It was the standardization of motion picture film at Thomas Edison's
choice of a width of 35 mm. - that led to the introduction and ultimate
proliferation of 35 mm still cameras. While the earliest of these made
use of leftover lengths of cine film, from the movie industry,
eventually the production of film for these still cameras became
an end in itself. While the film used in the early cameras was standard
- 35 mm Wide, either perforated or un perforated - the 35mm cameras
that appeared in the nineteen teens and twenties were far from standard.
It wasn't until the 1930s that they began to conform to many of the
features introduced with the late comer Leica camera. Prior to that
time, cameras used perforated, un perforated or even paper-backed film;
non-standardized film cartridges/magazines; employed various negative
formats and assumed a variety of shapes - some with vertical and others
with horizontal orientation.
To many, one of the most appealing of the pre-standardization cameras
using 35mm film was the little - 2x2-1/2x4 inches - Ansco Memo. While
the camera was vertically oriented, it used the horizontal, "half-frame"
(18x24 mm) format of 35mm motion picture cameras. The camera, as
originally introduced in December 1926, had a varnished all-wood body,
with lacquered brass fittings (Fig. 1).
Original Ansco Memo
Atop the camera was a black,
tubular optical viewfinder and a metal carrying handle. The camera
was equipped with an f/6.3 Ilex Ansco, Cinemat Lens, mounted in an
Ilex shutter that provided speeds of T, B, 1/100, 1150 and 1/25 sec.
The camera's exterior was designed (U.S. Design Patent 74,211, filed
for January 22, 1927 and granted January 10, 1928) by Carl Bornmann,
a veteran Ansco employee and designer. The internal mechanism was
desgined by a team headed by L.W. Lessler.
At the time of the Memo's introduction, there was no such thing as a
standard film load, much less a standard film cartridge. The Memo
used a two-cartridge system (Fig. 2).
Method of loading feed
The upper cartridge held a
50-exposure length of perforated "cine" film that was fed into the
lower cartridge by means of a claw mechanism, activated by a lever
on the camera's back panel (Fig. 3).
and take up cartridges.
The film counter, on the front
above the lens and shutter, was activated by the shutter release
but not coupled to the camera's film advance. So it was possible
either intentional or unintentionally - more often the latter - to
make a double exposure. The original film cartridges were
rectangular and made of wood, with metal end caps. Over the years,
the cartridges evolved to all-metal construction and, ultimately,
rounding on one end.
At some point, probably in March or April 1927, a second version of
the Memo replaced the first (Fig. 4).
Second version of
Its only differences were that
it sported a leather covering on the all-wood body and had nickel
plating on the metal fittings. Also, in June 1927, Ansco announced
"Advanced Models of the Memo Cameras". These featured either a fixed
focus Bausch & Lomb f/6.3 Anastigmat lens or focusing models with
f/3.5 or f/6.3 Bausch & Lomb Anastigmat lenses.
the Ansco Memo.
The Memo cameras came with soft, suede leather carrying cases
- though hard leather cases later became available at extra cost.
The camera's shutter-release lever had a knurled knob on its end, to
facilitate grasping it with a finger. This probably led to the
knob's catching on the case's interior as the camera was withdrawn,
resulting in a number of unwanted exposures of the case's interior.
It certainly led to the introduction of the third version of the Memo,
one with a metal guard plate behind the shutter release lever
Third version of
This plate precluded the accidental release of the shutter.
This change, at least in advertising illustrations, occurred between
December 1927 and January 1928.
the Ansco Memo.
In 1928, between April and May, a change in the company's name
occurred. Ansco Photoproducts, Inc. became the Agfa Ansco
Corporation. Some time after that merger/acquisition a fourth
version, the Official Boy Scout Memo, was produced (Fig.6).
Boy Scout Memo,
camera returned to the non-Leather-covered body but it was painted
olive greed. In addition to the camera's nameplate bearing the Boy
Scout logo, there was also a blue Boy Scout logo embossed on the
camera's olive green hard-leather carrying case. Purportedly,
Girl Scout and Camp Fire Girls Memos were also made but this
writer knows of none.
with hard case.
From the mid- 1930s on, 3 5mm camera users could purchase enlargers
and other accessories that would accommodate the standard full-frame
(24x36mm) or half-frame (I 8x24mm) negative formats. Prior to 1930,
however, nothing was really standardized. In general, the most
successful 35mm cameras were those that had an accompanying "system"
of enlarger, printer, projector and even - in some cases - copy
stands/cameras. The Memo was no exception to this practice. At the
time of the Memo's introduction, it was possible to contact print
strips of film onto more film, thus making positive film strips.
These could then be projected by means of the Brayco Still-Film
Projector, for which Ansco was the Distributor. A second option
was making enlargements - of course on Ansco's Noko paper - with
the Memo Film Enlarging Printer (Fig. 7).
By February 1927, a machine for contact printing Memo negative
strips onto 35mm film was available.
Memo Film Positive Printer.
Whether or not this was
the "new Memo Film Positive Printer", mentioned in June 1927
(Fig. 8), is uncertain. That printer was a fairly large piece
of equipment. Also available in June 1927 was the Memo Copier
(Fig. 9), "for copying photos, drawings, etc.", for use with
the Menlo camera.
The Memo Still Film Copying Camera (Fig. 10)
came with two camera-sized bodies, in addition to the type of
base and copy board/easel found in the Memo Copier. The front
of the copy camera's standard was fitted with an f/3.5
Wollensak Velostigmat lense.
Memo Still Film
The f/3.5 aperture was used for
focusing but f/6.3 was recommended for exposures. At the back
of the standard were two Memo-sized bodies. One was hollow,
except for a ground-glass screen used for focusing. Attached
beside it was, in essence, a Memo body, with shutter, release
lever and film-advance lever. After focusing with the
ground-lass body mounted behind the lens, the pair of bodies
was slid laterally, to bring the exposure-making section into
As was said before, the Memo system included projectors. Ansco
initially offered those from other manufacturers -first the
Brayco and, by June 1927, the B. & L. Film Projector No. 4090.
By December 1927, the Pordell Flashlight Projector was being
offered with the Memo (Fig. 11).
Second version of Memo,
It was essentially a
flashlight body mounted on a wooden base and equipped at the
front with a simple mechanism, with lens, for accommodating
the filmstrip. In February 1928 Ansco introduced the Memoscope
(Fig. 12), a much more substantial filmstrip projector.
with Pordell Flashlight Projector.
was designed and patented (applied for March 1928, issued
May 1931) by Carl Bornmann. The projector, which also came
in a Boy Scout version, could also be used with the Memo
Enlarging Outfit, a base and copy board/easel that could be
used in the darkroom. The equipment could "also be used for
projection of positive rolls in restricted space, - for
example, where it is desired to check rolls, lay out
So what did the various Memos and their "system" accessories
cost? Here's a list of some prices:
December 1926 (when introduced)
- Memo camera, with soft suede case $20.00
- Memo film, 50-exposure cartridge 0.50
- Brayco Projector 27.50
- Memo Film Enlarging Printer 75.00
- Memo camera, f/6.3 lens 20.00
- Memo camera, f/6.3 B. & L. lens 25.00
- Memo camera, f/6.3 B. & L. focusing lens 30.00
- Memo camera, f/3.5 B. & L. focusing lens 40.00
- Black, sole leather belt case 3.00
- B. & L. Film Projector No. 4090 57.50
- Carrying case for projector 7.50
- Ansco Positive Film Printer 30.00
- Memo Copier 15.00
- Memo camera with Pordell Projector 23.75
- Memo Enlarging Printer 50.00
- Memo camera, f/6.3 Wollensak focusing lens 25.00
- Memo camera, f/3.5 Wollensak focusing lens 35.00
- Memoscope Projector, with case 19.50
- Memoscope Enlarging Outfit (not including Memoscope) 20.00
- Memo Printing Frame, 50 frame/exposure lengths 4.00
- Memo Printing Frame, 8 frame/exposure lengths 1.25
- Memo Copier 15.00
- Universal Still Film Copying Camera 50.00
Of course a relevant question in all of this is, how affordable
were the Memos and accessories back then? Could the average
person afford them? U.S. Department of Labor statistics tell us
that in 1928 the average annual earnings of full-time employees,
after deductions for unemployment, were $1,297. That's $24.94 a
week. Think about it. Another figure for 1927, the average weekly
earnings of "production and nonsupervisory workers on private
nonagricultural payrolls", gives a figure for those in the
manufacturing industry of $24.47 per week. Just how affordable
were the Memo, etc for the "common man"? And it all went down
hill from October 1929 on.
Exactly when the demise of the Ansco Memo came about is
uncertain. The Great Depression certainly contributed to it.
In the manufacturing industry, weekly earnings of those lucky
enough to still have jobs - fell by 31%, to $16.89 by 1932.
By around that time, Willoughby's, a camera store in New York
City, was selling Memos at closeout prices. Subsequently, the
Memo name was revived at least three times. The Agfa Memo, a
35mm folding model introduced in March 1939, used the by-then
standard full-frame format. A half-frame version was introduced
the next year.
Ansco Memo II Automatic,
The Ansco Memo II Automatic (Fig. 13), made by
Ricoh in 1967 for Ansco, the successor to Agfa Ansco, produced
negatives in the half-frame format. It had a spring-wound
rapid film advance. And, in the 1980s, the Ansco Memo Disc
HR 10 (Fig. 13) was produced briefly in Hong Kong for Ansco.
and Ansco Memo Disk HR 10.
References: The Ansco Dealer, various issues, 1926-1927
Ansco Catalogs and Pamphlets, 1928-1929 The Ansco Memo Camera,
March 1927 The Ansco Memo Camera, April 1929 Memo Finishing
at Home, c. 1930 The Universal Still Film Copying Camera,
c. 1930 Photo-Era Magazine, various advertisements,
1927-1930 National Geographic, various advertisements,
1927-1928 American Photography, various advertisements,
1927 Cameras of the 1930s, 1977 A Century of Cameras, 1982
© Copyright 2002, Eaton S. Lothrop, Jr.