another way to skin a cat

Ad for Yashica Electro 35GT camera

Toronto. It’s the 1970s and your camera doesn’t have a socket for the ubiquitous magicubes. Nor can it use Kodak’s super simple Instamatic film cartridges. What do you do? Well Yashica advertised that their cameras let you take indoor photos without flash! Mind you, even then a tripod was necessary given the slow speed of colour film.

Today’s smartphone users for the most part are blissfully unaware that auto exposure and auto flash along with fast sensors simply eliminate any need for tripods or external flash – just a youthful steady hand for good indoor shots.

In the above ad from page 20 of the May 14, 1971 issue of LIFE magazine, Yashica touted their Electro 35GT 35mm film camera with its fast lens (f/1.7) and automatic CdS light intensity sensor, and computer controlled shutter.  The line featured aperture priority – for a given light intensity, adjust the aperture for depth of field and the shutter automatically speeds up or slows down. And the lens far exceeds the capabilities of the less expensive box cameras packaged to look like fancy 35mm cameras at a fraction of the price.

If you spot the catch-light in the baby’s eyes, you can see soft illumination was perhaps from a close by window and daylight. Even then, a tripod may have been needed and not just a photo prop for this ad.

Thanks  again to friend and fellow PHSC member for showing us this delightful piece of photographic history!

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taking a bigger slice of the pie

Kodak ad in the May 7, 1971 LIFE magazine

Toronto. Post war, every company in the photographic  industry worked hard to gain a bigger market share. Kodak, as shown by this LIFE ad from the May 7, 1971 issue (p 65), grouped all the hot button ideas into one bundle and then touted a special deal.

You can see the ‘all thumbs’ amateur gets top billing: Save money? Check. Colour film? Check. Instamatic film cartridge? Check. New camera to use new technologies in a ‘for dummies’ environment? Check. Battery-less flash cubes? Check. Carrying case? Check. Album? Check. Big package to take up shelf space? Check.

An amazing number of consumer issues and wishes covered, all in one ad – even a new catch phrase! An eye-grabbing way to introduce a new camera – Instamatic X-15.

My thanks to good friend and fellow photo historian for sharing his finds with us! Well done George.


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hey! Big Shot!

A Polaroid ‘Big Shot’ ad in LIFE magazine

Toronto. The term  “Big Shot” meant someone of importance in business or politics. However, when I was young we used it as a derogatory term for someone who was puffed up by his self perceived importance.

In this April 30, 1971 LIFE ad (a two page spread just before page 46), Polaroid named a specialty camera ‘Big Shot‘. The camera was inexpensive (under $20 US) and designed for one thing – portraits (and to sell Polaroid film, of course). Simple to use and easy to get decent prints, the camera had a fixed focus and a rangefinder. Step up to your subject then step back until the two images merge and you are in focus (the Big Shot shuffle)! An always on flash (uses battery-less Magic Cubes) had a large translucent panel to soften the lighting and complement any subject.

Thanks are due to George Dunar for sharing this bit of trivia which he found while investigating photographic history as recorded by magazine advertisements some 50 years ago, before digital photography and smart phones became the norm they are today.

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a land far, far, away …

Hello, Mars, this is the rover Perseverance. Courtesy of NASA

Toronto. Star Wars, anyone? It was exciting news last Thursday when the rover Perseverance landed on Mars as planned. Both my wife and I watched the event on television that afternoon.

One of the first things the rover did was send back to earth a low resolution (saves bandwidth – high resolution photos will come later) photograph. The robot first sent a twitter to say it landed safely followed by a photograph. It takes eleven minutes through a vacuum at the speed of light to send a message home and as much time to send back to Mars. An epic event and well done by the NASA team.

Personally, I was thrilled to see photography playing a small part in the event. In 1969, we watched when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon and took film photographs – another astonishing milestone. Anyone could later order a copy to be sent by regular mail. Before that event, we could only learn the amount of thrust needed to break from the pull of earth’s gravity.

Today, digital photography and smartphones make for nearly instantaneous snapping and viewing world wide. But eleven minutes? From Mars? WOW?

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Amalgamated Newsletters 2-2

Supplement 2-2 (Feb 2021)

Toronto. Some month so far as we saw storms blowing outside this week. Editor Bob Lansdale has put together the latest amalgamation of newsletters in his supplement – Vol 2-2. All members with a an email address on file at the PHSC received this pdf version Friday. It is an amalgamation of selected newsletters from our exchange members who gave their blessing for inclusion in this venture.

The cover quote says, “Welcome to more newsletter readings to offset the decline of our photo Society activities from the Covid pandemic.

“Timothy Campbell sends us a compilation of the journal of the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain and their Tailboard newsletter. Their publications are full of hardware stories and I envy their constant source.

“We also bring you the latest issue of Snap Shots from the Photographic Historical Society of New England Inc.”

I noted last year that these packages were coming for members, ” … we elected to compile other material in pdf files ready to send to members IF they supplied an email address AND had a fast enough internet connection to receive the 2 – 10 mb or so pdf files. …”.

Well, the Volume 2-2 went out, and if you didn’t get it but you do get our newsletters, drop me a note ( I will verify you are a 2020/2021 member and send off a copy. If you are a current member and didn’t see a copy, please check your junk folder. This and all other specials will only be sent to paid members. Not one yet? No big deal – pull your plastic and use the PayPal set up at the top right of this web page. Note: We will continue to send our excellent newsletter ‘PHSC News‘ to all who are on our MailChimp list – PHSC member or not.

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enough already!

a surprise in contest entries

Toronto. Do you remember the days of photograph contests? Pictures were snapped on film, prints carefully made, and the hopeful shutter-bug mailed his/her pride and joy(s) to an address for assessment by a professional photographer – or a committee of them.  I think most photo contests at the time attracted enough entries. to satisfy the judge(s).

In the very late 1960s, I entered one such contest and won twice – first for a portrait and third for animals. The prize money bought me a new exposure meter back when CdS cells were the big event allowing exposure meters to be made that could read very dim light settings for those with a tripod.

However; in 1971 when LIFE magazine ran its latest contest, it was overwhelmed with entries and had to announce on page 3 of the April 16, 1971 issue that entries (over 100,000) were at least triple the estimate and this would result in the delayed announcement of winners, but they would still be published in 1971 (and the winners were published in a ‘double’ issue on the very last day of 1971).

My thanks to good friend and associate for spotting this item while researching magazine articles and advertisements for items of historical interest.

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the power of networks

Canadian Camera Company ad

Toronto. To be a successful editor, one needs many talents – originality, devotion to subject, willingness to share, open to ideas from others, good English, and networks. Fortunately, our own editor, Bob Lansdale has all these talents including a world-wide network of like minded souls willing to assist Bob on all difficult issues.

On February 6th, Edmonton member Brian Hudson had questions on the company that built/sold his Glencoe camera and asked us for help. Bob Lansdale did a vigorous search but lacked access to Montreal street guides so he threw out a wide call across his network via the internet.

The result was an astonishing amount of information. Member Dr Irwin Reichstein up in Ottawa provided a detailed look at the company when first incorporated in Montreal, then relocated to Toronto and later filed for bankruptcy. Others noted they had such cameras in their collections. David Mattison in BC sent along a link to a site called which included this bit on US Patent 684221.

This added information on the Canadian Camera Company resulted from Bob’s use of his network – enough for an article in our journal, hopefully. (Who knew that the June 1899 “Rod and Gun in Canada” had an Amateur Photography section [pp146, 7] and especially that the magazine devoted a few paragraphs to the move of the Canadian Camera Company to Toronto? Fortunately Dr Reichstein discovered this and shared it. Well done, Irwin!)

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customer focus

April 2, 1971 LIFE ad showing Polaroid’s solution in its 400 series cameras

Toronto. Successful companies in any industry make changes based on customer focus. That is, how do we change our products to solve pressing customer issues? Polaroid was one such company as shown in this April 2nd, 1971 spread on pages 32 and 33 in LIFE magazine.

Polaroid cameras were famous for their combination of technology and simplicity. The cameras used Polaroid film which fuelled its profits. Customers (hopefully) bought dozens of film packs for every camera bought.

In spite of its technology and simplicity, flash prints by average customers showed blown out highlights in moderate close-ups and deep dark shadows in more distant shots. The solution was two fold. First, work with companies like GE to make brighter flash cubes and second, control the amount of light hitting the subject.

To do this, Polaroid developed a camera series that used a venetian blind style shutter over the active face of the flash cube, and linked it to the focus scale so the closer the subject the more the ‘blind slats’ closed reducing the amount of illumination. And at the low end of the line one model had no flash bulb shutter for those who  felt such detail was unnecessary.

Thank you, George Dunbar, friend and fellow PHSC member for showing me this innovative bit of photographic history.

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have camera, will travel

Rollei 4X4 Replica courtesy of Collectors Weekly

Toronto. A collector down in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Mcheconi, wrote about his find some eight or so years ago – a giant baby Rollei.  The oversize camera served as a promotional object and advertisement for the famous Rollei brand. Mcheroni’s article, “1930’s Giant Baby Rolleiflex 4×4 Promotional Replica” appears on the Collectors Weekly website.

For years it had a place of preference in a store window of a camera store in Rio de Janeiro. The writer tells of its construction and history, from manufacture by Rollei in Germany to its home in Brazil.

If you happened to have visited our Show and Tell back in December 2006, you may remember seeing Shelton Chen’s display of dummy cameras and cut-aways. Shelton owns Hit Camera here in the big smoke. At one time giant replica’s were a way to flog camera models.

Thanks to friend and fellow PHSC member, Russ Forfar, for suggesting this item and showing me the article link. Note that the title of the post is a riff on the 1950/60 TV and radio series, “Have Gun, Will Travel“, featuring Richard Boone on the TV version as Paladin.

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fakin’ it for profit

Left Mr Donly and wife in St Thomas Ontario. Right fake of Mrs Donly purported to be taken in Scotland. Both courtesy of member Lorne Shields

Toronto. You may have noticed that when any communication channel, article, etc. falls markedly in cost, the con artists and spammers leap in to make a profit. In the USA, when postage was cheap, con artists could afford to swamp the country with fake claims and offers. The gullible few who sent money more than covered postage and printing costs. That is, until the government imposed fines for inter-state mail fraud that were so high devious enterprises disappeared.

The same thing happened with long distance and the internet. Fraudulent operators flooded both services with phoney calls, spam, phishing stunts, etc. but this time internationally and usually beyond the long arm of the law in the country attacked.

We saw this with cameras when certain rare models became highly valued and far cheaper models could be bought and tarted up for resale as the more exotic models.  When I joined the PHSC over 4 decades ago, any 1800s photograph was worth just a few dollars at most. Now photos by certain studios or with famous personages, or with rare devices shown are worth far more than similar more pedestrian photos.

Many of these fakes find their way to auctions, antique shops, trade tables at fairs, and even on the internet at Ebay, etc. With photos, a source photo can be copies, attached to an authentic card or inserted in an old case and like magic the “photograph” multiplies in value.

The above photos, courtesy of Lorne Shields illustrate how a known rare photograph can suddenly appear for sale. Lorne writes, ” … A vendor was selling the counterfeit with what was purportedly a photograph taken in Scotland.

“My photo (on the left) is from the family album of H. B. Donley of Simcoe Ontario.  The image is of Mr. Donley and his wife in a St. Thomas, Ont. photographic studio.  Notice the backdrop, bike, lady and her clothing are the same person in the same studio (albeit reversed images).   What someone has done is take a fairly rare image of the lady (albeit not able to ride in this position) on a High Wheel bicycle.  No doubt the original image exists of the right side image in some public or private collection or posted somewhere on the internet but it is impossible for that image to be on a Scottish mount as offered on eBay.  In looking at other counterfeit images the vendor has sold they were all posted in a slightly blurry definition.”

The old saying ‘Caveat Emptor‘ still applies, especially to selected old photographs now worth considerable amounts. If you would like further information on historic bicycles or cycling photographica, tell me at and I will forward your request to Lorne.

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