Blog Archives

Picture This 3

After the previous two blogs, which looked at cameras from the early 1900s, I’m jumping the generations to look first at what a camera snob might say is the most awful thing they’ve ever seen.  But it’s not really the garish, fragile, unreliable, dirt-cheap, cute and amazing Snappit camera that I’m interested in – it’s the film it used.

Picture this 3 - Image 1

A Herd of Snappits

The Snappit first though. The Tullie’s example given its name by the film processing firm Supasnaps, but the camera appeared under many brand names around the world.  It might have been given away free, or might have cost, say, £1 or less if you were unlucky enough to have to pay for one.  You might be amazed that there is one in the Tullie House Collection,  but it was a popular – in its literal sense – camera. It was aimed at those who didn’t much care what their photos looked like, but who just wanted to remember the moment.

The film of the day for doing that was Kodak’s 126 cartridge.  The cartridge is longer than the Snappit’s tiny body so that some of it sticks out; the camera’s smart design keeps the bit that matters light-tight till the shutter is pressed.

Picture this 3 - Image 2

126 Cartridge

In 1963 Kodak had reacted to complaints from people who found loading cameras generally difficult.  It brought out the 126 drop-in cartridge and the first Instamatic camera. The film involved was actually 35mm but with just one perforation per frame, not for winding on, but so a pin can engage with the film and stop the wind-on so the last part of the action can cock the shutter.  The image size was about 26mm square.                                                  

Picture this 3 - Image 3

A basic Kodak Instamatic

Kodak aimed to match or beat the success of the Box Brownie with its Instamatic cameras and its fool-proof drop-in loading system.  Millions upon millions of Instamatic cameras were sold, with varying degrees of sophistication, between 1963 and the late 1980s.  Other makers bought into the format in a big way.  Typically, Rollei and Zeiss made expensive single-lens reflex 126 cameras.

 

Picture this 3 - Image 4

Rellei and Zeiss offerings

But 126 had a built-in big drawback.  Film flatness is crucial to sharp focus and 126 film was never very good at being dead flat behind the lens.  There was no pressure plate; it relied on the film cartridge being within spec, and it was never great*.  Then consider that the majority of 126 cameras had simple plastic lenses, no fine-focus mechanism and no way to check focus, so the snapper was up against it from the start; but most people didn’t care.

Many old Instamatics are relatively new and still work and it’s amazing how many of the Snappit-type cameras can be found.  The last 126 film was made by Ferrania in 2007, but if you’re handy, you can reload an old 126 cartridge with current 35mm film, but the image will overlap onto the film’s perforations.  It’s actually quite a nice effect in a print.  The web will tell you more, and like most things, you can see it done on youtube.

The Tullie’s Snappit is currently on show in the museum atrium, along with well over a dozen other cameras dating from 1900 to 2004.

*126’s “subminiature” partner, 110 film, was even worse, but it still sold by the ton.

Andy – Curatorial Assistant

Amati Violin and Friends

Fiddle.  Some would say we have one in the foyer of the Old Tullie House; the one that was made in the 1560s by Andrea Amati.  Some violinists might be quite indignant if they heard it called a fiddle.  Most seem not to mind and many call their own instruments fiddles.

ViolinsOK then. Fiddle – a word developed slowly through the medieval period that can mean any bowed instrument.

It appears that the Arab world gave us the kick-start on fiddles in the 8th or 9th centuries in the shape of a gourd with strings stretched over it – the ‘rabab’ or ‘rebec’.  In Europe it was carved from wood.  Maybe all that carving effort was too much and gave the luthiers of old the idea to make a built-up wooden box instead.

 

If it hadn’t been for that leap forward the Old Tullie House might be graced with something rather different by Andrea Amati.  The five instruments – all fiddles if we go by the definition above – that have joined it there might have been all rather different too.  But no, the viola, the viol da gamba, the viola d’amore, the pochette violin and the tiny violin are all wonderful wooden boxes of maple, spruce, pine, ebony, ivory, bone and boxwood.  Boxes, but ones of just the right shape, weight, thickness, density to be quite wonderful things.

Violins2Andrea Amati’s violin, which has stood alone in Old Tullie House for a good number of years, is an amazing survivor from the court orchestra of King Charles IX of France.  That it is 450 years old almost beggars belief.  When it was made; Elizabeth I had been queen for eight years, the Spanish Armada was not even a glint in Philip II’s eye. It is one of the oldest violins in the world, and it survived the French Revolution.

The five instruments new to Old Tullie House are all rather younger, three of them 18th century, the viola is early 19th century, and the tiny “toy” 16cm-long violin late 19th.  All survivors, if only from the ravages of children.

The miniature violin is included in the display to represent the local makers of Cumbria in the Tullie collection – Maghie, Birtles, Scott.  I wish we could tell you the names of the luthiers who made the elegant viola d’amore with its 13 strings, the rather rustic viol da gamba that at one time had ten strings but now has just four, and the pochette violin (somebody said “dinky” the other day) which would have been played for the better off as they honed their ballroom skills – but not one of those instruments has a maker’s mark that can be seen.

They are on show now for the first time in more than 20 years.  To add to the spectacle, a new Collection Conversation has been developed around them.  You can find out more about how a violin is made; what Mr Amati came up with that makes the violin different to its contemporaries, and more about the origins of the instrument, with a replica soprano rebec that you can handle.  You can even try to play it if you feel bold and want your cat to write a sympathy card.

For their help in putting these instruments on show, and developing the collection conversation, Tullie House would like to thank:

 Violins3

Anthony Calvert, of the Early Music Shop, Salts Mill, Saltaire, W.Yorks
Corrie Schrijver, violin maker and restorer of Brampton, Cumbria
James Rawes, violin maker and restorer, of Cotehill, Carlisle, Cumbria

 

%d bloggers like this: