The Autographic Kodak—A Triumph of Ingenious Simplicity - July 4, 1914 - Abel's Photographic Weekly

I think it's safe for me to assume that just about anyone who has an interest in early 20th century photography should at least be vaguely familiar with Kodak's Autographic film. That being said, I didn't really know precisely what it was until fairly recently. In essence for those who may be wondering, Autographic film was a standard of film Kodak produced for around 15 years or so—sometime into the 1930s if memory serves me correctly—that allowed photographers to write a small note directly on the film, along with each print. I've heard it compared to EXIF data in modern digital cameras, although the difference would be that the photographer could write anything they want. 
Autographic film came in several standard sizes, as it was more a feature for black and white film than it was anything else, and it required no special processing at development time to make use of. 
While reading though some of the archives and originals I've come across, I stumbled upon this article from Abel's Photographic Weekly, where the writer (article uncredited, so I wonder if the writer was an employee of Kodak at the time) describes using Autographic film for the first time. 

By Thistle33 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link





The Newest Kodak Idea 

The Autographic Kodak—A Triumph of Ingenious Simplicity

Saturday July 4, 1914


IT was at the Atlanta Convention that I was first introduced to what I at once labelled as the most ingenious photographic contrivance since the introduction of the daylight loading roll film. 
    It is so simple and so fool-proof that the wonder to me was not that someone had thought of it but that it had not been thought of before. 
    There is not one of us who uses a kodak or camera that has not felt at some time or another the desire to make a record of the scene or subject photographed. Our memories are frail, in the best of us, and maybe we do not want to develop up the negatives at once. And when we do come to the developing we wonder just what that picture represents or under what conditions we took it or who the person was that shows up so prominently in the foreground. Maybe it was some well known character whose signature would have looked ever so good under his picture. A note-book, of course, would help out a lot, and many of us have been in the habit of carrying one in which to record our work. But we couldn't very well number the exposures on the film itself and so, when our roll was cut up, we were sometimes mixed on the records. And then besides, how many of us ever remembered to take that note-book along, or had it handy at the moment? But who of us ever thought that there was a way to make an immediate and permanent record on the film itself at the time of making the picture? Some one has, anyhow, and they say it is the inventor of the Auto-strop razor. A man who figured out that ingenious piece of apparatus ought to be keen enough to think out most anything. In thinking out a method of recording the scene or subject on the film itself, this inventor has produced the Autographic Kodak and the Autographic Film and it is this adjunct to the Kodak which I place as one of the most ingenious and practical advances made in photography in recent years. 

The Banquet of the Mysterious 13 at Atlanta, flashlighted, with the Autographic Kodak, and record of occurence, also made by flashlight.
The Banquet of the Mysterious 13 at Atlanta, flashlighted, with the Autographic Kodak, and record of occurence, also made by flashlight.

    I am not an expert kodaker myself, seldom getting the time to make pictures at all, but just to show how simple the operation of recording is, I will say that within five minutes of first getting my Autographic Kodak—they come at present in the 3A size—I had lost the instruction sheet, even before I had had a chance to read it, yet I ventured to take my Kodak to the banquet of the Mysterious 13 at Atlanta and fiashlighted the crowd and then made my autographic record on the film, using a small flashlight to get the impression, and got the picture shown above. No, it is not a wonderful picture, but the point is that on that film of the banquet I made, immediately after making the exposure, a record of the occasion. You see it is marked Mysterious 13 — June 18 — 1914 and on that film it is for keeps and on each print I have made from it. Next morning I took a shot at President Manly Tyree—I'm afraid I moved the kodak a little—and then got Manly to write his signature underneath his picture and direct onto the film by autographic and photographic means. Now isn't that a corking good idea? Think of the immense value it will be not only to the casual amateur but also to the traveler and explorer who wish to mark their work systematically as they go along. 
    The whole thing is much simpler than the explanation. Technically it is described as follows: 

THE Autographic Kodak uses what is called the Autographic Film Cartridge. This is made with a thin red instead of the familiar thick red and black (duplex) paper. The thin red paper is not light proof in itself, but between it and the film is inserted a strip of tissue. This tissue serves two purposes: to supplement the red paper in light proofing the cartridge, and to permit the recording, by light, of the writing upon the film. 

    The Autographic Kodak has a spring door on the back, covering a narrow slot through which the writing is done upon the red paper. The slot is provided with an automatic safety spring border which operates when the door is open to press the papers into contact with back of the film, thus securing the sharp printing of the image of the writing and preventing the diffusion of light around the edges of the slot. This slot is located so that normally the writing comes between the exposures. 

    The operation is very simple. After the picture is taken the door is opened, and with a stylus which is provided, or a smooth pointed pencil, held in as upright a position as is convenient, the photographer writes on the strip of exposed red paper any memorandum desired, such as the title of the picture, the date, or details regarding exposure, light, stops, etc. 

    To get a clear impression, the operator must press firmly on both up and down strokes. While writing or afterwards the sun should not be allowed to shine upon the paper. The action of the stylus or pencil so affects the tissue as to permit the light to record the writing upon the film. After finishing the writing, the door should be left open for the printing, in accordance with a table for varying degrees of light. The exposure is made to the sky but not to the sun. 

Manly Tyree, holding down his new Cadillac. Our first venture with the Autographic Kodak, with Tyree's own Signature.
Manly Tyree, holding down his new Cadillac. Our first venture with the Autographic Kodak, with Tyree's own Signature.

    (The two prints shown here were exposed by flashlight). 
    The door must be locked before a new film is wound into place from the cartridge. In order to locate the writing accurately in the space between the negatives, the film is turned so that the exposure number centers perfectly in the red window of the kodak. If a pencil is used, the point must be dry, and it must not be of the "indelible" variety. 

    The preparation of an Autographic Film Cartridge for development and the method of developing it in the kodak film tank is precisely the same as for the regular N. C. film cartridge. 

    The result is a negative bearing a facsimile of the memorandum written upon the back of the red paper, developed on its margin or face as the case may be, the writing appearing in the foreground of a vertical picture or on the left side of a horizontal picture. 

    Autographic film can be used in old style kodaks, and old style film can be used in autographic kodaks, but in order to get autographic results, autographic film must be used in an autographic kodak. The auto graphic slot is at the exact point on the camera back occupied by the red window on the old style camera backs. Old style film may therefore be used in the autographic kodak by locating the number in the slot instead of through red window. 

    Where the autographic record is made on the margin of the negative, such record may be reproduced in the print itself or omitted as desired. If the record appears within the negative proper it will show on the print, if the print is full size. 

    The contrivance really adds to the pleasures of kodaking and gives additional significance to the phrase "photography with the bother left out." I need hardly mention that it is an Eastman product, for the word Kodak implies that.

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