The

Story

of the

Vest

Pocket

Kodak

 In 1912 George Eastman  introduced the 27th. new film size since he produced the No. 101 for the Folding Pocket Kodak Camera in 1895. As such it received the number 127 and gave 12 - 1 5/8“ x 2 ˝” exposures. It was only phased out of production by Kodak in the 1990's. The film was produced to complement this  new, and soon to be very successful, camera that he called the Vest Pocket Kodak. The Folding Pocket Kodak's, were small enough to go into some pockets though  the larger sizes would have stretched them somewhat. The Vest Pocket Kodak, however, was designed with the American vest (waistcoat) pockets in mind.

 While the VPK was conceived as a  simple camera it was very well made.  ‘Special’ cameras were soon produced using a standard body but with better lenses. The standard camera had a simple Meniscus Achromat lens. It was supplied to the public for the sum of $6.00 which, in relation to the average working wage at the time, was not cheap. One of the lenses in the first specials, produced under licence by Bausch and Lomb in Rochester, was the Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat f - 6.9 which increased the purchase price to a massive $25.00.

Later a similar lens, the Carl Zeiss Tessar IIb - f6.9 was provided at the same price of $25.00 while the former was reduced to $22.50.

In 1914, possibly in an attempt to further reduce the cost of the better cameras, Eastman Kodak produced in house an f8 Kodak Anastigmat  which reduced the cameras cost to a more reasonable $12.00. For three Dollars extra this camera was supplied in a Kodak Gift Case which included the camera with the f8 lens, an  ‘Imported leather Carrying Case’ and ’ Silk Lined Container’.

 The first major alteration to the VPK came in 1915 in common with most other folding cameras produced at Rochester. This was the introduction of the Autographic feature.This was a means to record on the negative details of the photograph. This by means of a small stylus. A slot was provided in the back of the camera with a hinged cover. A new roll film was provided with a special backing paper. Using the stylus it was possible to write on the back of the film; this partly perforated the backing so that by holding the camera up to the light what was written came out on the film. The slot was so positioned that it was over the natural gap between adjacent exposures and allowed a single line of small writing to appear between each exposure. Very few prints appear to have survived with any such writing and it would indicate that this was meant only an aid to identify negatives at the printing stage. Few other manufacturers took up the facility which was phased out in 1932 though film was still available for the rest of the decade.

 1915 was significant in other ways in that Kodak standardised on new lenses which served the camera till the end of  it’s production. The lenses that remained standard during the ‘Autographic’ period of the camera were the Meniscus Achromat, and Kodak Anastigmats of f 7.7 and f 6.9, maximum aperture and the Rapid Rectilinear, thought his latter lens was mot introduced till around 1919.. The two anastigmats were supplied in both fixed focus and focusing versions though the focussing versions were supplied only in the Special cameras. The Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat continued to be fitted until at least 1920 though  in the 1916 catalogue it was then listed as the B-L Kodak Anastigmat (with a note ‘Formerly listed as the Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat).

 What makes this little camera so interesting, however, is the number of independent lens manufacturers who considered it worth while to offer their own lenses for fitting into these cameras, often to regular cameras originally fitted with the Meniscus Achromat lens. Both Beck of London and Goerz of Stuttgart advertised a service of lens replacement for these cameras. A list of these lenses and manufacturers is given later, though it cannot  held that this is the definitive list for they seem to turn up by the day.

  With regard to body numbers Ron Lockton had found in his survey three distinct body number series the longest from about 1000 up to 1.850.000 for the regular cameras (1818544 is the highest body number found in this survey) with two series for the Leather covered specials from 8000 up to 250.000 and from 7000 to 30,000 for very late versions.

 During the later survey a further series with a letter S suffix appeared not mentioned by Ron Lockton. These S-suffix numbered cameras range from 1234S (starting at 1001-S?)  through to 39616S. The cameras in the survey found in the first 10,000 of this series are comprised of six Zeiss Kodak Anastigmats, two TT&H Kodak Anastigmats and one Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 11b. The first mention of the Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat is in the 1913 Rochester Catalogue and the camera with this lens is described as ‘Vest Pocket Kodak Special’.

However the evidence of the present survey would indicate that the -S suffix numbers are the early numbers of Ron Lockton’s  first special no. Series, the highest s-suffix number so far found is 39516-S and the lowest number for Ron’s first special series (ie. without the the ‘S’) is  41200. from this it would seem reasonable to assume that the ‘S’ refers to Special

 The one anomaly in the above assumption is that all the f8 lensed cameras so far found are included in this ‘S’ range (10157S to 25,565S) and in the catalogue of 1913 they were certainly not described as ‘special’, however all cameras in the survey with the ‘S’ suffix subsequent to this batch of f8 cameras have lenses that would make them ‘special’. It is interesting to note that all the f8 lensed cameras that appear in the survey have, in every case, lens numbers that are approximately 10,000 less than the body no. and no cameras with other lenses have appeared in this block of numbers, indicating that these cameras must have had a production run of about 15,500 cameras.

 Camera 37244-S is the first one in the survey to have the autographic feature with the wording ‘VP Autographic Kodak Special’ and is also the first to have the Morocco leather covering. The wording on the Autographic flap was soon changed  to ‘Use Autographic Film A-127 (camera 75147) so I think it also reasonable to assume that the -S suffix was finally dropped as it was then obvious from the leather covering that these cameras were ‘Special’. It is because of the above I am convinced that the original purpose of the ‘-S’ suffix was in fact to indicate  Special.

 Notwithstanding all the above it should be noted that Kodak were not always consistent in their body numbering for there are numerous occasions when what are obvious specials are included with body numbers in the main number series. Camera numbers 417379 and 417380 (see Photo Gallery) are a case in point. Also most cameras with lenses by independent manufacturers originally fitted with cheaper lenses will have numbers in the same main series.

 For one of  the larger, if not largest, suppliers of photographic equipment and materials in the world in the first half of last century Kodak were not the best at keeping archive material on the products that they produced. This lack of manufacturing data and dates is a particular problem in dating these cameras during production The problem arises mainly in trying to ascribe dates to the Specials. Except for lenses and body covering both regular and special cameras appear identical but similar changes to body design would have been made at the same time in all cameras. So a special would exhibit the same changes as the regular camera at any given date and it is by these minor changes it is possible to relate the different body number series to each other. It was for this reason I felt that the survey needed  to go such fine detail of the changes in construction  the cameras.

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Keith Christie

December 2006