Vest Pocket Kodak Vintage Camera
Vest Pocket Kodak Specifications
|Manufacturer:||Eastman Kodak Company|
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Made in:||Rochester, NY, USA|
|Camera Type:||Folding, Viewfinder|
|Dimensions (cm):||6.3 x 12.1 x 2.6 (closed)|
|6.3 x 12.1 x 9.8 (open)|
Vest Pocket Kodak Review
The Vest Pocket Kodak (commonly known as “VPK”) is an early compact folding camera introduced in 1912 by Eastman Kodak. Designed to fit neatly into users’ pockets and later heavily marketed to British and American soldiers during World War I, the Vest Pocket Kodak was one of the most successful cameras of its day, reportedly selling over two million units during its 15 year production life. The VPK is also famous for having accompanied English mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine during their fatal expedition to Mount Everest in 1924. While Mallory’s remains were discovered in 1999, Irvine’s body and camera are still missing. Once found, the hope is that the film inside Irvine’s Vest Pocket Kodak may finally tell us whether or not the two climbers had succeeded in reaching the summit nearly thirty years before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay‘s 1953 expedition.
As befitting a camera of its era, the VPK has a very limited set of controls. The lens board has no release button and is simply pulled open. Once deployed, a rotatable brilliant finder can be found next to the lens along with a simple shutter button. The Vest Pocket Kodak was produced with a variety of different lenses. This early example is fitted with an 85mm f/6.9 Zeiss Kodak Anastigmat lens built under license in the United States to German specifications. Mated to a Kodak ball bearing shutter, a dial above the lens is used to set the shutter speed (1/25, Bulb, Time, 1/50) while the aperture is set with a similar dial underneath it. A kickstand can be unfolded to balance the camera on a flat surface.
To load and unload film, the entire top panel of the VPK can be removed by setting the latch switch from “lock” to “open.” Once the film and empty take-up spool are in and the top panel replaced and locked in place, the winding knob is used to advance the film. The oblong red window found on the back of the camera is used as a frame counter.
I purchased this Vest Pocket Kodak along with several other cameras such as the Bell & Howell Electric Eye 127, Univex Model AF-4, and Ansco Memo at the estate sale of the late Kirk Kekatos, former president and founding member of the Chicago Photographic Collectors Society. However, I cannot take full credit for finding this magnificent specimen amongst the dizzying number of cameras in Mr. Kekatos’s collection since my wife was the one who spied it sitting in one of the darker corners of the room.
According to McKeown’s Price Guide, this particular example is relatively uncommon due to its f/6.9 Zeiss lens and square-cornered bellows which make this one of the first VPKs ever built. Given its age, the camera is in good cosmetic condition with a normal amount of scratches and brassing. Mechanically speaking, the shutter appears to function perfectly although one of the struts is slightly broken, making the lens difficult to fully extend. All things considered, the VPK is in pretty good shape for such an old camera.
Want one for yourself? Find your very own Vest Pocket Kodak on eBay.
McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), 377.
“The Vest Pocket Kodak was the Soldier’s Camera,” National Media Museum, http://blog.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/2014/03/13/the-vest-pocket-kodak-was-the-soldiers-camera
“Historical Development: Could a Frozen Camera Dethrone Hillary and Norgay as the First to Summit Everest?,” Scientific American, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mount-everest-mystery