Vintage and Classic Cameras
Camera Restoration Project 2, resurrection...

The Librette arrived after I conserved a similar one for Southampton Museums, I mentioned that I didn't have any Nagel cameras at the time and a short while later this one arrived courtesy of one of the Southampton Museum's staff who picked it up for £1 at a car boot sale. Even at that price it was overpriced! As I removed the poor thing from it's plastic bag it was preceded by a small pile of various oxidized materials....

This Nagel was made from pressed steel which had rusted, this had in turn drawn all the moisture out of the leather covering which then shrank and cracked off, the aluminium components were similarly corroded and the bellow were rotten. What paint was left was only serving to keep the oxidation close to the metal. In truth it was beyond saving.... but we felt like a challenge. Inside the camera was the last spool used, the wooden cored variety have not been available since the 40s, so the camera had been dormant for some time.

One small glimmer of good news amongst all this decay were the chromed parts, which had weathered 6 decades of neglect reasonably well, a quick wipe revealed the still gleaming focus scale from beneath a caked layer of dust. The cameras was partially seized with years of muck in the lens bed rails. It was obvious from the start that none of the paint or leather work was salvageable, to we went to work with GT85 silicone spray to start freeing things up for dismantling.

One of the few brass components on this Nagel Librette was the waist level finder, the only method of viewing on this camera. The chrome plate reflecting mirror was still usable after a good clean and the nickel plated lens mount was still bright too. The spring was rather rusty but responded to cleaning and a soak in oil. The spring clip that retains the assembly to the lens board gets my vote for one of the most awkward ever!
Amazingly the Nagel Anastigmat lens had resisted the spores of fungus surprisingly well. Although cloudy, a fairly vigorous polish brought it up nicely and without the added complication of any lens coating to deal with, the assault can be fairly energetic. The shutter was very sick and the aperture leaves had fallen out of their slots. Later in the rebuild it was found that the aperture leaves were made from vulcanite, and early plastic like material made from vulcanized rubber, or rubber that has been combined with baked sulphur. This is not that uncommon in early cameras and usually survives quite well, but it is quite brittle and will buckle over the years if left in sunlight heat. The aperture leaves inside this example were badly buckled, refusing to slide over each other.  

The shutter had to be totally dismantled to stand any chance of getting it working again. Mostly the problems were restricted to ingested dust and baked solid lubricant. The shutter is a fairly simple self energizing device with twin blades. Like the aperture leaves the shutter blades were of vulcanite, these had coped rather better than the aperture leaves and were reusable. We had an externally very similar shutter in the collection and it was hoped that spare parts might be able to be taken from that, but on opening up the spare, it was completely different inside and yielded no parts. This image shows the shutter after cleaning out and beginning to reassemble the mechanism. The shutter case was the only part of the camera that had paint deemed sufficiently intact to save, the section of paint missing around the edge was blown in with an airbrush later.
After several attempts to reassemble the aperture leaves it was realized that some attempt at straightening the buckles out of them would be needed. In the end the pragmatic view that since they were useless as they were, a drastic experiment might be needed. So they were boiled in water for a few seconds then pressed flat. The result was not perfect but was just enough to allow the aperture leaves to lay flat, well nearly. This couldn't help the fact that they had shrunk however. The cure for this was equally pragmatic... the slots were extended so that the slightly shorter leaves don't fall out the end. This was achieved with liquid steel, an epoxy resin, that was filed away afterwards, leaving the available aperture 1mm narrower, but at least it would function again. This was mind bogglingly fiddly work and I doubt if I shall ever attempt it again! Finally, at right, the de-gunked, polished, pressed and very slightly modified aperture mechanism goes back together again.  

No attempt was made to save any of the original carcass paint, except for the inside of the baseplate. The corrosion was well established and deeply pitted, stripping was carried out in the most aggressive way imaginable, with a bench grinder fitted with a brass wire wheel. 'Nitromors', a foul and remarkably effective paint stripper was used on the aluminium bed - but it will also attack the alloy so you have to watch it to make sure the process doesn't run away unchecked. Sufficient of the original paint remained for a good match to be made. Oddly the camera was painted gloss inside and out. Originally there was no paint under the leather work. However in order to try and prevent the rust returning, the entire carcass was painted before recovering. The paint used in this case is not an obvious choice, high temperature gloss exhaust paint. It is very thin, but with excellent opacity, bakes hard with heat, is a near perfect hue match and goes down with a mirror finish in one application. The Nagel was originally painted in one coat with no primer or undercoat and this approach was used during the restoration.
The bellows were rotten and holed in many places. As the shutter was corroded in place the only way to remove it entailed cutting off the retaining ring with a Dremmel, in order to get access to this area the bellows had to be cut off as well, a grim way to start 'restoring' a delicate instrument like a camera. All this meant that the only purpose the original bellows were ever going to serve was as a pattern. I had a good match in my leather collection in the form of a smooth goat skin sciver. Bellows leather is very thin, much thinner than a standard sciver, so it has to be pared down by hand. Here the process has begun using a modified Draper spoke shave. The iron needs to be ground back to 10 °, the mouth opened up to prevent clogging and the edges of the iron rounded off to prevent the edges digging in, but the Draper version is not expensive so you can mercilessly grind one up. The spoke shave iron needs to be much sharper than usual and the edge needs to be maintained during the paring process. Paring is performed on the reverse and continues until the pores of the dermis are just becoming evident... without making any holes. you need to be careful and patient! If you feel like having a go you can get a Draper spoke shave from their pretty nifty, but UK only, website.  


Above left shows the dismantled camera prior to any treatment showing the full extent of the rot, above right are the same parts after restoration prior to reassembly and finally at right the fully rebuilt wreck, just before its epic first outing... it was sent to the Galapagos Islands! Click on the image to view the main entry for the Nagel 16 Librette.

The leather embossing techniques were the same as those employed in Project 1

Take a look at Project 3



© Living Image Vintage Cameras 2000-2017