Graflex 1 A early version with scissor contruction

Photo Jo Lommen

The 1 A Graflex Reflex   

Roll Film Camera


Let's see what we have here.

Graflex 1 A Reflex Roll-film Camera made by
Folmer & Swing Division.

The Folmer & Swing was founded in 1888 and purchased by Kodak in 1905
and consolidated as The Folmer & Swing Division established in Rochester.

This Graflex 1 A, introduced in 1909 took the regular 1 A Kodak film and made 2 x 4 negatives. The 5 slit horizontal moving focal plane shutter exposed from 1/2 second to 1/1000 of a second. The image on the ground glass corresponds in principle with the film size albeit a slight bit narrower than the negative format, probably to keep the camera as compact as possible. The image on the ground glass is projected right side up. The mirror of this reflex camera, has the reflecting coating upon the glass as opposed to the conventional mirror with the reflective surface behind the glass. Cleaning has to be done very carefully to avoid rubbing off the fragile coating.

Winding of the curtain when the mirror is up would cause a fogged film, reason why the 1 A Graflex is fitted with a safety device which prevents that. First set the mirror and then wind the curtain in the wanted position. The amazing huge focusing hood is held in position by the spring actuated scissor construction, which folds compactly back in the top of the camera. On top of the hood, the eye shield prevents incoming light and thus allowing a good sight on the ground glass. On the front side of the eye shield we see the companies tag while the exposing tag is situated on the inner side.

The drop bed is milled from heavy brass, a stop on the focusing rail indicates the 'universal focus" of the lens. This permits the use of the camera for general fixed focus work, as well as photography in which focusing must be done with the utmost accuracy. When the camera is closed the lens, mirror and bellows all recede into the body of the camera, making it possible to reduce the size to an extent never before attempted in a reflecting camera.

For that time it was a real improvement of easy loading the film spools. A self-centring device makes it possible to simply drop the film spool into position, where it finds its own centre. The film winding key when drawn out and given a slight turn locks open; another turn allows it to snap back into position, The film pockets are provided with tension springs which prevent the rolls from unwinding.

In the begin of the 20th century the 1A Graflex construction details made it to an ideal travel camera for the automobilist, tourist, or anyone desiring a thoroughly efficient reflex.
The camera measures 5 x 9x 3 inch. Focal capacity 6 inch. Weight 4 pounds. Lensboard 2x2 3/8.  It takes, or should I say took, the regular 1 A Kodak film making negatives of 2 x 4 . inch.
With the help of 4 pieces of 116 to 120 film spool adapters you can take photos with the common 120 film spool.

Graflex 1 A front

eBay offer described as
Early Model Graflex 1 A-
Very Clean-Working shutter

This was the literally text on eBay which made me buy that camera. I was looking some time to get this impressing camera with its characteristic and unique
scissor construction which holds the long tall viewing hood strait up.
The camera is fitted with a 3 x 5 lens  However there was something wrong with it. Probably the rear cell was not original. The lens' infinity focus needs about 18 cm which is far too long for this type of camera which bellows stretches maximum 13 cm. This particular camera was far from clean. Inside the camera it was a totally mess. The mirror didn't snap into its position and the shutter didn't  fire. The shutter curtain was only moving a couple of inches when trying to turn the winding key. The view on the ground glass was impossible not only because of the not working collapsible viewing hood but mainly because of a not correct in line set mirror. The bellows and its back frame were out of order mainly caused by its incorrect position in the camera house. The mirror did not pop up. In fact things did not move at all inside the mirror house. As a result of this, the focal plane shutter winding mechanism was blocked. As said before, the focal plane shutter moved a few inches and was drawn back again in its home position. As expected the release lever was stuck.
I concluded that I had been tricked and soon realised that this was not just an incorrect fault description. However I decided to resign and concentrate on repairing this unique camera



First of all I had to remove the scissor construction as well as the ground glass, which allowed me a good view inside the mirror house. Pulling the lens board out of the camera housing in this situation seemed to be delicate and not without risk. I decided to tackle the problem from the back side and leave the bellows with the lens board on the yoke outside the camera house. The back cover can be taken off very easy by squeezing both slots. The film exposure frame is now visible and can be taken off by unscrewing 8 screws. Both ends are to be lifted out of the roll film covers. As expected the curtain was in closed position and should be taken out to be able to work on the release mechanism and the mirror problem. The left and right control covers of the camera top can be unscrewed and taken off without a problem. You may hear and feel how the spool spring releases when you take off the cover by tilting the tension winding key. On the opposite site you will practically not feel any resistance. All the shutter mechanisms are connected to the top cover plates so you wont have to bother about it. However both rollers can't be removed yet because of the focal plane shutter roller position plates and the roll film covers. The plates are fitted by three bigger metal screws on the top inside and three on the bottom inside. Further more three little black screws on the top and bottom holding the black roll film cover. Also two roll film conductors on each side will come off while dismounting the plates. Once this is done, you can remove the focal plane rollers by sliding them out through the top holes. Check the fabric for holes or other anomalies. Check if the fabric ends are still firmly connected to the rollers and if necessary re-glue them. Clean the shutter rollers shaft ends and check the working of the spring inside the roller. Before remounting check if washers are needed to get the roller pinion at the right height for an optimal connection with the winding tooth wheel. After remounting the winding control, check the position of the curtain wide open slit if it corresponds with the figure O in the winding window. If not make sure it does. Before mounting the left plate turn the tension key a few turns to bring some more tension on the spool and remount the control panel with figure 1 in the window while keeping the roller under tension. This is not easy, but with a lot of patience you'll find a way.


The very rough or better to say non-running focusing knob which is situated in the front door, forced me to remove the front leatherette to see what was wrong. After removing I found a 10x 8 cm piece of newspaper glued to the back of the leatherette. The top line reads "...RAT AND CHRONICLE Tuesday August...". Some research learned me that it original reads, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle news paper which makes it almost sure that this camera was made in Rochester. As the Autographic feature was launched in 1915 and the viewing hood scissor construction was replaced in 1918 by a simpler folding hood, this particular camera product must be dated in one of these 3 years. Below you see the removing of the front leatherette and dismounting of the focussing knob.
The focusing shaft is held by a steel clamping sleeve which can be forced with a screwdriver to get the opening a bit wider. This ended up with a nice freely adjustable focusing knob. A piece of almost the same leather as before clued to the drop bed finished the job.


The total repair cost me two weeks and resulted in a good working camera. As mentioned before, I found out that the 6,3 lens was definitely not the right one for this camera. Infinity focussing could only be obtained by completely drawn out lens board. Focussing on a nearer object closer than 15 yards was impossible. However in the mean time I was lucky to find the original B&L Zeiss Tessar 113 mm. Series 1c  E.F. 4,5, # 14.

Graflex 1 A with autographic feature
Graflex 1 A back side equiped with Autographic feature.
Note: the aperture back is closed with a removable cover that has an autographic feature which when opened by a sliding mechanism, enables to write
 location or names onto the film-back paper. Using a metal stylus the text was written on a kind of typewriter carbon paper.
After developing the film, the written text became visible on the negative after developing.
George Eastman purchased this invention from Henry J. Gaisman and paid 300.000 US$ for it. Kodak used this new invention in all its so called Autographic cameras.
Being part of the Eastman company, Folmer & Swing's 1 A Graflex camera was equipped with the Autographic feature as well.

Autographic feature by Kodak 1915


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