1953 Chicago-made Bakelite camera documents Colorado junkyard

1953 Chicago-made Bakelite camera documents Colorado junkyard

11/13/2019

About the simplest and cheapest camera Americans could buy in the 1950s, and made in Chicago.

A Piña Colada-scented Little Tree air freshener, shot with 1953 Spartus 120 film camera.






I’ve been focusing— get it?— on box cameras for my junkyard film photography lately; we saw some shots made with the endearingly English 1920s Houghton Ensign box last week, preceded by a 1930s German box. When it comes to really cheap cameras of the 20th century, though, you’ll have to look pretty hard to find any outfit that could undercut the mysterious “Chicago Cluster” of camera companies on price or quality.

Located at 711-715 West Lake Street in Chicago from 1940 through the 1950s, this operation churned out affordable cameras under hundreds of brand names. About the least expensive possible 120-film-ready box camera (not made of cardboard) that Americans could buy in the 1950s came out under the Spartus brand, named the 120 or 120 Flash. I took one to a Denver yard last week.

Bakelite was pretty well obsolete by 1953, but it was cheap.

I’ve shot a few rolls of 127 film on one of the earliest Bakelite cameras to come out of 711 West Lake Street, the Falcon Miniature, and the image quality came out fairly sharp for a camera full of lower-than-low-bidder components with just about no adjustments. The Spartus 120 uses a larger negative but has an even more primitive lens/shutter assembly than the Falcon; still, I was surprised by the quality of the resulting photographs. I may have to bring this camera to Speed Week 2020.

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