Early Eastman shutter and a leap into the bleeding edge of technology, 1890’s style.

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The best thing about donations, is that you don’t really have any way to prepare for them, they just show up and surprise you. Well, sometimes they surprise you in a good way, that is. One of the last donations, made by a friend of one of our board and consisting of the goodies left over from his father’s life as a photo fix-it guy and inveterate tinkerer, contained this gem. It is a sector shutter, from the first roll-film only, large format camera sold by George Eastman. Starting in 1890, Eastman marketed two cameras that were called “satchel cameras,” self-casing drop-front cameras capable of taking either 4″x5″ (No.4) or 5″x7″ (No.5) vertical format images on a long roll of film that was advanced by means of a dial at the top of the camera. The No.4 took 48 pictures before running out of film.

By 1893, it became obvious to Eastman that the public hadn’t yet caught up with him, at least in terms of larger cameras, and he “improved” both the No.4 and the No.5 by allowing them  to take plate holders as well as roll film. Too many people were still insisting on the one-shot-at-a-time mode that was tried and true photography in that era. While the smaller box camera was a hit in the general public (“Push the button and we do the rest”), those  used to a glass plates were not yet ready (in sufficient number) to make the Satchel Camera of 1890 a success. Production stopped on both cameras in 1897.

The shutter shown was used only on this one camera, and only from 1890 to 1893, when the improved camera came out, fitted with the Unicum shutter that is far more commonly seen on both self-casing and early Vest Pocket Kodaks of the early 20th century. The lens in this is a Rapid Rectilinear, marked by the holes on the shutter blade in the US system of 4, 8, 16, and 32. The “wings” of this sector shutter, seen here from the top, are a stop plate (on right), adjustable to bring various holes in line with the lens, and a spring-driven blade that sweeps an elongated opening over lens when the trigger is pushed. The brass plate then closes off all light.

In all, it’s a pretty elegant solution to the problem, and I am surprised that this shutter never appeared again in the scores of Kodak offerings available throughout the twentieth century. It’s 120+ years old, and it took me less than five minutes of cleaning to get it working again. I wonder if anything we make today will be like that?

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