Contact Printers -- More memories of a misspent youth

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by JDMvW, Jan 6, 2020.

  1. Contact Printers
    -- More memories of a misspent youth

    I don't remember seeing historically oriented posts on this forum (Film & Processing) before, but then there are a lot of things I don't remember any more. :(

    My other choice for forum would have been "Classic Manual" so the moderator can put where they please.

    So here is a note about how those of us who got our photography merit badge (see LINK: Could you qualify for a 1948 Boy Scout Photography Merit Badge?) in the late 1940s got there.
    At some point my parents got me a printing and developing kit -- Ansco, similar to this one

    Ansco Home Developing Outfit.jpg

    I was shooting with a Kodak Jiffy 620 (Link: Kodak Jiffy Six-20 1933-1937) on orthochromatic film. Hence the red safe light. My kit had no film tank. Development was by inspection - clips at each end of the film and running it through developer in one of the trays.

    Anyhow, I was looking through one of my old photo magazines and got interested again in the kinds of equipment used during the 1940s. I thought I'd start with the contact printers that were common at the time.

    I've already shown the Ansco kit, but here some others.

    They were available for what are today astonishingly cheap prices, but remember that $1 in 1940 is equivalent in purchasing power to about 2020 $18.37. I have found that another conversion that is pretty reliable is to compare the price of a first-class stamp in any two dates. In the year 1940, American First class stamps cost $0.03. This is equivalent to $0.54 in 2019 dollars according to another Wiki.

    Hill Printer 1940-10 PP.jpg
    Popular Photography XII 1940

    $3 postpaid, was affordable for lots of people in the 40s.

    There, was, of course a range of such printers.
    Here from Popular Photography in December of 1940. Europe was at war, but the USA was not yet involved.


    However, The deluxe model was that sold by Kodak. Remember that the majority of photographers at this time were shooting negatives that were at least 6 cm and many were shooting 4x5" press-type cameras. For such negatives, a contact print was really plenty good enough.


    This one, the rear cover of the December, 1940 Popular Photography magazine, even had a"strip printer" for 35mm. Such little contact prints (24x36mm) were supposedly collected by some teenagers at the time as "photo stamps" of their friends. Presumably the 35mm film was mostly likely shot in an Argus A - the "people's minicam" (LINK: Argus A).

    You may well ask why I am doing this.

    It's really quite simple. I've got a cold, am suffering from cabin fever, and no one is forcing you to read this.

    If my cold continues, expect a similar post on cheap enlargers. (see also LINK: Cost of a Darkroom Setup - 1940).

    If that's a threat to you, so be it.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2020
  2. SCL


    Amusing. Well I remember contact prints from the 1950s. It wasn't until high school in 1958 that I got to use an enlarger in our newspaper's lab. I think somewhere in a storage box I still have a small contact printing frame from those early times.
  3. Can't remember who made it, but in high school we had a large format contact printer with a bunch of bulbs at the bottom and a switch panel on the front. Sort of a crude system to equalize the exposure of negs larger than we ever had.
  4. AJG


    I hope your cold is better soon, but I always enjoy looking back at older photo technology. I just inherited a vintage Speed Graphic from my late father in law that I have been checking out to make sure it works before I go to the expense of buying 4x5 film for it. I suppose it was 'speedy" in its day, but speed isn't the first word that comes to mind when working with this camera...
  5. JDMvW I enjoyed you post. Hope you feel better.
  6. In the beginning when I was nine, in 1967, I first had a Yankee II developing tank, Yankee 5x7 trays,
    and from Goodwill, a contact printer set. The latter had a red Brownie safelight, 4 oz graduate, and
    the contact printer. I still have the safelight and graduate, but not the contact printer.

    At the time, I knew about a white plastic contact printer with a switch that turned on
    the lamp when you pressed down on the door. I never had one, though. At the time, I
    was using a Yashica TLR with 120 film.

    I think the next Christmas, I got a Vivitar 35mm enlarger. Not so much later, my father
    bought a Canon Pellix, and I got to borrow most of the time his Canon VI rangefinder.

    Not so much later, I got the Yankee 8x10 tray set, though most often used them for
    smaller prints but held more chemistry. I still have both the 5x7 and 8x10 tray sets.

    Not much later, I inherited my grandfather's darkroom equipment, including a 35mm
    Nikor tank, some 35mm cameras, and some other equipment. I also inherited some
    bulk 35mm film, and got used to spooling my own film, though without a loader.

    The Canon VI was my favorite camera until close to the end of my college years,
    I bought a Nikon FM not so long after it came out.
  7. Thanks for sharing, glen_h.

    If anyone else wants to pitch in with their own histories/stories, the more the merrier.:)
  8. BTW, the Kodak Jiffy 620 negative was 2 1/4 x 3 1/4".

    It hadn't been long since a 6cm square image (2 1/4 x 2 1/4) was considered a "miniature" format (compared to 4x5" etc.)
  9. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    It hadn't been long since a 6cm square image (2 1/4 x 2 1/4) was considered a "miniature" format (compared to 4x5" etc.)

    Maybe 50 or 60 years ago. That's what happens when one gets old. Past decades seem very recent. Interesting thread.
  10. glen_h:
    I have one of those. I got it probably in the early to mid 60s. The one I have is a Yankee model P-45 4x5 Contact Printer that I think was part of a developing set. I used it with my 620 box camera, and remember doing a "show-and-tell" project with it at school.

    The left lid closes first. It presses the paper and negative against some frosted glass (now missing) and keeps them from moving. Then the right lid is closed, presses the switch, and the lights come on. There used to be some black foam on the underside of the lids, but it is long gone. Also shown are some of the rest of the Yankee set: the developing tank; a Yankee Clipper II thermometer-agitator (twist it back and forth, but don't invert the tank unless you have a mop handy); an adjustable ratcheting reel with stops for 16mm, 35mm/828, 127, and 120/620; and a yellow clip (the stainless clip is an Ansco). The red, white, and blue 5x7 trays and matching tongs are somewhere in the attic.


    The printer has a nifty Exposure Reminder you can dial the exposure time with. What's nifty is that you can crank it to any number you want. What's not so nifty is that it doesn't do anything. It's just a knob, and you can't even see it in the dark. I used my radioactive glow-in-the-dark Big Ben alarm clock to keep track of time.


    Inside are three nightlight-type bulbs. The center one stays on all the time, the other two light up when the right lid is closed. I have a recollection that the center light is supposed to be red and double as a safelight, but because it is missing I have some doubts about how well that worked out.


    If I ever find my box camera and radioactive clock, I'll feel safe making contact prints in Los Angeles, if I ever go there.
    glen_h, luis triguez and James Bryant like this.
  11. "kewl" ;)
  12. In my early years we had a home-built contact printer which my dad made from plans in one of the magazines of the 1940s. It was "larger than a breadbox" with similarities to some of those near the beginning of this thread. It had a lever on the top and hinged flap to sandwich paper and negative against the glass. It resided in the debris in the basement workshop area for decades after, but disappeared in a clean-out in the 90s. In the 50s I built an enlarger that used the lens of my Argus C-3 to get bigger prints from 35mm.

    (Ah, those were the days ... :confused:)
  13. Yes that is the contact printer that I didn't have. I forgot that it was Yankee.

    I did have the Yankee II, somewhere over the years lost it, but still have the Nikor
    tank from almost that long ago.

    Then a few years ago I bought an unused (practice paper sheet still inside)
    Yankee II on ebay, so that I could do 110 film.

    I also have a plastic tank that goes to 116, and more recently a Nikor
    tank for 116. (Also I believe unused before I got it.)

    Still the 5x7 ad 8x10 Yankee trays from years ago, and much more
    recently 11x14 Yankee trays. And a good supply now of Patterson 8x10

    And, if I figure out what to do with it, a 16x20 Unidrum.
  14. I also had an Ansco 3-A developing kit, loved it. However, my first taste was a kit, name long forgotten, I got by mail order. This kit featured a glass frame used to contact print via sunlight. The photo paper was so insensitive to light that it could be handled under subdued light. The kit contained an assortment of negatives and chemicals. I had lots of fun, gathering negatives from drawers around the house. Later, I discovered that Kodak also marketed a contact paper that worked in a similar manner.

    Years later during my tour In the US Air Force, I worked with elaborate contact printers. These were designed to handle 10 inch by 10 inch aerial photo negatives. This contact printer had both white and UV light sources. These were arranged like a checker board. Each lamp had a switch. This arrangement allowed custom burning and dodging.

    Ultimately I worked as a photofinisher, managing and designing giant regional labs. I often attended technical classes at Kodak and Pako (major photo equipment maker in Minneapolis, now defunct). During these sessions, I sometimes discover retired equipment. I remember semi-automatic contact printers fed roll paper. These had an electric light source, however the paper and negatives feed mechanism were foot powered, using a treadle much like a foot powered sewing machine.

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