English is not my native language. Please, contact me about any grammar or spelling mistake, thanks!
Kodak autographic cameras appeared in 1914. They were like the previous folding cameras, but the back cover incorporated the autographic feature: a small window in which photographers could write notes on the negative with a metal stylus.
In order to write on the negative you had to load the camera with autographic film. According to Brian Coe, autographic film was sold in different sizes: A116, A118, A120, A122, A123, A126, A127 and A130. "A" prefix stands for "autographic", but they were the same size as conventional films without the A prefix.
Inventor Henry J. Gaisman had patented the autographic feature in several patents between 1913 and 1914.
The autographic film was covered by a carbon copy sheet and a thin red paper. When you wrote on these papers with the stylus, the pressure turned them transparent. Then, the light would expose your writing in the film. You could write in the space between each picture or right over the picture. In the finished prints, the text would appear in white letters over a black background.
Kodak had been researching for several years trying to find a way to write data in the negatives, without any success. Then, Kodak's founder George Eastman liked Gaisman's idea and bought him the rights for $300,000. It was such a huge ammount of money (around today's $6-7 million) that it was published in the New York Times on July 1914.
“In the negotiations for the sale of my Kodak patent, the Eastman concern recogniced first that it was only just to me to pay me the value of my time for the four hours I worked on my device. That sum was arrived at and put down doubled as an element in fixing the price. Next came the cost of the laboratory in which I worked. That was put down and doubled. And then enough more was added to make me a rich man, as far as the needs of one giving his time to inventions goes”, declared Gaisman to the New York Times.
But why that huge ammount of money? Instead of receiving royalties, Gaisman asked for one single payment. According to his own declarations to the New York Times, Gaisman used part of the money to make a trip to Europe with his mother.
Gaisman had patented several safety razors and after the death of Mr. Gilette, he became the leader of the Gillete Razor Corportation. When he was 82 he married his 33-year-old nurse and lived together in his 136 acres land in Hartsdale, near New York. They made donations to the hospital where his wife used to work. Finally, Gaisman died in 1974 at the age of 104!
As Reese V. Jenkins wrote, “Eastman became quite enthusiastic about this invention because he saw in it a new system of photography that was covered by patents. If the public could be encouraged to adopt the system, the Eastman Kodak firm would have exclusive control of amateur photography for the following seventeen years” (p. 317).
The autographic feature was introduced starting from 1914 in Kodak's folding cameras: Kodak Junior, Kodak Special, Folding Pocket Kodak series and some Folding Brownies and Vest Pockets. It was just a small change, since it only required to make a new back cover.
The No. 1 Autographic Kodak Junior
Introduced in 1914, this model is one of the first autographic cameras made by Kodak. It replaced the folding camera No. 1 Kodak Junior. Except for the autographic feature, both cameras are the same.
The prefix "No. 1" indicates 2¼ × 3¼ inches (6×9 cm) size in 120 film. In this case, in order to use the autographic feature, the camera was loaded with A120 film, which was discontinued before WW2. Fortunately, you can still load this camera with conventional 120 film, but obviously you won't be able to use the autographic function.
"Junior" means that this was a less expensive version, unlike the "Special" models with better lenses, shutters or finish.
Kodak produced millions of autographic cameras and it seems that they were very successful. Only of the No. 1 Autographic Junior were made around 800,000 units, according to Brian Coe.
However, some researchers have noticed that there are very few pictures preserved with writings. “Although it had some popular acceptance during the late teens and early 1920s, the system never realized the expectations Eastman had initially envisioned” (Jenkins, p.316). The cameras may have been sold very well, but people may have not used the autographic feature at all!
Kodak Ball Bearing Shutter, a simple and very well aging resistant shutter. It usually has shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50, B and T, but may have been versions up to 1/100.
According to Brian Coe, the Ball Bearing shutter was replaced later by the Diomatic and Kodex shutters. British versions of the camera could have also a Compur shutter.
My camera has a typical Ball Bearing shutter. Through its lifespan, it had different appearances.
The shutter is released without having to cock it, you just have to press the shutter release button. Its sound is amazing!
For more money, you could have the better Rapid Rectilinear, Kodak Anastigmat ƒ/7.7 or Kodar ƒ/7.9. British versions could have the Tessar ƒ/6.3 or Kodak Anastigmat ƒ/6.3.
My camera has a simple Meniscus Achromatic lens. Focal distance is unknown, probably around 130mm.
Focusing is made moving the lens board through a track, with slots for 100, 25 and 8 feet.
According to Mischa Koning, these are the equivalances:
The serial number camera is behind the foot which holds the camera steady. This foot also has a beautiful Kodak nameplate in gothic style. My serial number camera is 322,631, but as far as I know there is no information concerning Kodak's serial numbers.
The camera was sold with its stylus and a shutter release cable. Stylus are usually lost. Fortunatley, I have mine, although I don't have the release cable.
1. According to Brian Coe, lens and shutter combinations may help to know when your camera was made:
2. Besides, autographic windows had three different designs, according to Misha Koning and Brian Coe:
3. Patents are also useful for dating your camera. You can deduce that your camera wasn't made before the last date you can read. For example, the latest patent date of my camera is June 1917. Therefore, my own camera was made sometime after 1917, but not earlier.
First Kodak cameras are full of different patents. They don't refer to the camera itself, but to the various designs involved in it: shutter, finder, winding knob, focusing system... and autographic system, of course.
Patent dates are written inside the back of the camera, in the pressure plate, and some are to be found in the shutter. For each patent date, you have to look for the patent number in a patent search engine, such as Google Patents or FPO.
Bear in mind that there are two different dates: filing date and patent date. The date written in the camera usually refers to the patent date and may be several years different from the filing date. It usually took many time to patent an idea since it was filed.
My own No. 1 Autographic Junior was protected by these patents:
There are some British and Australian patents from which I haven't found any information.
Apart from these patents, Henry J. Gaisman patented several ideas about the autographic system between 1912 and 1917:
Autographic cameras and film rolls: 1,184,941, 1,203,603, 1,230,399, 1,238,504, 1,238,505, 1,238,506, 1,256,784 and 1,396,035.
Box autographic cameras (never produced): 1,359,245 and 1,359,246.
Other patents related, but not signed by Gaisman: 1,195,400 and 1,195,747.
Kodak Cameras: The first hundred years and Kodak's History of Kodak Cameras.
They are all very similar folding cameras. "Junior" versions were fitted with simple lenses and shutters, while "Special" versions had better ones. The No. 3A Autographic Kodak Special was the world's first camera with a coupled rangefinder.
This list doesn't include Brownie, Vest Pocket, Pocket Kodak or Vanity Kodak autographic cameras.
Repair, service, disassembly, clean
COE, Brian. Kodak Cameras. The First Hundred Years. Hove Foto Books, East Sussex, 1988. ISBN 0-906447-44-5.
JENKINS, Reese V. Images and Enterprise. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore & London, 1987 (reprint). ISBN 0-8018-3549-6.
KODAK. History of Kodak Cameras. Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester (New York), 1999.
Text and pictures by Daniel Jiménez Chocrón.
First edition: 22 Feb 2013. Last update: 11 Feb 2015.
Published under a Creative Commons BY-NC License.