, Glasgow


Lizars' arrival in Edinburgh

The Practical Photographer in 1895 announced the arrival of Lizars in Edinburgh:

Mr J Lizars, of Glasgow and Belfast, has opened a branch warehouse in Maitland Street, Edinburgh, with a large assortment of photographic and optical goods.

Lizars have now been based at Shandwick Place (previously named Maitland Street) close to the West End of Princes Street for over 100 years.

They are still in business as Black & Lizars at 6 Shandwick Place, as opticians, and dealers in cameras, binoculars and telescopes.   They have a selection of second-hand cameras and a wholesale photographic department selling photographic materials.


Lizars:      Old Adverts      Developing and Printing Wallets