A step too far? The Ensign Ensignette No. 1, 28 Mar 2024

A step too far? The Ensign Ensignette No. 1, 28 Mar 2024

A couple of weeks ago I posted on social media that now I have the Polaroid Big Shot there's no other cameras that I really need. And then I came across what is undeniably the oldest camera in my collection, the Ensign Ensignette No. 1. Definitely falling under the Kamerastore's 'not passed' category, the body is worn, the insides are full of rust, dirt and fungus and the bellows have large holes in them, so why on earth would I want this?

Well, for a start it's the oldest working camera (well, 'working' in the sense that the shutter fires, but that's about it) I've ever seen on the website. From the little bit of research I did before adding it to my basket I've dated this camera to about 1909-10, making it about 114 years old. It also takes a long defunct film stock called 128 film, which was made specifically for this camera and was so popular that even Kodak produced film for it.

To date the camera I first looked at the front plate. The plate of the early Ensignette cameras were plain, with the name of the camera and other details embossed on the front. According to Camera-Wiki, 'Pre-1911 cameras have a flat front plate with the "N-sign" trademark engraved on the bottom corner. Post-1911 cameras have embossed circles on both ends of the front plate where [the tabs] begin.' (http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Ensignette) The logo on the early cameras, the pub sign with an 'N' in it was a visual joke, an N-sign (Ensign, geddit?).  In addition, from what I can tell later cameras have a four digit serial number while this model has a serial number of E263, presumably, E for Ensign) suggesting that it really is an early model. Since the camera was launched around December 1909, I reckon that this camera was either from the first batch or from some time in 1910. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but it's nice to dream.

As mentioned, the condition of this camera is horrible. Usually, when the Kamerastore describe an issue with a camera they are quite harsh in their description, but it's an overstatement. This time, however, it was completely fair. Outside was not too bad, the body was worn, of course,  but that's expected for a 100-year-old camera. The marks for shutter speed ('I' and 'T') and the aperture were completely worn off and will need repairing. Also the shutter selector, for instant or bulb, and a little leg were completely missing. I reckon that at some point someone had tried to repair this camera and lost these pieces.

Upon opening the camera the real horror was revealed. The inside of the camera is full of dirt and rust. Surprisingly there is a metal 128 spool remaining but it's completely rusted and stuck inside the body. Inside the bellows is full of dirt and a blue fungal growth, or it's copper rust, I'm not really sure. The lens is full of haze and will have to be removed for cleaning. I can't really describe how awful it is, but the photos show what I'm up against. 

If you look at the bottom plate you can see that there is one screw missing, reinforcing my view that a repair had been attempted. Despite all of these challenges, I'm still going to try to get the camera working again. If I can cobble together another spool I can make a six-exposure paper-backed roll of 35mm film, and with an original frame size of 57x38mm, this might make a nice little panoramic camera.

If you are on Mastodon, you can now follow this blog directly. Just go to Mastodon and follow my WordPress account at @keithdevereux.wordpress.com@keithdevereux.wordpress.com. All new posts will be automatically updated to your timeline on Mastodon. 

#Ensign, #Ensignette, #128Film, #Camera, #Bellows, #Experimental, #Film, #ShittyCameraChallenge, #FrugalFilmProject, #Retro, #Vintage, #OldCameraChallenge, #Panoramic,