Friday, 26 June 2015

Sepia Saturday 285: One Button Does It

Image © and courtesy of LiveAuctioneers
The Kodak, introduced by Eastman Kodak in June 1888
Image © and courtesy of LiveAuctioneers

The firm of Eastman Kodak of Rochester, New York is popularly associated with early amateur photography, bringing to most peoples' minds the Brownie from February 1900 (pictured below), or perhaps even their "original" Kodak box camera introduced in June 1888 (above). The Kodak and its immediate successor the No 1 Kodak used factory-loaded and processed rollfilm and over 15,000 cameras were manufactured before the line was discontinued in 1895.

Image © and courtesy of David Purcell
The Brownie, introduced by Eastman Kodak in February 1900
Image © and courtesy of David Purcell

The first Brownie was in production for less than two years from February 1900 until October 1901, during which time almost a quarter of a million were sold. Renamed the No 1 Brownie, but almost identical, it went on to sell over half a million more between then and 1916. The superficial similarity between the two rectangular black boxes, however, belies the technological advances that were made and the ideas that were brought together in Eastman Kodak's range of cameras during the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Image © Brett Payne
Eastman Kodak Camera Prices and Production Volumes, 1888-1901
Data extracted from Coe (1988)

In his book The Story of Kodak, Douglas Collins details many of these developments, including paper-backed, daylight-loading rollfilm, improvements in viewfinders, lenses and shutters, lightweight construction, mass production techniques, judicious acquisition of patents, recruitment of people with appropriate technical skills and fresh marketing ideas. In 1888, 5,200 units of the flagship Kodak sold at $25.00 apiece. In the space of just over a decade, the cameras were simplified and production costs reduced to such an extent that the No. 1 Brownie could be sold for $1.00, and it went on to sell more than half a million units. The No 2 Brownie was even more successful.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Pocket Kodak, introduced by Eastman Kodak in July 1895
Dimensions 3" x 4" x 2¼" (74 x 99 x 57mm)
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

In July 1895 Eastman Kodak placed on the market a diminutive new camera whose sales would outstrip all of their earlier models. The Pocket Kodak was tiny, easily fitting in the palm of one's hand, and very lightweight, the early models being constructed of aluminium in a leather-covered wooden case. It used a 12-exposure specially designed roll film (102-format) which produced a photograph measuring 1½" x 2" (38 x 51 mm), and at only $5.00, it was their cheapest camera, a fifth of the price of the No 1 Kodak which was finally phased out that same year. Sales increased spectacularly, and an initial daily production run of 200 units was quickly increased. By the end of the year the Pocket Kodak sold 100,000 units, more than five times the total 19,000 units which their previous most popular model, the No 2 Kodak, sold between 1889 and 1897.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
'96 Model Pocket Kodak, Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester NY
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Even though the camera was a runaway success, its designer Frank Brownell continued to tweak and make minor modifications to the design while it was in production. At least four models have been identified from the first year alone, followed by '96, '98, '99 and D model designations. My own example of this camera is a '96 Model and, judging by the latest patent date listed on the inside of the case, must have been manufactured after 12 January 1897. This example includes several modifications not seen on previous versions, including a wooden (as opposed to aluminium) film carrier, coarse-grained black leather covering, a rotary shutter (which replaced the Tisdell sector shutter) and a rectangular (rather than circular) viewfinder.

Image courtesy of Google Patents
Patent US575,208, F.A. Brownell, Photographic Camera, 12 Jan 1897
Image courtesy of Google Patents

Although the camera depicted in the 1897 patent drawing appears to be the Kodak No 2 Bullet, with a larger square 3½" x 3½" format compared to the Pocket Kodak's smaller rectangular 1½" x 2", the design is almost identical.


Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

'95 Model Pocket Kodak with Plateholder inserted
Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

The Pocket Kodak does not, however, have a side door on the case, a provision to allow the use of a double plate holder instead of Kodak's new cartridge rollfilm. Instead, a thin wooden panel in the back of the case housing the red celluloid window could be removed and a small, specially designed plate holder be slid into the slot in its place.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Wooden Case (left) and Film Carrier (Right), '96 Model Pocket Kodak
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Two strips mounted on the lens-shutter board, accesible by pull-up tabs on the top front edge of the camera, enabled shutter speed (Time and Instantaneous) and aperture (3 settings) to be set by the user. A red celluloid window at the back displayed the exposure printed on the film's paper backing and, with a fixed-focus meniscus-type lens (focal length of 2½"), it was a very simple camera to operate.

Image © and courtesy of Image © and courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
Eastman Kodak Co. Advert, Pocket Kodak, from Cosmopolitan, Oct 1895
Image © & courtesy Duke University Libraries Digital Collections, K0549

In the words of an advertisement placed in Cosmopolitan magazine of October 1895, "One Button Does It." Despite the small size of the negative, the quality enabled either contact prints or enlargements "of any size" to be made.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Film Carrier with take-up spool, '96 Model Pocket Kodak
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The most convenient aspect of Kodak's three new cameras released 1895, the No 2 Bullet (March), Pocket Kodak (July) and No 2 Bulls-Eye (August), was that they all used the daylight-loading film patented by Samuel N. Turner, which Eastman purchased in August that year. The celluloid film sensitized with emulsion was backed with light-excluding paper, and then rolled on a flanged spool which fitted into a slot in the camera. The film was then led across rollers at the back and then wound onto a take-up spool on the opposite side of the carrier.

Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson
'95 Model (First version) Pocket Kodak with 102-format film & "Primer"
Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson

The 101- and 102-format films, each containing 12 exposures, were enthusiastically received by amateur photographers, who could now send the exposed film, rather than the whole camera, back to the Kodak factory for processing. Nor did they need to take a hundred snapshots before seeing the results. Eastman Kodak catalogues offered "developing and printing outfits" at very reasonable prices, and a few independent firms even began opening shops to process amateur films.


Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

'95 Model Pocket Kodak in leather case
Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

The Pocket Kodak ($5.00) came with two instruction manuals, a "Field Primer" and a "Dark Room Primer," and the owner could also purchase a leather hand-carrying case (75c) large enough to carry the camera and three extra spools of film (25c each). Home developing enthusiasts might order from the 1896 Kodak catalogue enamelled (glossy finish) or platino bromide (matte finish) paper in packets of a dozen 6½" x 8½" sheets ($1.10), enough for a couple of hundred contact prints, and white embossed card mounts at 10 cents for a dozen. Pocket albums to hold 50 or 100 prints were offered, as were "wire easels" for displaying mounted prints to full advantage. Eastman knew that, with burgeoning sales of his cameras, the real money was to going to be made in consumables.

Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson
Negative envelopes for Pocket Kodak with mounted print
Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson

Once processed the film negatives were returned to the customer in specially printed brown envelopes, together with any prints which had been ordered. Spaces on the front of the envelope were filled in by the processor - in this case Eastman Photographic Material Co., Ltd. and its successor Kodak Limited - with order number and how many good frames and failures there were. Sadly no dates were recorded. If prints had been ordered, and paid for, Kodak undertook to replace any failures with duplicates from the successful shots.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Nellie Ashley seated on front porch, undated, taken c. 1895-1897
Silver bromide print (50 x 37mm, 2" x 1½")
White embossed "Pocket Kodak" mount (86 x 73mm), Design A
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This example of a 2" x 1½" print pasted on the standard embossed white card mount sold for Pocket Kodak sized prints is from my own collection. Although undated, from the size and shape of the woman's sleeves I believe it to have been taken c. 1895-1897, which roughly equates to the period before a wider variety of mounts became available.

Image © and courtesy of Rodger Kingston Collection
Unidentified children, Cole's Photo Studio, undated, taken c. 1900-1905
Silver bromide print (approx. 50 x 37mm, 2" x 1½")
White embossed "Pocket Kodak" mount (approx 86 x 73mm), Design B
Image © and courtesy of Rodger Kingston Collection

Kodak's 1898 catalogue shows three different styles of mount sold for the Pocket Kodak, with variations of white and grey, embossed or enamelled faces, but by 1900 the range had increased enormously to a range of 11 styles in white, grey, green, black and brown, with beveled or square edges. The 1901 catalogue, reflecting the replacement of the Pocket Kodak by the Brownie in the company's small box camera range, lists no mounts at all for the Pocket Kodak.

Image © and courtesy of John Toohey
Cover of Pocket Kodak Album, used c.1896
"Full padded red Morocco cover, to hold 96 Pocket Kodak prints"
Image © and courtesy of John Toohey, One Man's Treasure

Of course not all photographs produced with a Pocket Kodak were mounted on card. Many went into albums such as the one shown above from John Toohey's collection which was advertised in the 1897 Kodak Great britain Price List as having a "full padded red Morocco cover, plate mark, india tint round openings, to hold 96 Pocket Kodak prints," and sold for 5 shillings (then equivalent to roughly $2.00).

Image © and courtesy of John Toohey
Page from Pocket Kodak Album, Paris, 1896
incl. views of the "Opéra," "Arc de Triomphe" and "Trinité"
Image © and courtesy of John Toohey, One Man's Treasure

The album has 12 pages, each containing 8 openings, totalling 96 prints of photographs illustrating a visit to Paris in 1896. John believes that they were probably taken in one day while the photographer was wandering around Paris, possibly trying out the new camera.

Image © and courtesy of John Toohey
Page from Pocket Kodak Album, Paris, 1896
incl. views of cycling, "Bois de Boulognee" and "Carrefour de Longchamp"
Image © and courtesy of John Toohey, One Man's Treasure

He has noticed that that same woman appears in several images, suggesting she was travelling with the photographer. They are framed, as described, with a grey india tint around the openings.

Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp
Unidentified location & date, probably taken c. late 1890s
Mounted Pocket Kodak prints pasted on album page, Designs A (top left) and Design C (others)
Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

Jos Erdkamp has kindly shared from his collection an album page with eight mounted Pocket Kodak prints, four pasted on the front and four on the back. These too appear to have been taken in a city somewhere in Europe, although the location is not identified. Three of the mounts (shown in the image above) are of a third design, different from the two displayed previously.

Image © and courtesy of John Toohey
Page from Pocket Kodak Album, Paris, 1896
incl. views of the "Eiffel Tower" and "Champ de Mars"
Image © and courtesy of John Toohey, One Man's Treasure

It was the 1890s when amateur photographs first started to appear in any substantial number featuring everyday subjects instead of the usual scenic shots recording places visited, and it is interesting to note that the subject matter of extant Pocket Kodak prints appears to follow that trend. George Eastman recognised that keen amateur photographers who had the time, expertise and interest to learn the skills required to process negatives and photographs would be far outnumbered by those who wished merely to capture a snapshot of their daily life, with no interest whatsoever in getting involved with making the prints. With his famous marketing mantra, "You press the button, we do the rest," he separated the two photographic functions and developed an infrastructure that would take care of all the processing, as well as provide materials to the enthusiasts who still wished to develop and print their own.


Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

'95 Model Pocket Kodak (black) and leather case
Image © and courtesy of Jos Erdkamp

Although the Pocket Kodak itself contained no ground breaking new technology, it was the combination of several recent inventions, often made by Eastman's predecessors or competitors, into one fundamentally simple device, cheap to produce and easy to operate, together with a supporting network of processing facilities, that turned turned it and the No 2 Bulls-Eye into runaway success stories. They also paved the way for the introduction of an even cheaper and simpler camera, the Brownie, which in 1900 would eclipse all in the quest for unpretentious sentimental photographic mementos of everyday life.

I'm very grateful to David Purcell, Jos Erdkamp, Geoff Harrisson, Rodger Kingston and John Toohey who have all kindly supplied me with images of items in their respective collections for my research, and permitted me to use them here.

A connection with this week's Sepia Saturday theme image, a postcard of the Chittenden Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, is somewhat tenuous, but you'll find several images of multi-storied buildings in my contribution, and no doubt you'll see plenty more if you pay the rest of those happy themers a visit.

References & Further Reading

Brayer, Elizabeth (2006) George Eastman: A Biography, Rochester, New York: University of Rochester Press, 637p.

Coe, Brian (1976) The Birth of Photography: The story of the formative years, 1800-1900, London: Spring Books, 144p.

Coe, Brian (1978) Cameras: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, United States: Crown Publishers, 240p.

Coe, Brian (1988) Kodak Cameras: the First Hundred Years, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Hove Foto Books, 298p.

Collins, Douglas (1990) The Story of Kodak, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 392p.

Gustavson, Todd (2009) Camera, A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, New York: Sterling, 360pp.

Niederman, Rob & Zahorcak, Milan (nd) Digitized Kodak Catalog Project, DVD

Rosenblum, Naomi (2008) A World History of Photography, 4th Edition, New York: Abbeville Press, 671p.

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett & Marilyn Brindley

32 comments:

  1. Thanks Brett, particularly for the other examples. This looks good.

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    1. John - I'm very grateful to be able to use your fine specimens to illustrate what's available. I'm sure there were more, and perhaps the appearance of this article will bring some of them out of the woodwork.

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  2. "One Button Does It" - now there's a slogan that still applies in so many ways. I liked reading about the the little box camera since Mr. Mike spied one in one of my old photos - I thought it was a pocketbook. That's how with-it I am!

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    1. Wendy - Not surprising, I suppose, but I too am always on the lookout for cameras in old photos. It's suprising to me too that the "one button" mantra that we now take for granted started so early.

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  3. Those pocket cameras would have required large pockets!

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    1. Postcardy - a jacket pocket, perhaps.

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  4. I was surprised to learn that the Kodak's were being sold in the 1880s --- and the chart of the numbers and costs was also an eye opener. I was curious if folks took their film in for development and automatically got the backing of their choice? I seem to remember an old photo or so of mine with similar mounting -- I'll have to see if I can find it.

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    1. Joan - I'm compiling another article about those very early Kodaks, but that will take more time since I don't have any examples myself. The mount format was much larger than those for the Pocket Kodak. There was little choice for the first 10 years or so, and then around 1898ish Kodak started to introduce alternative finishes, colours, etc. You're welcome to send me a scan of that photo if you can find it, and I'll do my best to give you an analysis.

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  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. If I sound surprised, it’s because the technicalities of cameras is not really something that interests me, but I found myself reading and enjoying every word of this, thank you.

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    1. Barbara - That's great. I'm pleased to have been able to convey the message, as it's exactly what Eastman was trying to do in marketing his simple camera to the general public - using the latest technological developments, but ease of understanding and use at the same time.

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    1. Fascinating to be able to see the workings inside those little Kodak boxes that were such a great marketing success.

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    2. Jo - I also enjoy being able to see how they simplified the mechanisms to make it both cheap and easy to operate.

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  7. Noting the first Brownie sold a quarter million between 1900 & 1901, & the first update then went on to sell another half million, I wonder if, when the new products were announced, folks formed lines overnight as they do now for the newest iPhones and iPads and etc. to be among the first to own them? Probably not. I think people had a little more sense back then. But, who knows? And yes, we have to get a bit into your post to find a match to this Saturday's theme, but there are plenty of buildings in those Paris prints. :)

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    1. Gail - Quite possibly they did queue. I know that the first batch of Brownies sold out very quickly, and they had to step up production enormously.

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    2. If there were lines, I wonder if any photographer took pictures of them? Be kind of fun to find out.

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    3. I haven't seen any, but perhaps there are.

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    4. I went online asking about the popularity of the first Kodak Brownie cameras & this tidbit came up which was too much fun to ignore (maybe you've seen it before?): "The appearance of Eastman's cameras was so sudden and so pervasive that the reaction in some quarters was fear. A figure called the "camera fiend" began to appear at beach resorts, prowling the premises until he could catch female bathers unawares. One resort felt the trend so heavily that it posted a notice: "PEOPLE ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE THEIR KODAKS ON THE BEACH." Other locations were no safer. For a time, Kodak cameras were banned from the Washington Monument. The "Hartford Courant" sounded the alarm as well, declaring that "the sedate citizen can't indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children." And they were worried about their exposure to cameras back then! Imagine their concern over iPhones in this day & aga!! :)

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    5. Gail - I've seen a couple of such news reports, and I think they are written tongue in cheek.

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  8. Those photographs are so tiny! About the size of this box I am writing in.

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    1. Indeed, Kristin, not much different from the instant photos produced by the modern day Fuji Instamax cameras.

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  9. I too liked your title - it said it all. Your post was a great introduction to a visit I am making shortly to an "Exhibition fof Victorian Photography" at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I now know a bit more about the background history, so thank you.

    Family History Fun

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    1. ScotSue - Hope you enjoy your visit, Sue, and perhaps you can blog about it in due course?

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    2. I've used several of Kodak's advertising slogans as titles for blog articles - they do indeed encapsulate what the Kodak way was.

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  10. This was a super article, Brett! It's fascinating to see how Kodak cameras evolved with both technical improvements and modifications for economy of the manufacturing and film processing. Having recently looked at a lot of these early cameras, I marvel that they took any photos at all, as their construction is so unsophisticated compared to the cameras that come later. Nonetheless they required a lot of handwork to assemble in an efficient and cost effective manner.

    Seeing the small photos taken by these early Kodaks, especially the cut-off head, shows how the art of the snapshot also needed to evolve for consumers. Did Kodak offer enlargements or duplicates?

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    1. Mike - Thank you for the plaudits. I'm finding it fascinating researching them too. The Pocket Kodak had a small prismatic viewfinder, but it's not particularly easy to frame a photo. The first Brownie had no viewfinder at all, just an arrow! Yes, they did offer enlargements, and the 1896 catalogue has the following:
      "They make negatives of such perfect quality that enlargements of any size can be made ... We do it, at a reasonable price, or you can do it yourself with a Pocket Kodak enlarging camera."

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  11. I wonder, if we could bring back those guys, those who patented the first cameras, what they would think of the digital era, and how we store everything in the virtual world, and how we alter pictures with Photoshop or other soft wares. Would they marvel at it, or their head would explode?!?

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    1. Bruno - I think they would be delighted, and they would totally get it. They were, after all inventors, people who thought outside of the box.

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  12. Brett - I went to so many great photographic exhibitions in Sydney a couple of months ago - perhaps you have seen them...at any rate I think you would like one in the State Library - I hope it is still there and that you can see it http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/events/exhibitions/2015/crowd_source/index.html

    It finishes in August. It was amazing what images were able to be produced from what was essentially described as a detective camera.

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    1. Alex - Syer's candid shots are wonderful. I'd love to see the exhibition, but Sydney's a bit far away :(

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  13. A excellent camera history lesson. So much to absorb. You can go back over 100 years and it is possible to understand the basics of the camera - the light going through the lens and hitting the film, then the chemical changes that take place i developing and printing. But now with a digital camera I haven't a clue what goes on inside . A most interesting post.them

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    1. boundforoz - You're so right about the simplicity of the technology, but in essence the modern digital point and shoot cameras have a lot in common, apart from the electronic sensor replacing the film.

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