Old cameras often lurk forgotten in drawers and closets only to be discovered on the sad occasion of sorting through a loved one’s possessions after he or she passes. Such was the case with this No. 3A Autographic Kodak, which had belonged to a friend of Down the Road reader Jan. I was saddened by the circumstances when Jan contacted me with her offer to place this camera on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Camera Collection. But of course, I was delighted to receive it.
The No. 3A Autographic Kodak is a giant among folding cameras at 4¾ inches wide by 9½ inches tall – 1¾ inches wider and 3¾ inches taller than my more typically sized folding Kodak Six-20. That’s because the No. 3A takes size 122 film, which produces big postcard-sized 3¼-by-5½-inch prints. Postcard collectors know well the “real photo postcards” produced when photographs were printed onto paper marked with a place for a stamp, address, and message. Kodak introduced size 122 film in 1903 just for this purpose. Real photo postcards were popular for several decades, finally falling out of favor by the 1960s. Kodak soldiered on with the format but finally gave up, producing its last roll of 122 in 1971.
The real photo postcard was at its peak in 1914, however, when Kodak introduced the No. 3A for a 20-year manufacturing run. As an autographic Kodak, it included a flip-up door on the back and a little stylus. When special autographic film was loaded into the camera, lifting the door let you write a few words on the film’s backing paper. Then you’d leave the door open for a few seconds in the light, which caused the words you wrote to transfer photographically to the negative. Kodak suggested that this be used to record the photograph’s subject, the date, and even the camera’s settings as a reminder when the photographs were returned from being developed and printed. Typical of autographic Kodaks, my No. 3A’s stylus was lost long ago.
Kodak offered its No. 3A with a few different combinations of lens and shutter. This one comes with the premium f/7.7 Anastigmat lens, which could be stopped down to an itty-bitty f/45. Its Kodak Automatic shutter can expose the film at 1/100, 1/25, 1/5, 1/2, and 1 second, as well as time and bulb.
Focusing the lens involves moving the entire lens assembly along its rails. You first lift, slide, and set the black “catch” on the focus scale to the desired distance. Then you squeeze the two chromed levers toward each other and slide the lens assembly up to the “catch,” where it stops.
To frame a photograph, you lift up the chromed cover on the viewfinder and peer down through it, aligning the camera until you’re satisfied. The No. 3A’s lens assembly can move horizontally and vertically to fine-tune the framing. Making it move is a little complicated, so I’ll skip telling you how.
Given the No. 3A’s defunct film format, I’m unable to try out this camera. It’s just as well, as the bellows is full of holes! So I bought another Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1, screwed this camera onto it, and placed it on display in a corner of my home office. I’ll get to enjoy it every day this way!
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.