F. and S. Marriott 140 Newbegin, Hornsea, England, HU18 1PB

May 2010. Stephanie died peacefully on 19th April after a short stay in hospital. She had been suffering from acute cervical cancer. Fred will continue to run the business to the best of his ability. The web site is slowly getting under control again as he tries to take over some of Stephanie's responsibilities, and learns some of the mysteries of Dreamweaver.

The Bakelite Story

Leo Hendrick Baekerland was born in Belgium in 1863, the son of a shoemaker. After studying chemistry at the University of Ghent, he laid the foundations for his future achievements in both phenolics and photography; one of his early photographic innovations was a method of making photographic plates that could be developed underwater.
America beckoned to the young man who, in 1889, emigrated and began work as a chemist for a photographic materials company. About two years later, Baekerland became a frelance chemist; his first invention as a freelance was Velox paper, which quickly became popular as it could be developed in artificial light, rather than under a safelight. In 1899 the patent for Velox and the factory were purchased by George Eastman for a sum rumoured to be abut one million dollars.
Baekerland returned to phenolic research. He discovered that resins produced from phenol and formaldehyde, when heated under pressure and with a catalyst, made a soft solid which could be moulded and hardened. Alternatively the new substance could be powdered, pressed into shape and heated until hard. This new substance was not conductive to electricity, and resisted heat and corrosion. He patented it in 1907 and called it Bakelite.
It was to be used in the manufacture of a huge range of items, from toasters to coffins (the coffins did not catch on), including a large number of cameras and other photographic items Bakelite photographic items are often easy to find and therefore frequently overlooked.
Bakelite cameras were made in many countries of the world, including Australia, France, Argentina, U.S.A., Czechoslovakia, Great Britain and Germany, and by some of the best-known names in photography, like Kodak, and some of the least-known. Who has ever seen an Erac Mercury I Pistol camera (c. 1938)? As may be expected from the name, the casing is shaped like a pistol; the trigger is coupled to a Merlin camera which is inside the Bakelite casing.
Many Bakelite cameras were very simple; Kodak made several of these. The Hawkette cameras are mottled brown Bakelite, and very attractive. The simple yet elegant Baby Brownie is said to have sold 4 million, at one dollar each. It was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague for Kodak and was sold from about 1934. Examples found now often have some deterioration of the viewfinder which spoils their appearance.
Other cameras were more complicated; the Argus A series included and A2 (c. 1939-50) and A2F (c. 1939-41) which has extinction meters, while the Perflex Speed Candid (c. 1939) had an uncoupled rangefinder, extinction meter, interchangeable lens capability and a focal plane shutter.
A special-purpose Bakelite camera, the Clinicamera, took plates. It was intended for dental and medical work; the black camera was surrounded by a reflector; illumination was provided by a flashbulb.
British companies made several of the well-known Bakelite cameras, including one of the earliest for rollfilm, the Rajar No. 6 folding camera (c. 1929). Coronet supplied Bakelite cameras for about twenty years, with the simple Cadet, Cameo and Captain, all available in the mid-thirties, and the Coronet Ambassador of the mid-fifties. The Purma Special is a British Bakelite camera from 1937. It is often claimed that this camera was designed by an American, Raymond Loewy, or by his British design studio - however, there are a number of camera collectors who dispute this and I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the claim is true. The Purma is most famous for its idiosyncratic shutter regulation, which is assisted by gravity. To select a shutter speed, the camera must be held in a certain way.

Coronet Midget

Coronet Midget


One of the most collected of the Bakelite cameras, the Coronet Midget, dates from 1935. Made in several colours including bright red, green and blue, this cameraa was made to take unperforated 16 mm. film on special spools.
The Coronet Midget was not the only camera to be made in colours, although most Bakelite cameras were "any colour as long as it's black, or maybe brown." Soho, in addition to the fairly common Pilot, which is black, also made the Cadet and the Model B, both a reddish-brown colour; the Model B has wine-red bellows. The Australian Sportshot Super Twenty (c. 1938) is a simple camera with a folding finder for 120 or 620 roll-film. It is available in green, brown, maroon, blue-grey, or black. The Bilora Boy, commonly seen in black, was also available in brown with gold trim. The French Boumsell Photo-magic, taking 127 film, was made in wine or black. The Kirk, a stereo camera taking six pairs on 828 film, was made in brown As Argentinian camera, the Rex-Lujo (c. 1944-59), similar to the more common Photax was made in black or brown.
One of thee most unusual and rare of the Bakelite cameras is another Argentinian camera, the Bislent, which took two images, one above the other, on the film. Each image is 25 mm. x 36 mm. The shutters are not linked, but are worked independently. The camera is otherwise undistinguished, having a simple meniscus lens and single speed shutter.

Kodak Brownie 127

The most commonly seen Bakelite camera is surely the Brownie 127 camera, first made in about 1953 in England. Watch out for the different designs on the front plate; the camera was made up to about 1959. There is reputed to be a white version of this camera which was unpopular as it got very dirty. I have never seen this version advertised in any British magazines.
Not many cine cameras appear to have employed Bakelite, but one that is fairly common and which features some lovely Art Deco-style moulding on the front is the British Dekko. A very much more unusual camera is the Kemco Homovie of the early 1930s. This uses 16 mm. film, but takes four images on each frame in a "quartered" pattern. Frame advance is thus a rather eccentric pattern, but film usage is four times more efficient. The frame size resulting from this exercise in economy is 3.65 mm. x 4.8 mm. The camera is fitted with a 15 mm. f/3.5 lens. A projector was also available, capable of projectng "standard" 16 mm. films or Kemco-format films.
Cameras were not the only photographic items made from Bakelite; because of the chemically-inert nature of Bakelite, it was popular for developing tanks, and it was used in a range of other goods. In the late forties, a trefoil-shaped developing tank was available, the trefoil being the shape of he Bakelite company's logo. The Envoy 6 tank is probably seen more often.

Agilux Agiscope

Agilux made the Agiscope enlarger from bakelite.

Kodak used Bakelite for a number of items including a portable enlarger, while several meters are housed in Bakelite cases. These include the Chum (c. 1947), a brown selenium meter, the G.E.C., (c. 1947) a round selenium meter made in England, the Gossen Majosix from the late fifties, the Lumy, a German extinction meter made in red or brown, and the Metrawatt LC60 of the late 1930s, a shoe-mounting selenium meter made for the Leica III. Zeiss made their first photoelectric meter using Bakelite, the Helios, for use with the Contax.
Bakelite projectors include the Filmosto's Filmostor of 1952, the Magnajector episcope of the late thirties and the Dux episocope of 1951.
While this article contains nothing like a full list of all photographic Bakelite collectables, I hope it gives some idea of the variety and choice available. It is hardly surprising that some collectors concentrate on Bakelite to the exclusion of all else.

Pictures of other Bakelite (and early plastic) items

Coronet 44

Ebner folding camera

Argus Seventy-five

Kodak Duaflex II

Kodak Brownie 127

Camera similar to Dixi (has Bakelite lens mount and metal body)

Soho Cadet

Kodak pocket rangefinder

Prasiza Rangefinder

Nebro Visual exposure meter

Weston Cine Meter

Weston Master exposure meter

Viewmaster viewer

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