Remembering the Kodak Brownie

The Brownie Popularized Low-cost Photography

Brownie is the name of a long-running and extremely popular series of simple and inexpensive cameras made by Eastman Kodak. The Brownie popularized low-cost photography and introduced the concept of the snapshot. The first Brownie, introduced in February, 1900, was a very basic cardboard box camera with a simple meniscus lens that took 2¼-inch square pictures on 117 rollfilm. With its simple controls and initial price of $1, it was intended to be a camera that anyone could afford and use, leading to the popular slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest." The camera was named after the popular cartoons created by Palmer Cox.

Kodak Brownie

One of the most popular Brownie models was the Brownie 127, millions of which were sold between 1952 and 1967. The Brownie 127 was a simple bakelite camera for 127 film which featured a simple meniscus lens and a curved film plane to reduce the impact of deficiencies in the lens.

Having written an article in the 1940s for amateur photographers suggesting an expensive camera was unnecessary for quality photography, the famous Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy used a Brownie camera to stage a carefully posed snapshot of two young women sitting on railings above a breezy Blackpool promenade.

In 1908, the Austrian architectural critic Joseph August Lux wrote a book called Künstlerische Kodakgeheimnisse (Artistic Secrets of the Kodak) in which he championed the use of the camera for its cultural potential. Guided by a position that was influenced by the Catholic critique of modernity, he argued that the accessibility the camera provided for the amateur meant that people could photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world

Beau Brownie

The Beau Brownie range was available from 1930 to 1933.

They differed very little from the ever-popular Brownie cameras; the only real difference being the introduction of the new "Doublet Lens", allowing the same picture to be projected on a film plate over a shorter distance, that making the Beau Brownies nearly 2" shorter than their conventional counterparts was.

Visually, they differed with the arrival of new enameled two-tone front plates in a heavily geometric and contemporary Art Deco design, the work of leading American Deco designer, Walter Dorwin Teague.

They were available in five color combinations: Black and Burgundy, Brown and Tan, Two-tone Blue, Two-tone Green, and Two-tone Rose. The Rose and Green cameras were produced only between 1930 and '31, and therefore rarer than the others. They also were encased in a desirable faux-leatherette casing.

They were available in No.2 and 2A formats, just like the Brownies. The No.2 measuring 2 ¼" by 3 ¼" and using 120 roll film, and the 2A measuring 2¼" by 4¼", and taking 116 roll film.

They are visually distinguishable by the thicker, bakelite rim on the No. 2As, and the fact that it is an inch taller than the No. 2.

They originally cost $4 for a No. 2, and $5 for a No. 2A.

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