Posted 4 years ago
In 1890, George Eastman introduced a new style of self-casing camera that was the first to garner broad public acceptance. It is also historically important as the first of its style to accept roll film. The public embraced the concept and George Eastman’s Folding Kodak series set the standard-designwise-for the next 25+ years.
At that time, Eastman was pushing roll film over glass plates. While roll film was still in its infancy, having become popular with his original 1888 “Kodak” camera, the vision was for beginners through serious amateurs to use roll film. The Folding Kodak’s innovative body style was noticed by the public and eventually copied by numerous makers. However, most competitors’ cameras could only use glass plates due to Eastman practically owning all of the film patents. Regardless, these portable leather covered folding cameras represented an ideal compromise between larger view designs and inexpensive roll film box cameras.
Having been originally built for roll film holders, the 1890 Folding Kodak camera loaded from the top and had a leather-hinged cover that gave the camera a satchel like appearance when closed. Unfortunately, the leather hinge connecting the top lid to the body often tore apart, as seen on this example. As such, most all Folding Kodak cameras are found with separated or missing lids. Additionally, composing pictures was difficult because the small bed mounted reflex finder was difficult to use.
The original 1890 4x5 inch model shown here (a 5x7 inch version was also sold) used 48-exposure roll film and had a distinctive sector shutter. Giving in to the popularity of other company’s cameras that used glass plates, Kodak modified the design sometime between 1891 and 1892 to accept glass plates. For those who purchased the early roll film models, Kodak offered to convert their cameras to use double plate holders for $10. The conversion also made composing easier on a ground glass, which is how competitors designed their versions.
Shown here with the No.4 Folding Kodak is its original Eastman roll film holder. The holder and camera both have serial number 169. A price of $50 for the 1890 model (roughly equivalent to $1,354 in year 2016 currency!) was very expensive, which might explain the rarity of these original models. By the mid-1890s, other makers were offering smaller, significantly less expensive versions with average prices in the $8 to $25 range.