Over Easter, my parents gifted me this incredible No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie camera. These were made by Eastman Kodak between 1915 and 1926, and this would have been used by my great-grandfather to capture images of life in rural Saskatchewan. I noticed that the last patent date on the body read 1921, making this girl nearly a century old!
Through all that time, it's in quite decent shape. The bellows didn't show any signs of light leaks, the glass was still good, and the blades were fairly free of rust. The shutter still moved freely, and it was easy to set the aperture.
An all-metal case meant these cameras for ready for rugged terrain, but once you open it up, you get a sense for how delicate the camera really is. A silver pull tab leads the lens and bellows along a set of rails, unfolding the bellows as it travels. Controls are basic, but these early point-and-shoots demanded some knowledge on behalf of the user. You needed to know what shutter speed and aperture would be needed to capture your subject, and the shutter release came in handy for those long exposure images. Distance from your subject was also crucial as this was how the camera zoomed!
If you look below the lens in this image, you'll see the aperture settings: U.S. 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64. You can move the pointer higher and lower than those marks. Instead of f-stops as we're accustomed to seeing, aperture was measured in Uniform System. So the U.S. 4 to 64 range roughly translates to f/7.7 to f/32.
Shutter speeds were set using the dial above the lens (made by Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. - sound familiar, contact lens wearers?), and gave options of 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 of a second. You could also set a Bulb mode or T-mode; the latter allowing the shutter to stay open until the release was pressed again.
So where does the 'autographic' part fit in? There's a flap on the back of this camera with a holster for a small stylus. After taking an image, you could lift the flap, write some information on the image you just shot, expose that portion for a few seconds, then close the latch. I could still see remnants of scribbles and dates on the backing plate after lifting the flap.
Composing a shot meant looking down the viewfinder (which on this model is very cloudy!), setting your aperture, shutter and - oh yeah - your zoom! You had three options here, eight feet, 25 feet and 100 feet (as you can see by the little gold bit above the light stand in this image). The latch at the front also served as a stand if the camera was placed on a flat surface.
You can also mount this camera on a tripod or light stand (as used here) using one of two mounts for portrait or landscape mode. To shoot londscape, you have to also turn the viewfinder 90 degrees. There are two shutter options, either the release (which has seen better days!) or by pressing a lever beside the lens.
In the early 1920s, the No. 2 Autographic was advertized for sale at a whopping $10 (roughly equivalent to $120 in today's currency). Now, you can buy one off eBay for anywhere between $20 and $45.
What? Why so cheap?! I was shocked, too. You'd think these beauties would be worth thousands of dollars by now! However, I feel this particular model is beyond that. It's priceless, given the family connection. I come from a long line of photographers, and it was a sheer joy to inherit such a remarkable specimen. The No. 2 Autographic Brownie was a trendsetting innovation in it's day. Who knows - maybe I'll run some film through the old girl and see what emerges!