The Auto Graflex

5 x 7 inch Reflex camera

Camera  missing strap, front door, lens and bracket  The peep hole in the accordian viewing hood

Missing cover brackets and missing strap handle, leather camera cover in very bad shape and a not functional stiff focal plane shutter.
The accordion style viewing hood has had its best days long time ago but still usable.

This was marketed as a reflex camera for use in and around the house.
Sizes when closed : 24 cm high, 23 cm long and 21cm wide !
The advertisement emphasises the advantage of the accordion viewing hood which enables the photographer to see the image on the ground glass
in full size and right up at the very instant of exposure.
The ad shows the hunter on his head and the message is:
"If you had to stand on your head to shoot you wouldn't bring home much game"
So the Auto Graflex constructors designed an exclusive viewing hood to tackle the above negative effect.

The Accordion Hood

The first edition Auto Graflex cameras was equipped with the accordion front hinged viewing hood, matching brackets and button release.
The camera on the photos (before restoration ) is the largest of three formats 3 x4 - 4x5 and 5x7 inch.
Lensboard sizes:
Film format 3x4 = Lens board size 2 x 2 (1919 = 2
7/8 x 2 7/8)(1918= 3 x 3 )
Film format 4x5 = Lens board size 3x3 inch.
Film format 5x7 = 4x4 = Lens board size 4x4 inch.

The very impressive accordion viewing hood, provided with a bit shabby looking excision oval slit serving as a peep hole, prevents incoming stray light falling on the ground glass.
Looking down through the sleeve on the ground glass the photographer could see the ground glass showing the image right up.
To realise focussing without bending ones head down to the ground glass, the photographer could also look straight ahead to watch into a mirror at the inside of the front hinged viewing hood.
The mirror is placed in an angle of 45 degree and thus making it possible to reflect the ground glass' image.
 This construction allows the photographer to look straight forward into the cutout peep hole and still see the focusing target on the ground glass, albeit on its head !
Undoubtedly another advantage of this remarkable viewing hood especially for street or press photographing.
The accordion Auto Graflex with the front hinged cover was made from 1906 till 1910 in the film sizes 4x5 and 5x7"
The next badge as from 1916 was equipped with the "normal" straight folding rear hinged viewing hood.


A remarkable detail is the front lens cover. It exist out of a kind of box with on the inside the easy to change lens board with lens and on the outside a hinged door.
The inside of the box is covered with leatherette as well is the inside of the hinged door. I don't have the slightest idea about the purpose of this box construction. A smaller metal hinged door in the middle of the bigger front door, pops open when the lens is turned outwards.
The camera top cover came without the leather strap handle and missed both top cover brackets to hold the cover with the accordion viewing hood upright.
Furthermore the focal plane shutter was extremely dry and brittle and non functional. Even the lens including lens board was missing.

Nevertheless I decided to accept the challenge to start the restoration. First of all I tackled the focal plane shutter, renewed the fabric but used the old clips.
I followed the same procedure as I did before renewing the Graflex Home Portrait camera.

Not being a metalworker I had to find a way to make these top cover brackets and started with thin cardboard test designs to see how this would act while opening and closing the top cover. Once I found the right shape, I cut them out of 0,3 mm copper plate which is very easy to cut and bend.
To get these cover brackets working I also had to find admittance to the bellows storage in the front of the camera. This proved to be difficult as the screws -holding the back frame of the bellows- were difficult to find under the folded plies of the bellows. You'd need a thin long screwdriver and and a third hand to hold the torch.
Carefully tear the bellows strait up. Now you can discover 4 screws on each side of the bellows connecting the rear bellows frame to the rear front of the lens standard.  The tall screwdriver helps you to turn the screws loose. Don't loose your  patience. When all screws are loose you may lift the bellows out of the case.


The first two pictures show the removal of the bellows giving entrance to the bellows storage space.
the third photo shows one of the screws in the narrow space between camera and bellows.
Make sure to get the right screwdriver!


Test using cardboard to find a working dummy.


   Next step is contour sawing the much more stronger steel.  fitting bracket, but needs to be painted



This is how it looks. A poor "try out cut" made out of copper and finally the provisional steel bracket result which proves to be good working.
The last photo shows the bellows storage in which the end of the bracket will find its place when the cover has been closed.

Realising that the old leather was definitively unsuitable to be restored, I decided to undress the camera to see how it looks then.
I might find some new leather to cover the camera with, but up till now I like the woody as it is. Maybe some varnish would give it a nicer and warmer look.
Further more I managed to make a new strap holder. A very nice brass Bausch & Lomb Series IIb 5x7 lens fitted in a home made wooden lens holder completes the outer performance.
finished but still needs the pop up front door   



My next project:
The 3 x 4 Auto Graflex

The refurbishment of an attic found.

Auto Graflex 3x 4 sold as is !

Unlike its older and bigger brother, this 3 x 4 successor Auto Graflex was equipped with the strait up viewing hood with fur top rather than the accordion hood with the peep hole.
However both cameras had the same front hinged door and a very odd front lens housing.
Further detail, the first Auto Graflex edition had a button release knob which had been replaced by a release handle in this second edition. Both cameras were equiped with an enclosed lens standard with hinged door which opened automatically when the lens was turned out in focusing position. Even the inside of the front lens enclosure was strangely enough covered with leather.
My purchase showed a very poor  appear due to the extremely worn leather, probably due to moisture.
A closer look ad the eBay photos learned me that none of the visible screws showed any signs of repair which gave me the right feeling to buy it.
Once the camera arrived, my hope came true and obviously the camera was never taken apart for repair and there was no damage beside the brittle fabric of the focal plane shutter.

This camera type with the front hinged folding hood was manufactured from1911 to 1915 and one can be pretty sure that the focal plane shutter rubberised  fabric
will be completely stiff after being kept packed over one hundred years. Also very often the carrying strap handle of these cameras is broken and the one of my new purchase, was no exception.
Apart from the stiff and brittle focal plane shutter, the broken strap handle and the missing lens, the camera was technical perfect okay, but needed care and for all a complete technical overhauling. Cosmetically however it was a disaster and my intention was to remove the old worn leatherette and to replace it by new leather or to undress it and keep it in its uncovered wooden natural outfit.
I ordered new cloth for the focal pane shutter. Meanwhile waiting for the delivery I removed very carefully the clips out of the old curtain and if necessary
 bent them into the right shape. This is easier said than done. The making of a new focal plane shutter is quite a job and it takes time, skills, feeling and for all patience.
The reward is a perfect working one hundred year old classic camera.




Undressing the wooden body from its leather cover and removing the shutter mechanics.

I found an old worn and for all stiff and brittle focal plane shutter inside the camera.
On the right the old shutter curtain next to the new uncut fabric.

After cutting the slits and mounting the old clips into the new fabric,
the rebuild focal plane shutter is ready to get installed into the camera.

The ugly duckling after the metamorphose has become a handsome wooden classic camera but still misses a carrying hand-strap.

One of the collectors worst nightmare would be picking up an old precious camera by its strap handle which turns out to be too brittle to hold the heavy camera
which definitely ends up with a broken camera laying on the floor.
Most of these classics are more than a century old and one of the cosmetic shortcoming is the leather strap-handle. Next to the leather loops connected to the camera top, the strap is brittle and will definitely break when tilting the camera. Two new brackets and a new proper leather handle would be more than necessary to display or take the camera out.

Stitching such a close to original strap holder is quite a job but also a gratifying activity.
By the way, now all this has been done, I wonder if I ever will cover this good looking camera with black leather again to bring it back into its original shape.
To be frank, I don't think I will. It just looks so nice as it is now.
In the mean while I was very lucky to find a nice B&L lens to complete the refurbishment.

Are you looking for a new original personalised strap holder?
I would be pleased to make one for you.

More info



Graflex Cameras

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