Vintage and Classic Cameras
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Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak camera, c1914

Kodak's Vest Pocket Kodak, often known simply by the initials VPK, is a trellis strut folding 127 roll film camera introduced in 1912 initially without the autographic feature but later ones did. The autographic feature first appeared on Kodak cameras around 1914 and consisted of a small trap door in the back of the camera that could be opened to gain access to the backing paper of the roll film. The idea being that once a picture had been exposed, this trap door was opened and using a supplied metal stylus, the photographer scratched any details of the picture into the backing paper. This would result in a thinning of the paper and by directing the open trap door to light - the details would be recorded photographically in the gap between negatives. Construction is typical of Kodak's budget cameras, well thought out to be efficient yet advanced for the era and all screw fixings use one size of screwdriver. The body is formed from a sheet of aluminium with rolled ends, sliding into this is a similar sheet aluminium panel that serves to form the film chambers and the focal plane aperture. Riveted to this is a metal tray that acts as the anchor for the bellows, stiffens the focal plane, serves as the trellis strut slide mount and back stop for the lensboard. This entire assembly neatly slides into the body being retained by two screws through the fixed side plate. Two slide plates, one cemented in place, the other removable for loading film are early examples of zinc alloy die cast components. The lensboard is stamped from aluminium sheet with two grip panels first stamped with a grip pattern then folded over and mounts the only method of composing the image via the swivelling waist level finder. Mounted to the lensboard is a retractable leg, for steadying the camera on some convenient surface. The camera couldn't be used free standing as no cable release was fitted to the Kodak ball bearing shutters rear fitted to VPKs although it made the installation very neat and free of protuberances to snag when slipping into a pocket. The finish on painted parts is gloss black, both inside and out. The trellis struts are nickel plated brass, riveted to the focal plane, and screwed to the lensboard. The trellis strut arrangement avoided the problems of the lens board flexing under the strain of the bellows, it also allows fairly rapid deployment of the lens. Fitted with Kodak ball bearing shutter, these seem to last the test of time, nearly all the ones I've come across still worked, this one was the exception, although after a total strip down, reversal of some tampering and clean it now works again. For the era, it's quite an intricate mechanism, especially considering the numbers produced. The bellows are natural leather, with card stiffeners and linen liner, typical of the period. VPKs were made with a number of styling variations with cheaper editions appearing to have smooth paint on the lensboard, whereas others have crackle finish. They were available with a cheap single element meniscus achromatic lens mounted behind the shutter, as per this example, or f/7.7 Rapid Rectilinear or Kodak Anastigmats. This particular camera was donated in July 2009 by Mr. S. Hedley. It joins a slightly later and better equipped example, click here.

Kodak, Vest Pocket Autographic Kodak camera, c1914

VPK Aseembly

The entire bellows, strut and lensboard cassette slides in during manufacture.

patent Plate on VPK Patent Plate 1920  
Guessing the age of Kodaks is a fun game. The Autographic VPKs have a circular panel in the back, early ones have relatively few patent stamps whereas later ones are festooned. As a guide you'd need to add a couple of years to the latest patent application during this period of rapid development, so the left hand image would be for a VPK around 1914/15 and the right hand image about 1920.
VPK-Section The trellis strut VPK is a beautifully elegant piece of product design. Pictured here are the trellis struts neatly collapsed and stowed ready to be slipped into a waist coat pocket, as was the intention. Also seen is the method the the entire bellows, strut and lensboard cassette slides in along lips formed in the aluminium sheet to form the film chambers and focal plane slot. When fitting the top it was essential to make sure the wind on wheel aligned with the drive slot in the film spool. 127 film spools only have a slot in one end. Go to 360 degree view

Body No.622770, will be found on the reverse of the free standing leg.
Shutter, Kodak ball bearing shutter, speeds T, B, 25, & 50th
Lens, Meniscus Achromat
Condition, 5F

View other 127 roll film cameras in this collection.

Open Kodak VPK - slide 1

Open Kodak VPK - slide 2

Open Kodak VPK - slide 3

With the trellis strut folding mechanism fitted to Kodak's Vest Pocket Kodak, the user simply pulls the lensboard forward to the end of its travel, sets the camera up and it's ready to go. It's a neat solution. Closing the camera is equally simple, just push on the lensboard with evenly centred pressure. The trellis struts made the camera rigid enough to serve their purpose well, so much so that the VPK sold in the hundreds of thousands, although later versions went back to the simpler pull along the lens bed method.

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