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Kodak Retina 117, 35mm folding camera 1934

Kodak's first Retina, the model 117. One of the more significant camera's from history, the model 117 Retina introduced the world to 35mm film wound into a "Daylight Loading Cartridge". Although cameras utilizing the 35mm movie film already existed (most famously Ernst Leitz's Leica), it was Kodak who thought of packaging up a convenient length of the film into a daylight loading cartridge, called the 135 format and kicked off the 35mm revolution. The delightful Retina 117 was the launch camera for this film. George Eastman, who founded Kodak, was an entrepreneur who wasn't shy at acquiring businesses and the Kodak company bought out Nagel Werke in 1932, the year George Eastman died. Kodak had been manufacturing cameras in Rochester (New York), Toronto and London, but production was focussed on mass market cameras and Kodak needed greater precision for its next intended move. The success of the early 35mm film Leicas indicated that 35mm was now of an acceptable quality but cameras would need to be precision made. Accordingly, Kodak bought Nagel Werke in 1932 as it was a small company ripe for picking. The Nagel Vollenda 127 camera clearly indicated that they were capable of producing the refinement necessary. Nagel's previous owner Dr. August Nagel, was retained as designer, and was responsible for the design of the first Kodak Retina which arrived in 1934. The main body was fromed from a die casting, with the advance and rewind mechanisms concealed under a pressed brass top. Pressed steel was used for the front hatch and turned brass components formed the various knobs and dials. Adornment was black leather covering, black lacquer and chrome plate to the bright parts. The depth of field scale on the bottom of the Retina is identical to that fitted to the Nagel Vollenda, they cut corners here - not even removing the German script or changing the metric scale. The entire method of construction was relatively expensive to set up, but cheaper to produce in volume, so Kodak must have been fairly confident. The Retina 117, the first model, is identified easily as it has the wind on release knob on top of the housing next to the advance wheel and is the only Retina to ever have this. The model 117 was replaced by the 118 within a year, so production was quite short lived - but the expensive to make die casting Retina 117 moulds were still used as only the top housing and advance mechanism locks were changed. The Retina was a success though, and other manufacturers responded almost instantly to produce cameras using the 135 format, the Certo Dolina 0 being amongst, or possibly the first.

This camera was donated to the LICM by Mrs. F. Kennedy The camera was discovered in a box of her late husband, Huey. Sadly he took the secret of why he had it to the grave. Although the old Retina had many problems it was rebuilt to working order and is regularly aired. The early Retinas are very usable classics, but be careful to depress the two lensboard locks before trying to close one, forcing by unknowing individuals will bend the struts. Also ensure the lens is focussed at infinity, otherwise the extended front will scratch the inside surface of the front hatch. Also trying to close one with the shutter cocked will pinch the cocking lever in the hatch too. The early Retinas are finished in black lacquer but by the end of 1939 this had given way to chrome.

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Kodak Retina 117, 35mm folding camera 1934
Body No.454038
Shutter, Compur No.2898395, speeds B, 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 & 300th
Condition, 5F, restoration not carried out to "as new".
Lens No.686255, Schneider Kreuznach, Xenar 50mm f/3.5


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We have a collection of 'The Kodak Magazine' from 1931 to 1935, sadly the first four years have been bound and the covers have been removed, with most of the adverts. However the first detailed advert for the Retina pops up in the December 1934 edition (left). The first all out advert appears in the April 1935 Holiday supplement, the cover of which is in the middle and the advert at right. The camera in the advert is photographed clearly enough to see the serial number of the Schneider Kreuznach lens - No. 670281, which was made in about May 1934.

 

 

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