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The Kombi

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Posted 7 years ago

(31 items)

The Kombi is a tiny metal box camera, manufactured and sold by Alfred C. Kemper of Chicago. Its name comes from the fact that it functions not only as a camera, but also as a viewer.

The spring-loaded mechanism above the lens arms the shutter. Its arm engages the notched release atop the camera, which is actuated by pressing down on it. To take a picture, you would first have to cover the lens with your finger, then arm the shutter. You could then remove your finger and press down on the release.

To use the camera as a viewer, you would load the camera with its developed transparency film, remove the circular cap on the back of the camera (2nd photo), and view the pictures by holding the camera up to a light source and looking through the lens.

The Kombi was first manufactured in 1892 or 1893, depending on your source. The patent was granted on December 20th, 1892, so it seems unlikely that the cameras were actually produced before 1893, but it's possible. In any case, this little marvel is well over 100 years old.
The camera body is made entirely of seamless metal with an oxidized finish and decorative diagonal stripes. The brass clip on the side was an accessory, the purpose of which was to remind the user that the camera was loaded with film. The clip was not needed to hold the two halves of the camera together, as the body was made with a high degree of precision. In fact, the Kombi is the world's first camera to have an interchangeable rollfilm back. It was also the first-ever device that could be used to both take and view photos.
Eastman Kodak agreed to manufacture the diminutive film rolls specifically for the Kombi (another first), which is quite possibly the final element that made the Kombi a reality.

The 3rd shot gives an idea of the size of the Kombi, and a better view of the ornate engraving on the front. It says, "A combined camera and graphoscope" (a graphoscope being a photo viewer).

The box for the Kombi was described by Kemper as a "cloth covered carrying case" which, technically, is accurate, and does sound better than "box". The camera fits only one way, as the inside has a slot cut in one side to fit the shutter actuator.

This is the oldest camera in my collection so far, but I hope to be able to acquire earlier cameras. I love those wood & brass beauties...


  1. bccanyon bccanyon, 7 years ago
    Great camera.
    I recently acquired a Kombi without a box. Does the box have a separate lid or is one end open. does the box appear to be wood under the cloth or is it cardboard? Thanks for your response.
  2. JohnKratz JohnKratz, 7 years ago
    The box is made of cardboard, and is basically a box within a box. The photo above shows the outer box.
  3. bccanyon bccanyon, 7 years ago
    Thanks John. I appreciate the communication.
  4. Andre Bessot, 6 years ago
    Hi John. I just buy a Kombi yesterday, but unfortunately its lens is missing. I think to replace it by a new one. Is it possible to ask you the dimensions of this tiny lens.
    Thank you very much and kind regards.
  5. DerekToye DerekToye, 3 years ago

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