Lens Fungus

A wide variety of fungal species can infect camera lenses; these include the families Phycomycetes, Ascomycetes and fungi imperfecti (see Gordon Stalker, “Fungus and Cameras”).  The potential for fungi to permanently damage lenses depends on the species.  Some species secrete acids and other substances that will etch coatings or the glass itself.  While some of these secretions are waste by-products, others are related to the fungus’ mechanisms for collecting nutrients.  It has also been suggested that some presumed etching may actually represent insoluble deposits left behind by the hyphae (see “ESWAT: Fungus and Camera Lenses”).

Fungi are the primary decomposers of organic material and can break down most organic compounds.  However, they derive little nutrition from the glass or its coatings, relying instead on organic contaminants found on surface of the lens, such as oil films, dust,  or remnants of the materials used in the construction of the lens assembly.  Fungi grow as delicate filaments, called hyphae, and reproduce via spores which are produced by fruiting bodies.  The

Fungal Hyphae and Friuting Bodies, Rhizopus Bread Mold

latter can be quite large in the case of the familiar mushrooms and toadstools (the actual fungal mass is buried in the underlying soil, and may cover acres), but are usually microscopic in size.  Fungal spores are extremely small, and find their way into virtually all spaces.

The significance of fungus growth on a camera lens depends on whether it infests the surface of the glass or the cement between the elements. In older lenses, elements were cemented together with Canadian Balsam, turpentine made from the resin of the balsam fir tree (Abies balsamea).  Due to its high optical quality and the similarity of its refractive index to that of crown glass, Canadian Balsam was used in the first half of the twentieth century to cement glass elements, but was phased out after World War II in favor of polyester, epoxy and urethane-based adhesives.  Being an organic material, Canadian Balsam provides varied and nutritious fare for fungal species.  Growth in the cement is usually fatal to the lens, as treatment requires the complex and expensive process of uncementing, cleaning and reglueing the affected elements; growth on the surface can frequently be cleaned if the acids secreted by the fungus have not etched the glass.

The degree to which lens fungus is a problem depends greatly on where you live.  In my cool Pacific Northwest climate, it does not seem to be a significant problem.  In parts of the United States where there is considerable summer humidity, it is definitely a consideration.  With the Ansco, the occurrence of fungus only on the rear element that was exposed to the closed environment within the bellows, which would retain humidity and would dry only slowly, makes perfect sense.  In tropical climates, fungus is enough of a problem that camera shops offer routine lens cleaning services.  In these climates, photographers expose their lenses to sunlight or ultraviolet light, or buy drying cabinets for storing their equipment.  Toomas Tamm’s  site provides a fascinating glimpse into tropical photographers’ battle to keep fungus at bay.

Cleaning fungus from lenses may require only careful but determined cleaning with a good aqueous lens cleaner and a soft cloth or Q-tip.  Other authors have cautioned against using Windex, but I have found it an effective cleaner on older, uncoated lenses.  Kodak Lens Cleaner or dilute vinegar are good alternatives.  Kleenex, despite its reputation for treating swollen noses kindly, actually has a content of harsh fibers (not to mention piles of lint) and should be avoided in favor of Kimwipes, which are recommended by professional cleaners of scientific optical equipment.   I soft lens cleaning cloth is the ideal option.  Be sure that you carefully remove all dust (something of a challenge with very dirty older lenses) before wiping with tissues and cleaners.

For more serious cases, naphtha and ethanol have been recommended, as have silver polish, toothpaste, and cold cream.  I have had no experience with these remedies.  To disinfect the lens and kill the fungus, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, and thymol have likewise been recommended (see Gordon Stalker’s site).  My prejudice is that effective disinfection of the lens housing can only be accomplished by complete disassembly and disinfection of each individual part; failing this drastic move, one may be best served by cleaning the glass surfaces and then keeping the lens dry, thus depriving the fungus of needed moisture.

One of the most fascinating and useful discussions of lens cleaning in general, with some specific comments on removing fungus, is the thread on “Camera Cleaning” on Rick Sammon’s blog.  This thread has been running for 12 years (since 1998)!  It is an enormously useful compendium of opinions on the best way to clean camera lenses and is well worth reading in its entirety.


ESWAT Blog.  “Fungus and Camera Lenses.”  Online posting, May 4, 2009.  http://faculty.clintoncc.suny.edu/faculty/michael.gregory/files/bio%20102/bio%20102%20lectures/fungi/fungi.htm.

Gregory, Michael.  “Clinton Community College Biology Web:  Fungi.”  http://faculty.clintoncc.suny.edu/faculty/michael.gregory/files/bio%20102/bio%20102%20lectures/fungi/fungi.htm.

Sammon, Rick.  “Camera Cleaning.”  Online thread.  http://photo.net/learn/cleaning-cameras.

Stalker, Gordon Ian. “My Pentax:  Fungus and Cameras.” http://www.mypentax.com/Fungus.html.

Tamm, Toomas.  “Fungi in Photographic Lens.”  http://www.chem.helsinki.fi/~toomas/photo/fungus/.

Wikipedia Article.  “Canadian Balsam.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_balsam.

Restoring Vintage Cameras V: The 3A Ansco- Restoration, Step By Step

Restoration, like cutlery at a formal banquet, proceeds from the outside in.  The leather needs to be restored and reattached before interior work can be done.  However, before restoring the leather, the numerous copper oxide blisters need to be repaired:

Step 1:  Copper Oxide Blisters:  These are most effectively dealt with by gently removing the leather and scraping off the green oxide mound with a miniature chisel.  The corres-

Scraping Copper Oxide

ponding mound of oxide adhering to the under surface of the leather should also be scraped clean.  Since the rivets are frequently hollow, copper oxide accumulates

Cleaning Out Rivets

within the rivet, and this cheesy deposit needs to be dug out with a dentist’s pick after chiseling off the surface oxide.  If the leather is securely stuck to the frame, an “X” can be cut over the blister with a sharp scalpel or razor blade and the oxide scraped out. Thomas Tomosoy describes this process in “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras” on page 37.

After copper oxide deposits have been removed, either by lifting the leather covering or by cutting X’s over the bulges, a thin layer of tacky craft glue is spread on both surfaces and allowed to dry slightly.  Then the leather is pressed firmly back into place and massaged gently to remove any air bubbles or glue puddles.  Carefully press down on the bumps in the leather formed by the copper oxide to flatten and reattach these areas to the metal.  Beware of exerting too much pressure on the leather with hard instruments, as this can flatten the grain once the leather is moistened by the glue.

As with many vintage cameras, the leather on the front plate of the Ansco bends up to cover the flange around the edge of the plate.  Make sure the leather covering around this flange adheres closely as the glue dries; this can be accomplished by massaging the leather edge as the tacky glue becomes progressively more sticky during drying.

Step 2:  Stretching Shrunken Leather:  Losing its attachment to the metal surface, the leather on the back has dried and shrunken so that it is almost a quarter-inch shorter than the metal back:

Shrunken Leather

This can be remedied by soaking the leather for 15 min in a pan of water to which a few drops of detergent have been added as a surfactant:

Soaking Shrunken Leather

Once it is thoroughly soaked, the leather becomes elastic once again and can easily be re-stretched.  The old glue appears as a slimy coating on the underside of the leather and can be readily wiped off.  The leather and frame are then both wiped dry, a thin layer of white tacky glue is spread on the metal back, and the leather is gently pressed down and massaged into its original configuration.

Step 3:  Exterior Painting:  Before any creamy or  oily leather treatment is used, the exterior paint should be touched up.  Be sure to remove all traces of the craft glue used to tack down the leather; this forms a rubbery coating, and can be scraped off readily with

Scraping Off Traces of Leather Tacky Glue

a dental pick.  Clean the painted metal surfaces with alcohol, xylene or toluene before painting.  Check the integrity of the old paint before putting on a new coat.  While some early twentieth century paints were quite durable, others deteriorated significantly with age.  The black paint on the Ansco is stable in some areas, but has become almost

Painting the Base Plate Hinge

powdery around the hinge on the base plate, and much of it had to be scraped off before repainting.  Touch up all of the paint that adjoins the leather, i.e., around the edges of the

Touching up the Edges of the Base Plate

back plate, in the slots where the back plate inserts into the camera, and along the edges of the base plate.  Painting before leather restoration allows the paint to adhere and dry before the surface becomes oily from the creams used to restore the leather.

Step 4:  Restoring the Leather:  Once the leather has been firmly reattached and the exterior paint touched up, clean the surface by spraying with Windex or Fantastik and washing with a moist (not soaking wet) cloth or soft brush.  On the Ansco, this process removed a large amount of dirt.  The camera is then allowed to dry, and all of the

Removing the Hardware

removable external hardware pieces, including the strap, winding knob and film support inserts  are removed.

Once the leather is cleaned and the hardware removed, leather restoration can begin.  The covering is carefully examined and any loose edges are glued down.

Glueing Down Loose Edges

Small, partially detached fragments are glued down over gouges by applying a small amount of glue with a dental pick.  The leather is then given a liberal coating of Dyo

Rips in the Leather

Leather Balm, a cream leather treatment, to rehydrate the fibers , followed after drying with Dyo Visco, a solvent-based waterproofing agent.  If these products are not readily available, similar treatments can usually be identified by contacting your local shoe repair establishment.  The surface is then given a coat of brown shoe polish and rubbed to a lustrous finish by hand.

Step 5:  The Lens and Shutter:  The first step is to remove the rear element.  The shutter housing is then removed by unscrewing the rear retaining ring.  However, with the Ansco

Removing the Rear Element

as with many roll film cameras, when the bellows are collapsed, the inner folds cover much of the lens retaining ring, and the camera is too deep for a modern short-tined

Needle Nose Pliers as a Lens Wrench

lens wrench to be used.  The ring can be removed by partially extending the bellows and use a long pair of needle nose pliers with fine tips as an improvised lens wrench.  This is an awkward operation that needs to be done with some caution, as it is easy for the pliers to slip and punch a hole in the bellows or damage the shutter.  On the Ansco, it was possible to simply hold the retaining ring steady while the entire lens and shutter assembly was unscrewed from the front.  On many cameras, either there is an orientation pin, or the front standard is sufficiently cluttered that the whole assembly cannot be rotated, and the retaining ring must be laboriously rotated from the rear.

Once the shutter assembly is removed, the front lens element is unscrewed and both elements can be cleaned with Windex after carefully brushing off the layer of accumulated dust.  Cleaning the front element of the Ilex shutter and lens revealed a surprise, as several bubbles became apparent in the glass of this lens.  These are unusual even

Front Element Bubbles

in old cameras, were obviously present at the time the lens was manufactured, and do not speak highly for Ilex’s quality control.  Cleaning the rear element revealed another surprise:  a tracery of fine lines around the edges of the outer surface of the lens (i.e., that

Rear Element with Fungus

surface that would be exposed to the moister inside of the camera) consistent with fungus growth on the glass.  This can best be seen with a strong light shone obliquely across the back of the lens.  Fortunately, much of this material was removable by a determined cleaning with Windex on a Q-tip.  A patchy change in the color of the glass surface was still visible to careful examination by reflected light, but the filaments (fungal hyphae – See “Lens Fungus”) were able to be scrubbed off successfully.

After cleaning the lenses, the shutter is disassembled and cleaned.  First, the two shutter actuator levers are removed, followed by the shutter speed setting dial.  The settings of the internal shutter mechanism are controlled by a master cam connecting with the dial by

Removing the Front Controls

means of a small post on the back of the dial.  It is essential that this post and the

Removing the Shutter Speed Dial

cam slot be realigned correctly when the shutter is reassembled.  The cam controls

The Shutter Speed Cam

the action of the shutter mechanism by shifting the two small levers visible on the left and lower right of the cam.  Also note the small slot visible to the left of the cam housing.  The brass lever visible in this slot is a part of the shutter release lever; it is moved by a small post on the back of the shutter release lever to fire the shutter.

Once the front hardware has been removed, the front panel can be lifted off after

The Ilex Acme Shutter Mechanism

removing the two screws on the front panel, exposing the mechanism of the shutter.  The slow shutter speed movement is to the lower right, while immediately above is the movement for speeds 1/25 sec and above.  The large chrome-plated cylinder in the lower left accepts the cable release and abuts directly on the shutter release lever, which is immediately above.

Since the Acme shutter uses no lubricants, it can be cleaned with dilute isopropyl alcohol in a small ultrasonic cleaner and then allowed to dry.  This procedure should NEVER be used on any shutter that requires lubrication, and one must use solvents carefully, as many of the shutter blades on early twentieth century cameras were made of non-metallic materials that can be readily damaged by concentrated solvents.  Cleaning in this fashion and judicious application of a small amount of graphite powder improved the performance of the faster shutter speeds, but the lower speeds were still approximately twice as long as the indicated values, probably due to weakening of the drive spring over many decades.  In the absence of detailed manuals, the decision was made not to disassemble the shutter mechanism further.

The chromium-plated parts were then polished with a small amount of Flitz on a Q-tip.  Since the paint on the shutter housing was

The Finished Lens and Shutter

largely intact, its polish was merely touched up with a light application of shoe polish, and the shutter was reassembled.

Step 6:  The Interior:  With the shutter assembly removed, the next step involves polishing – and more polishing – the chrome front standard and rails, followed by restoring the luster of the bellows and polishing and cleaning the interior leather and wood.  Since the front standard is a complex structure largely held together by rivets, it can only be disassembled to a limited extent, and polishing is a fussy and time-consuming process.  The Dremel helps, but in a structure of this complexity, much of the work must be done carefully by hand.

The three screws holding the viewfinder are removed, and the entire chromium-plated front standard, including the complex folding vertical and lateral front feet, is polished with Flitz, Q-Tips, and a cloth.  Once this is accomplished, the small stop on the bottom rail is removed (carefully noting its original position), allowing the front standard to slide forward and be lifted off the rail.

To Be Continued…


Tomosoy, Thomas.  “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras.”  Amherst Media, Buffalo, New York, 1998.


Restoring Vintage Cameras IV: The Model 3A Folding Ansco- The Camera and Its Story

Restore a vintage camera and post it as an online serial? Why not! For $12 I purchased an elegant old lady of photography, a Model 3A Folding Ansco, and will restore it online, posting the process to illustrate each step. This post will describe the camera and explore its story; Part V will describe the restoration.

The Model 3A Name Plate

The 3A Ansco is an elegant camera, with a wooden body covered with lovely pebble-grained Moroccan leather, and metal parts that gleam (or once gleamed, as they are sadly tarnished) with nickel plating. The front standard supports a big, round, black shutter atop a gleaming collection of struts, levers and extendable feet.

The No. 3A Folding Ansco

The Ansco’s proportions are generous, measuring 9 1/2 x 4 3/4 x 2 in (24 x 12 x 5 cm), and she weights in at 2 lb 8 oz – hardly a “Vest Pocket” model, even allowing for how loosely that term was applied in those days. Her size allows her to use Ansco 18A or 18B film, equivalent to Kodak’s No. 122 film, permitting an expansive 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 in negative and qualifying the 3A a a true “Postcard” camera.

For film she probably used Ansco’s Plenachrome or Super Plenachrome, quality films but with not quite the contrast and image quality of the contemporary Kodak and Agfa films. Scott’s Photographica Collection web page has an excellent discussion of Ansco film sizes.

The Model 3A Folding Ansco was produced from 1914 to 1932. Unfortunately, unlike Kodak cameras, information on Ansco cameras’ production runs and model changes is limited, so dating an individual camera is a challenge. Diligent searching reveals no serial number. The last patent date on the stamping inside the back is 1912, so it is possible that this represents one of the early 1914 models.

Ansco Back Cover Inscription

For a consumer-level camera, the degree of sophistication is a pleasant surprise. The front standard incorporates a moderate degree of rise and fall

Front Rise Mechanism

for architectural subjects, controlled by a lever with click stops to the left of the lens. Lateral shift can be accomplished by unlocking the small handle directly below the lens and sliding the standard left or right on the front runner mechanism. Complex folding legs extend from the front standard to support the camera on a flat surface in vertical and horizontal orientation. A flip-up cover protects and shades the viewfinder, and the mask framing the image on the viewfinder cleverly rotates on a geared mechanism as the viewfinder is rotated from the vertical to the horizontal position. Focusing is

Front Support Foot

accomplished via a lever on the baseplate that is calibrated for both roll film and plates.

Focusing Mechanism

The 3A Ansco had the option to use a back accepting glass plates or film packs; these are found with the camera only rarely.

The Lens and Shutter:

The lens and shutter on this model are more complex than those usually found on a consumer-level camera, the former being an f/6.3 uncoated

Ansco Anastigmat in Acme Shutter

Ansco Anastigmat of 6 3/4 inch focal length. The f-stop scale employs the modern system rather than numerical progression of the U.S. System, suggesting that this might be a later model. The shutter is a dial-set Acme with speeds from 1 to 1/300 second with T and B. The right lever cocks the shutter, while the left is the release. Overall, as received, the shutter is somewhat slow and hesitant, particularly on the slowest speeds.

Acme shutters were a product of Ilex, producer of the well-known Ilex shutters and lenses. Ilex shutters are a notable product of American mass production, being manufactured entirely of stamped rather than machined metal parts. Although they have been compared by some writers to

Ilex Acme Lenses and Ilex Shutters Catalog

two-dollar alarm clocks, they are for the most part solid and reliable, if somewhat less accurate than the more precisely machined Compurs. One should remember that generations of Americans got up and got to work on time thanks to two-dollar clocks and their homely yet reliable mechanisms. Many thousands of these solid little beasts of burden are still in operation today on a variety of lenses.

The Ilex Acme Shutter

It should also be remembered that the purported accuracy of leaf (non-focal plane) shutters is a matter of some complexity and considerable debate. While the more sophisticated shutters (Copal, Compur, and Prontor) can be within a few per cent of the stated value at slower speeds, performance tends to slip with higher speeds, with older shutters in good condition often being 25-50% slower than the nominal values at higher speeds. Ilex shutters are considered to be accurate to within one stop of exposure.

The Ravages of Age:

Like most of us of a certain age, our lady’s complexion has suffered with the years. The front panel/baseplate is studded with small mounds indicating the position of every rivet and screw. A common feature of leather-covered

Copper Oxide Blisters

vintage cameras, these indicate the position of copper oxide blisters formed by the slow oxidation of copper rivets and screws; this process piles up green copper oxide as the rivets oxidize, and may eventually erode entirely through the leather covering. Lifting the leather, much of which has already come loose, reveals these little mounds of green copper oxide over the head of every rivet.

Corroded Rivets

Corrosion is not limited to the rivets; little curls of copper oxide protrude from the base of the focusing rails and patches of corrosion are found on the film winding lever and other brass parts where the plating has worn. Elsewhere, the leather is dry and the glue has failed, leaving parts of the covering hanging.

It should be noted, however, that the Ansco has two characteristics that make it ideal for restoration. First, it it is a truly ratty-looking camera. The leather is dirty and becoming detached , the metal parts are tarnished, the front standard needs polish, and the insides are grimy. Consequently, it was obtained for a modest price. However, the experienced eye will notice that the leather is entirely intact with no tears or missing pieces, the bellows are supple with no corner wear or separation, the lens is clear and without fungus or edge separation, and the camera is structurally completely intact. The Ansco is therefore an excellent candidate for a restoration which, with the exception of a shutter cleaning, should be entirely cosmetic.

The Story:

Every camera has a story, so what do we know about the Ansco? There are some clues. Recent decades are murky, as it was purchased from a used camera dealer on eBay who responded “… I know nothing of its history. I make a market in old photo gear, and this is a cast-off from a friend of mine who buys and collects cameras and typically passes them on to me when he no longer wants them. He had dreams of restoring this one but never got started.”

The Label

One clue to its past is found in an old label glued inside the back plate, showing the owner to be Robert Perrine of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. It has been 80 or 90 years since this camera was manufactured; one wonders when in this period did he own and use this camera? Given that the advantages of the “postcard” format had largely been eliminated by the mid-1930s by improved films and the ready availability of enlargement, one might assume that the Ansco would have likely been retired from active service after the1930s, and that its time of active use would have been sometime between 1920 and 1940.

These were historic years- from the Roaring 20s to the Great Depression.

Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

A town of 5,800 in 1920, Wauwatosa grew rapidly in the lush glacial farmland of the Menomonee River Valley, just a short train ride west of

Police Raid a Still

downtown Milwaukee. It was the Roaring Twenties, jazz was king in the big cities, and Prohibition was in full swing. Despite Prohibition’s negative effects on Milwaukee’s breweries (the larger breweries were able to stay open by producing near beer or other products such as soda, cheese, candy bars and even snow plows), the area prospered. By the end of the decade, Wauwatosa’s population had nearly quadrupled to 21,000- then came the Great Depression.

There is little specific information on the Depression’s effect on Wauwatosa, but one can infer the impact from events in the Greater Milwaukee area. The

1930s Milwaukee Homeless Community

Milwaukee area’s economy remained strong until 1932, when the Milwaukee Miracle” ended and two-thirds of the wage earners lost their jobs. Poverty became rampant as families lost their homes and went hungry. As bleak as the thirties were for Milwaukee, its municipal government shone during the Depression. The city started its own work relief programs as well as made creative use of the money it was getting from the federal government. However, despite Milwaukee’s successes, the Depression was a miserable time for most Americans, and many farmers lost their land as their farms were repossessed. Many small farms in Wisconsin were abandoned, and their owners moved to the cities. How many images of these times passed through our camera’s lens?

Next, what can we discover about Robert Perrine? For anything genealogical, I’d usually suggest that you see this page. But there is really only one group of people to consult for this case: The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, i.e., the Mormons. The church’s genealogical library in Salt Lake City is the world’s premier repository of family history data. Consulting their web site at FamilySearch.org reveals over the time period 1900 – 1970 in Wisconsin only one Robert O. Perrine, who was born Sept 15, 1906 and passed away Nov 27, 1992 in the town of Brown Deer. Like Wauwatosa, Brown Deer is a suburb of Milwaukee, suggesting that Mr. Perrine spent most of his life in the Milwaukee area.

However, the mystery deepens. A kind reader, Dean Sturgis, notes that the zip code system was not instituted until 1963, indicating that the label must have been pasted into the Ansco after that time. It is unclear when Ansco stopped making film, but Kodak 122 film, first manufactured in 1903, was taken out of production in April of 1971, so it would have been impractical to use the Ansco after the mid-70s, when film stocks would have run out and labs would have stopped processing larger film sizes.

Kind research by the volunteers at the Wauwatosa Historical Society showed no evidence of a Robert Perrine in the Wauwatosa City Directory for 1932, but by 1936, electrical engineer Robert O. Perrine appeared at 1743 North 73rd Street, together with his wife, Edna Perrine. By 1939, Robert and Edna had moved to 2571 North 81st Street. In 1964, Robert and Edna were still on 81st Street, but Robert had taken a position with the Milwaukee Division of Cutler-Hammer, where he had advanced to the position of department manager. By 1972, Robert had retired, and the couple had been living on 81st Street for over 30 years.

By 1983, Robert and Edna had sold their home and moved to Apartment 318 at 9999 West North Avenue, where they were still living in 1989. As noted above, Robert passed away in November of 1992.

In 1978, Cutler-Hammer was purchased by Eaton Corporation for over $400 million. The company for which Robert worked, now the Milwaukee division of Eaton Cutler-Hammer, is still present on 30th Street in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, inquiries for employee records for Cutler-Hammer from Eaton proved fruitless, and the trail went cold. Still, once again an historic camera took us on a fascinating journey!

Special thanks to Julie Peay, Chair, Research Library and Collections, Wauwatosa Historical Society, and her team of volunteers for their research on the life of Robert O. Perrine.

To be continued…


Bilotta, Scott. “Using Vintage Ansco Roll Film Cameras.” Scott’s Photographica Collection. http://www.vintagephoto.tv/anscofilmtable.shtml.

Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. “Family Search: Robert Perrine.” http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Search/frameset_search.asp

Eaton Corporation Web Site. “Eaton History.” http://www.eaton.com/EatonCom/OurCompany/AboutUs/EatonHistory/.

Grimes, S.K. “Ilex Acme and Universal Shutters.” http://www.skgrimes.com/ilex/index.htm

Kuykendall, Ron. “Ansco Film Numbers and Sizes.” Photographica Digest, Vol XVI, No. 11, Nov. 2009.

Magnum, Walker. “History of odak Roll Film Numbers.” http://www.nwmangum.com/Kodak/FilmHist.html.

“Milwaukee Timeline.” Milwaukee County Historical Society. http://www.milwaukeehistory.net/milwaukee_timeline/1900s.html#Prohibition.

Online Discussion. “LF Shutter Accuracy?” http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=0065jD

Tomosoy, Tomas. “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras.” Amherst Media, Inc.

“Wuawatosa, Wisonsin.” Wikipedia Article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wauwatosa,_Wisconsin.

Wauwatosa Historical Society Web Site. http://www.wauwatosahistoricalsociety.org/newresearch_library.htm.

“Zip Codes.” Wikipedia Aricle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZIP_code.

Restoring Vintage Cameras III: Techniques

This posting will cover some of the basic techniques that I use in camera restoration:  leather restoration, bellows repair, and maintenance of camera interiors.  There may, of course, be a few digressions…

Leather Restoration:

The three most common camera coverings are leather of the “Morocco” variety, typically found on the older, pre-1925 roll film cameras and large format cameras; harder black leather encountered on post-1925 roll film cameras; and leatherette and other artificial coverings found on prewar to modern cameras.

It is worth noting that true Moroccan leather is made from goatskin; the French make an imitation from sheepskin, which is also known as saffianThe Household Cyclopedia of General Knowledge‘s account from 1881 of the preparation of Moroccan leather makes interesting reading but is not for the weak of stomach.  The descriptions of boiling the skins in lye or the days soaking in the nearby river provide an intriguing historical perspective, but the accounts of extended sojourns in extracts of dog feces are unappealing.   It is to be hoped that George Eastman chose his suppliers with some attention to their methodology.

Etherington and Roberts’ publication on bookbinding defines Moroccoan leather thus:

“…A vegetable tanned leather having a characteristic pinhead grain pattern developed either naturally or by means of graining or boarding, but never by embossing…

…by long usage, the term “morocco” is taken to denote a goatskin, tanned by any vegetable tannage, and boarded in the wet condition…

…when properly produced, morocco goatskins are very durable, flexible, beautifully grained, and relatively strong… The skins are…. obtained from several areas, including: wild goats, principally from Africa, which generally produce heavy skins with a very bold grain; domestic goats, which produce a leather with the more familiar hard grain or ‘pinhead morocco’; and true Persian Morocco, which is produced from Indian or East Indian goatskins…”

As an aside, it should also be noted that, besides producing camera leather, the goats of Morocco are also famous for their ability to climb Argan trees,

Moroccan Goat Tree

whose fruit forms part of their diet in this extremely inhospitable environment.  It appears to be a successful symbiotic relationship, as the droppings of the goats nourish the trees.

And returning to the topic…

Leather in good condition on later vintage cameras tends to be fairly hard and durable; if not mistreated, it may need nothing more than a light coating of a good leather cream followed by shoe polish and a good buffing.  Also useful for restoring the sheen to black camera leather is the water-based instant shoe polish found with a sponge beneath the cap.  Once applied, this is quite durable and imparts a high gloss to the surface.

The older Moroccan leathers were softer and more susceptible to staining and deterioration if misused.  If well cared for, they may still be in wonderful shape, with good durability and flexibility.  However, Morocco leather can become extremely friable with age if it dries out.  Leather that has become detached should ideally be reglued with one of Aileen’s tacky craft glues before being subjected to polishing and rubbing.

Gently replacing the essential oils is the first step to restoring the integrity and flexibility old dry leather; this can be accomplished with either an oil-based treatment such as Dyo Viscol Waterproofing, or a good leather cream such as Dyo Leather Balm, and optimally, both used in succession with the oil-based treatment following the water/silicone-based cream.  After the leather has been rehydrated, the surface can be restored with a good quality shoe cream or polish and then buffed.  Scuffed areas, which appear lighter,  can be darkened by local application of either leather dye or a dark brown shoe cream.

Other techniques are available but need to be tailored to the condition and type of leather.  A product known as Lexol is also used as a leather conditioner, penetrating well and rehydrating the leather in one step; however, it darkens the leather and lends it a slightly oily texture.  I use it only when I am desperate.  Gently scrubbing the leather with a mild detergent can be used as a first step on more modern, harder camera leathers but should be attempted only very carefully (if at all) with older, softer Moroccan leathers.

Replacement black leather for mid-twentieth century cameras can be purchased from cameraleather.com.  Although buying Moroccan leather on eBay has been suggested, obtaining an exact match to leathers from the earliest part of the twentieth century may be difficult, and scavenging the covering from an unrestoreable early Kodak may be the best way of replacing missing pieces.

Bellows Repair:

Bellows restoration is another example of my Golden Rule:  The best way to restore a bellows is to buy the best bellows you can find and to have to do as little as possible to it.  It is possible to disassemble and rebuild a bellows, and instructions exist for doing so; however, it is a complex project best left to those with experience.  Some flaking and peeling of the outer bellows covering can be handled by injecting dilute white tacky craft glue under the detached leaflets and re-securing them when the glue has partially dried.  If this problem is extensive, however, this is a painstaking effort and may not be worth it.  Seriously deteriorated bellows are best left to professionals unless you have the time or inclination to take on a challenging project.

Bellows that are without major structural defects still exhibit a variety of small tears and holes.  Most commonly, these occur at the corners or edges of folds where abrasion or repeated manipulation have created small holes, called “pinholes” in photographic vernacular.  These tiny corner holes represent one of the most annoying problems in vintage camera restoration.  Occurring at the points of maximum wear and maximum mechanical stress, they are difficult to repair with any degree of permanence.  As a gardener, a bellows full of corner pinholes is reminiscent of a lawn infested with moles – see below.

The many methods for fixing pinholes attest to the difficulty in finding a definitive remedy.  They can be taped with black tape, but this method is, in my opinion, ugly and bulky. The traditional method is painting them with a mixture of lamp black and white glue.  Lamp black, also known as “Carbon Black” or “Pigment Black 6”, is an extremely stable black pigment traditionally composed of fine soot collected from incompletely burned carbonaceous materials.  Used as a pigment and in matches, explosives, lubricants, and fertilizers, it is today obtained as a byproduct of coal tar distillation and is available from Naturalpigments.com.  I have had no experience with the combination of lamp black and white glue as a method of repairing bellows.

Other techniques suggested on the Internet do not work.  Black silicone rubber aquarium sealant creates a mess.  The corners stick together and then the whole layer peels off like pizza cheese.  Neither does the black rubber goo with which divers seal their wet suits.

The best solution to bellows pinholes and small tears is a material called Plasti-Dip, recommended by Thomas Tomosoy in his excellent book,  “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras.”

Plasti-Dip is a syrupy plastic material used to coat tool handles.  Manufactured by Plasti-Dip International (http://www.plastidip.com/home_solutions/Plasti_Dip), it can be painted in a thin coating onto bellows, covering up small holes and tears.  It is lightproof, flexible, and tough.  Some years ago, I bought a No.1 Kodak Junior only to find that  some kind soul had carefully peeled off the entire outer paper coating, leaving only exposed struts and the bellows’ inner lining, which, fortunately, was intact.   Several thin coats of Plasti-Dip produced a smooth outer coat that was almost indistinguishable from the original surface.  I am still using the camera, and the surface has withstood multiple openings and closings.  I heartily recommend Plasti-Dip for bellows repair.

Camera Interiors:

Nicks in the paint on the interiors of metal-bodied cameras are best touched up by hand with a fine brush.  If the bellows interior is faded and has lost its rich black color, a matte black spray paint such as Krylon can be used after carefully shielding the camera body.

The interiors of wooden camera seem to have been treated with a semi-transparent black stain that has soaked into the wood but has not formed a surface coating.  After some experimentation, I have found that India Ink brushed onto the surface reproduced this coating well and is almost indistinguishable from the original stain.  Once it has been painted on and has soaked into the wood, it is quite durable and can readily be touched up as needed.


“Lamp Black.”  http://naturalpigments.com/detail.asp?PRODUCT_ID=480-50S.

“Moroccan Leather.”  1881. The Household Cyclopedia of General Information.  http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/The_Household_Cyclopedia_of_General_Information/moroccole_cfh.html.

Roberts, M. T. and Etherington, D.  “Morocco.”  Bookbinding and the Consevation of Books:  A Dictionary of Terminology. U.S. Government Printing Office (Electronic Edition).  http://cool.conservation-us.org/don/dt/dt2275.html.

Tomosoy, Thomas.  “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras.”  Amherst Media Inc., Buffalo, New York. 1998.

Wikipedia entry on Morocco Leather.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morocco_leather.


Pinholes Are Like Moles:

Regarding bellows and their problems: consider moles.  Hosting one of these obnoxious little creatures is a bit like opening your home to your alcoholic Uncle Ambrose and his five pot-smoking teenagers.  They will cheerfully

The Common Garden Mole

install subterranean turnpikes and interchanges beneath your lawn, causing the surface to collapse into ruts and miniature sinkholes.  Their air shafts are marked by those familiar mounds of earth that pockmark your front yard like miniature heaps of mine tailings.

True story, Seattle Times, circa 1995:  An amiable Seattleite had an evil neighbor.  This individual argued about fences, cut limbs off the good neighbor’s favorite trees, complained about the slightest noise, and generally made his neighbor’s life miserable

One day, the evil neighbor put in a new lawn, and stood admiring it from his front porch.

Now, every once in a while, the cosmos does decide to balance its books.  A few days later, a mole moved into the good neighbor’s yard, and soon little dirt piles began to appear.  Being a kindly soul, the good neighbor bought a live trap and succeeded in capturing the mole.  Unfortunately, this event happened right after a particularly egregious episode between the two neighbors.  Proving that, when no-one is looking, even the best of us are capable of acts of true depravity, the good Seattleite crept into his neighbor’s yard after dark and let the little critter go.

Within a week, the mole had totally destroyed the evil neighbor’s yard.

Which is why anarchy doesn’t work.  People are not naturally good.  At least not all the time.

The truly amazing thing about moles is the number of ways that have been proposed for getting rid of them.  The traditional method is the mole trap.  Placed into a hole dug into the burrow, its jaws snick shut as the unsuspecting creature brushes past, neatly send him to the place where the worms are large and always slow.  One company sells castor oil by the gallon to spray on your garden.  Or you can feed a pipe connected to your mower’s exhaust down the hole, doing the little monster in with carbon monoxide.  One gardener piped acetylene gas down the holes, then dropped in a match.  Another drove steel stakes into his lawn then connected them to high voltage.  I have a friend who pours gasoline into the holes, then sets them on fire.  I tried it.  Doesn’t do much for the moles, but it’s a lot of fun.

After spending a bundle on wimpy mole bombs, I found a solution: road flares.  You just take off the cap, hit the phosphorous-laden red end with the striker, and shove the flare down the hole.  Presto!  The burrow fills with evil-smelling sulfurous smoke.  Doesn’t kill the moles, but the smell usually persuades them to go to the Sheraton for a few weeks.

Truth is, the reason there are so many ways to get rid of moles is that none of them work.  At least not permanently.

Pinholes are the moles of photography.  They are difficult to fix, recur frequently, and ruin your best pictures when you least expect it.  Thank God for Plasti-Dip!

Restoring Vintage Cameras II: Tools

Basic camera restoration can be accomplished using a fairly simple collection of tools. Despite my considerable collection of tools, paints and solvents, with the exception of my beloved Dremel, my nucleus of essential tools and materials fits in a purse-sized bag that I often take on my travels. I’ve always found Tool Helpful to be a must-read resource as it provides reviews of all kinds of tools if you’re looking to top up your collection.

Finding Tools

My tools have been assembled from various sources. Many can be purchased in any hardware store, while a number of others have been modified from other tools or made from scratch. A specialty hardware store, if you can find one, is a tremendous benefit. Seattle is blessed by Hardwick’s Hardware – an ancient establishment, with narrow, dusty aisles, racks of exotic pliers, cabinets of knives and Japanese woodworking tools, a multiplicity of grades of sandpaper and fine carborundum papers, and an alchemist’s stock of glues. Wandering the aisles is a religious experience for any handyman or hobbyist. Even in the absence of such a local trove of fix-it exotica, one can become fully equipped from resources on the Internet. Hardwick’s has an online store at http://www.ehardwicks.com/, which is temporarily closed for web site redesign, but will reopen in June 2011. Micro-Tools and Micro-Mark (see below) have an excellent selection of small specialty tools and supplies. Most importantly, Micro-Tools also carries camera restoration supplies and books. Smallparts.com specializes in screws, nuts, gears and other small parts, but also has a selection of tools.

My Tool Kit

My kit of pliers, clamps, and forceps includes two pliers: a short set of curved needle-nosed pliers with smooth (non-serrated) jaws, and a very long

Pliers and Forceps

pair of needle-nosed pliers, the latter being useful for working deep within extended bellows, and also employable as an improvised lens spanner in situations where collapsing the bellows covers up the indentations on the rear lens retaining ring. Short and long forceps are accompanied by small pinch clamps, the latter being especially useful for holding leather in place while the glue dries. A larger adjustable clamp holds re-glued parts of wooden cameras. Smooth-jawed tinsmith’s pliers, with their wide, flat, and

Tinsmith's Pliers

thin jaws are extremely useful for straightening integral parts of camera frames, doors or bases that cannot be removed. They are particularly helpful with those Kodaks of the 1920s that were aluminum-framed; constructed of almost pure aluminum, these bodies are often found with significant bends and dents, but can be easily straightened with these wide-bladed pliers.

With the exception of the larger sizes, the little jeweler’s screwdriver sets sold in hardware stores are of limited utility, as the metal is soft and the smallest drivers will bend when used with


even a mildly reluctant screw. Invest $5 apiece for quality individual straight and Phillips screwdrivers in the smallest sizes. Also useful is a full size screwdriver that has been carefully filed down to an extremely thin edge for those large screws with extremely narrow slots found on some German cameras.

Dental picks will be found to be some of the most useful tools in a restorer’s kit. They have multiple uses, the two most important being maneuvering

Dental Picks

glue underneath leather that can only be raised up a short distance, and scraping the corrosion from beneath the leather on early 20th century Kodaks. A consumer-grade set can be picked up for about $6.

One problem encountered on some vintage cameras, especially Kodaks, is loose rivets. These are usually of small diameter and difficult to re-spread

Pin Punches and Flattening Plate

with conventional punches. As can be seen from the illustration, “Pin” punches are small, sharply pointed, and fit well into the inside depression on the tiny brass Kodak rivets. A necessary accessory is a small anvil post constructed from hexagonal bar stock and mounted in a wooden base plate. With the inside of the camera facing upward, the head of the rivet is positioned on this anvil, the pin punch is directed into the inside of the rivet, and a single tap from a small hammer re-spreads the flange of the rivet. This maneuver requires a bit of manual dexterity, but usually spreads the rivet enough to secure it once again. Alternatively, a small metal plate can be used instead of the post anvil if the outer surface of the camera is sufficiently flat. It is also useful for flattening bent parts of various kinds.

One of the most useful tools for initial preparation work on vintage cameras is a miniature chisel. This is particularly helpful for scraping off rust and old

Miniature Chisel

adherent glue layers. This will usually need to be made rather than purchased; I constructed this one from a cuticle tool, but a small screwdriver would work equally well as a starting point.

Miniature File Set, Micro-Mark Tools

A set of miniature fine files can be obtained at most hardware stores. I seem to use mine most frequently for smoothing out gouges on focusing rails.

Lens Spanner

A lens spanner is an essential tool for anyone working with cameras. These tend to be expensive in camera shops, but can be found fairly reasonably at internet photographic outlets. These can be reversed to point inwards or outwards.

Cleaning Tools: Toothbrush, small bristle brush, sulcus brush, plastic box of string and wool pieces

Many camera cleaning tools are readily available. The ever-present toothbrush is used for removing dirt as well as for applying leather creams and polishes. A small, stiff paintbrush sweeps dust out of tight spots, and a dentist’s sulcus brush (available at most drug stores) is excellent for extracting dust and dirt from narrow grooves. A small plastic box filled with string or knitting yarn is useful to clean built-up dirt from hard-to reach areas such as the brass anchors on Kodak camera handles. When covered with a small amount of Flitz metal polish (see below), string pieces make short work of polishing concave surfaces. Knitting yarn in medium and large gauges is especially useful, as its fuzzy yet soft surface retains polish.

If you are of the male persuasion, you may be well advised to cultivate female friends who knit and who, if you are very kind to them, will give you access to their “stash.” For those who are not married to knitters, I should point out that this term refers not to a ZipLoc bag of dried

leaves under the pillow, but to one’s hoard of wool remnants from projects and all of those pastel skeins picked up on sale and waiting for the perfect project. The leftovers from one baby blanket will keep you in polishing yarn for years. Consider Elizabeth Boyle’s posting on “Knit the Stash” for a more in-depth look at this topic.

The Dremel – Make It Shine!

For bringing out the true beauty of vintage cameras, the Dremel or similar hand-held drill/polishing tool may be the most useful part of your kit, and it will certainly save you hours of painstaking hand polishing. There are several alternatives to the Dremel, but none has the multiplicity of

Dremel Tool Kit

matching tools and accessories. A starter kit will include many of the basic polishing wheels and buffers, and many others can be purchased cheaply as aftermarket items or made from basic Dremel shaft-and-screw assemblies. Purchase an assortment of miniature felt drums and wheels in varying shapes; these can be coated with Flitz or jeweler’s rouge, saving endless time in

Buffing Wheels and Brushes. From top, clockwise: Bristle brush, brass rotary wire brush, linear bristle brush, pointed and round felt buffing wheels, circular rag polishing drum

polishing. A variety of circular and linear rotating bristle brushes is available; these can be helpful in removing surface dirt when used in conjunction with cleaners like Windex or Fastastik and hand polishing, but tend to wear rapidly. For more determined cleaning, a small brass or steel rotary wire brush, when used judiciously, is excellent for removing corrosion from chromium or nickel plated parts. However, be careful and use a steady hand- small rotary tools are powerful, and can chew holes in irreplaceable leather coverings in an instant!

When reconstruction involving drilling or shaping is required, a wide variety of drills, grinders, cutting wheels and burrs is available. Sets of diamond burrs and shapers in a variety of

Dremel Miniature Grinder, Cutting Wheel, Burrs in Various Shapes, and Drills

configurations can be purchased in tool stores for a few dollars. A set of chucks in several sizes is helpful when using aftermarket tools on the Dremel, as some of these do not conform to the standard Dremel shaft size.

One of the most useful cleaning tools can be quickly made from pieces of soft leather attached to the Dremel shaft used to hold carborundum cutting wheels. This has a broad-headed screw to hold the wheel on the end of the shaft, and is provided as part of many of the basic Dremel

Leather Polishing Tool

kits. Punch a hole in several small 1/2-3/4 in. strips of soft leather and use the screw to attach them to the shaft. A small amount of Flitz can then be applied to the ends of the strips. This rotating polisher shapes itself to the contours of irregular parts, and can make short work of transforming your camera into a gleaming icon of the photographic craft. However, be forewarned that applying the Flitz too liberally or working above the slowest speeds will result in a variety of creative examples of face painting.

Other Tools

  • Cup for small parts
  • Small scissors – a folding pair takes up less room. Also useful is a very small pair of pointed suture scirrors, obtainable from scientific or medical suppliers.
  • Miniature flashlight
  • Scalpel and blades
  • Small diamond sharpener
  • Miniature hammer
  • Miniature vise
  • A dark cloth to use as a working surface, preferably of a velvety or felt-like material. Not only does this protect both the working surface and the camera itself, it also catches tiny parts that fall by the wayside. A material with a finely irregular surface like felt, fleece, or velvet is more likely to retain small screws and nuts, keeping them from bouncing onto the floor.
  • Soldering gun or iron

Materials and Supplies

A good starting list of materials and supplies would include the following. If you have these supplies, you will be prepared for most of the basic tasks of cosmetic reconditioning of a vintage camera. However, this does not qualify or equip you to service complex mechanisms like shutters. For these tasks, defer to a professional or consult either specific service manuals or one of Thomas Tomosoy’s references on camera servicing.

  • A selection of good quality artist’s brushes.
  • Tacky craft glue – for gluing leather. Any of the Aileen’s tacky glues work well; these are readily available in craft stores.
  • DAP Household Silicone Adhesive – basically silicone sealant but in a small and convenient tube. Excellent for attaching small plastic red roll counter windows.
  • Epoxy resin
  • India Ink – for restoring the matte black finish on wooden camera interiors.
  • Lemon oil – Restores and maintains the luster of polished wooden cameras inside and out.
  • Xylene or Toluene – For cleaning brushes and general degreasing.
  • Isopropyl or ethyl alcohol – For cleaning.
  • Lens cleaner. Windex may be too caustic for older lenses.
  • Metal polish – Flitz is excellent. It is available from the Flitz web site.
  • Leather treatment supplies: Shoe creams and polishes in various colors, liquid instant polish, Buffalo Butter, good quality leather cream (I use Dyo Leather Balm), and an oil-based leather conditioner (I use Dyo Viscol Waterproofing).
  • Black and red permanent Magic Markers – For touching up the corners of bellows where wear has faded the dye.
  • Fine sandpaper in various grades.
  • Carborundum paper: 220, 320 400, 800, 1200 and 1500 grit.

Supplies in Syringes

Small working quantities of critical liquid supplies can be conveniently stored in, and dispensed from, 3 ml syringes with blunt 18 gauge needles. The illustration includes, from the top down, light lubricating oil (for general lubrication-not for shutters), petroleum jelly (for lubricating focusing tracks), alcohol, India ink, and diluted white tacky craft glue. It is possible to introduce small quantities of the lubricants into hard to reach places, and the glue can be injected under segments of leather that have begun to lift but are not entirely detached.


This is an area where I welcome readers’ comments and suggestions. Standard model paints are not satisfactory; they dry slowly and leave a finish that is far too soft to be durable. After experimentation with various types of paint, including black radiator paint and a variety of hobby paints, I am reasonably satisfied with Mr. Color’s gloss and flat black solvent-based acrylic lacquer, a product of Gunze Sangyo (GSI Creos Corporation). These can be blended to produce a semi-gloss paint. A clear lacquer is useful for wood and brass cameras; brass parts from these cameras can be stripped with paint remover, them cleaned with metal polish (Brasso works well) and relacquered. I have had good results with Model Master Semi-Gloss Clear Lacquer Finish, a Testor product. These products can be ordered from ColPar Hobbies in Denver.

However, my experience is that none of the paints that I have tried to date are as hard or as durable as the original baked-on finish. Two suggestions that I have yet to try are automotive touch-up paint and Micro-Tools’ “camera paint”, of which several types are advertised. Fallis Photo has a number of suggestions on this subject, one of which is baking paint by placing it in a box for one hour with a 100 watt bulb.

Links to Other Camera Restoration Sites

  • Brian Wallen’s Kodak Site: http://www.bnphoto.org/bnphoto/Kodak_index2.htm
  • P. Huego’s Camera Collecting and Restoration site. Among other useful topics, shows various makes of shutters progressively disassembled: http://pheugo.com/cameras/index.php?page=default&WEBMGR=c567d71629b3758d94b73dadd71e2981.
  • Jurgen Krenckel’s fine camera restoration site, Vintage Folding Cameras, has many good tips, including an excellent summary of the various models of shutters. Jurgen also has a camera repair service and sells refurbished roll film cameras from his eBay store. http://www.certo6.com/shutters.html.
  • Favorite Classics: An excellent site, with discussions of tools and a number of manuals for vintage cameras and light meters, as well as some repair manuals. http://www.kyphoto.com/classics/repairtools.html.
  • Fallis Photo site on camera restoration. Useful tips on restoring leather as well as shutter, viewfinder, and lens cleaning: http://forum.deviantart.com/galleries/photography/818501/.

Links to Tool Suppliers

Links to Specialty Camera Repair and Restoration Services

Links to Suppliers of Materials

  • Flitz: http://www.flitz.com/

Links to Books on Classic Camera Repair

  • http://www.kyphoto.com/classics/books.html
  • http://www.kyphoto.com/classics/bookreviews.html