Collecting Cameras

Recent acquisition: Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

My college chum Bill contacted me recently to ask if I’d like to own a camera that had belonged to his grandmother. Well, of course I would. Bill sent it straightaway.

It is this Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II, complete with its box. It also came with a little pamphlet by Kodak on how to make snapshots at night with simple cameras using photofloods and Kodak’s special, fast “SS Pan” film.

Even more interestingly, tucked inside was a brief note from Bill’s grandmother saying that she bought the camera in the late 1930s and used it to make photographs of her family. It’s not often that an old camera comes to me with evidence of its provenance. Further establishing its provenance, Bill left a card inside with a monogram of his last name on it, with a handwritten note bidding me to enjoy the camera.

The camera appears to be in very good condition. The leatherette is peeling slightly in one corner, visible in the photo above. The bellows is whole and firmly connected to the body and lens board. The shutter sounds a little weak, or perhaps it’s just naturally slow, 1/20 or 1/30 second. The lens is slightly dirty. The bubble viewfinders show slight desilvering of the mirrors, but are otherwise clean and bright.

This is a simple camera with one aperture and shutter speed. It does have two focus zones: five to ten feet, and ten feet to infinity, which you select by turning the lens barrel. The camera boasts a “Twindar” lens. When I searched for this lens on Google, every result was about the Jiffy series of cameras, leading me to believe that this was either the only, or by far the primary, camera in which Kodak ever used this lens. My educated guess is that this is a simple meniscus lens, as Kodak used them in most of its simple cameras. The few places that claim an aperture for this lens all say f/11.

Kodak made the Jiffy Six-20, Series II, from 1937 to 1948. It takes 620 rollfilm. A similar Jiffy Six-16, Series II, was made for 616 film. There was an earlier Jiffy Six-20 and Six-16 manufactured from 1933 to 1937. It is easily distinguished from the Series II by its faceplate, which is painted in an Art Deco pattern.

When the weather warms up, I’ll give this camera a go. First, I’ll recondition the camera a little. I’ll gently clean the lens with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. I’ll also take the camera into a dark room, extend the bellows, shine a bright flashlight inside, and look for pinholes. I’ll patch any I find with black fabric paint. That’s never a permanent fix, but I’ve had luck with it lasting a year or two in other cameras.

I am slightly concerned about the shutter, but it appears to be well sealed inside and not easily accessed for service. I’ll use a film with wide exposure latitude to cover myself. I have plenty of Ilford FP4 Plus in the freezer; it should do well. It’s all in 120, but I have some spare 620 spools and it’s simple enough to respool 120 onto a 620 spool in a dark bag.

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