“You Press the Button… We Do the Rest”

star space 108Kodak Vest Pocket Hawkeye Camera $195.00star space 108

Baseball fanatics have Cooperstown, PA; Pottery nuts have Zanesville, Ohio; and camera aficionados have Rochester, NY. Why does Rochester hold such reverence? It was there in 1880 that a young inventor and entrepreneur named George Eastman set up a company to supply film plates to photographers. From rather inauspicious beginnings Eastman built the company into one of the most recognized corporate names in the world- Kodak.

George Eastman is the founder of snapshot photography; it was his simple preloaded camera introduced in 1888 that put picture taking in to the hands of the common man and ushered in the era of candid photography. For over 50 years the genius of Eastman’s camera was embodied in the company’s advertising slogan “you press the button… we do the rest”.

The sound of the clicking camera shutter inspired Eastman to name his invention “Kodak”. The Kodak combined the best features of existing technologies to create a simple, compact camera. The camera was preloaded with 100 exposures of roll film. When exposed, the camera was returned to the factory where the film was processed. Pictures and a freshly loaded camera were then returned to the owner.

Before the Kodak, photographers processed their own film. Earlier Field View Cameras were bulky and film was kept sandwiched between heavy glass plates [editor’s note: Actually, film was heavy glass plates]. The original Kodak was smaller than most plates, and weighed less than 1/20 of the earlier camera; and produced 10 times the number of photographs.

The Kodak’s light weight made it an instant hit with travelers; the simplicity of operation made it marketable to the layman.

The original Kodak was a simple box weighing only 26 ounces. Five thousand were produced between 1888 and 1889. Originally they sold for about $25.00. Today, this rarity can fetch up to $3500 from collectors.

With successs of the “box” camera in the amateur market, Eastman turned his attention to the professional market. In 1890 the No. 4 Folding Kodak Camera introduced roll film to a folding box.

Box cameras of the mid 1890s no longer needed to be sent to the factory for reloading. These cameras went by the names Ordinary and Daylight; both were produced from 1891 to 1895. Ordinary cameras required a dark room for film loading. These cameras are easily distinguished by their natural wood boxes. They were inexpensive, selling for between $6 and $15.

Daylight cameras made it possible for film to be loaded in the daylight. Lightproof cardboard boxes with velvet light traps were used for both supply and take up, thus permitting daylight loading and unloading of the camera. These cameras were originally priced between $8.50 and $25.00.

Kodak’s innovations were designed to make cameras lighter, smaller, easier to operate, and less costly.

For the serious photographer, folding cameras were replaced by Folding Pocket cameras, which were later replaced by Folding Vest Pocket Cameras. After WWII, the introduction of smaller film sizes revolutionized this part of the market. The 35mm camera with precision shutter speeds and lenses became the camera of choice.

The box camera retained its popularity with the common man through the early 50s. A streamlined plastic version of the original box camera, the Brownie Hawkeye was produced through 1971. But this part of the market also turned away from the larger film sizes and cameras to smaller, easier to operate cameras with lots of built in instamatic features.

Today, the box camera and the folding camera are history- and ripe for collecting. Although, the original Kodak boasts a price tag of $3500, most Kodaks sell for well under $100.

For me camera collecting is a hands-on opportunity to witness the evolution of a major technology, and its functional! Many of these cameras take exceptionally good photographs. -Michael Roberts

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