Me and My Vest Pocket Model B

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by Kodakkook123, Aug 23, 2017.

  1. I just spent way too much time trying to build a new bellows for a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B. With the exception of a little light leak in a front corner and a tight squeeze to get it to completely fold, I was kinda successful.

    I was given a VPK Mod B to look over and after collapsing it a few times, the original bellows completely disintegrated. I felt very bad about this and I tried to patch it for the owner and came up with something that looked ok but would never fold again. This was ok with them since they were only going to display it on a shelf but it didn’t sit well with me, so then I wanted one to repair. I found one advertized as “the best example of a Model B that you’ll likely to find” for a reasonable $30.00. It had an original box, the original instruction booklet and with the exception of the missing tripod screw insert (did they even come with a tripod hole screw insert?) it was in like new condition with the exception of a completely disintegrating bellows liner.

    Well, considering these cameras are from the 1920’s and are almost 100 yrs old and the bellows is made of some kind of treated fabric, cardboard stiffeners and a black paper liner – none of which is archival, acid free material and unless one was kept in a nitrogen cabinet under controlled temperature and humidity - which is an unreasonable step to preserve what was at the time a $6 camera - I don’t think very many of them have bellows that aren’t disintegrating by now. So, I decided to try to make a bellows for it.

    This was my second attempt at constructing a bellows for a camera. My first attempt was for an Agfa Solinette 35 mm folder which was too ambitious for a first try because of the small size of the bellows. Essentially, the smaller the camera bellows, the more exact and finer the materials need to be since there is tighter tolerance for fit. My Solinette attempt was ok, but leaked under strong light and wasn’t the best at folding. So I took my learning from this experience and tackled the somewhat larger bellows of the Vest Pocket Kodak Model B.

    I choose to use a leatherette material that was designed for camera body covering as the outer material. It has a backing material on it, is fairly tough, easy to work with and light tight. I made an inner stiffening layer from card-stock (which I found to be too stiff and I should have “cheese-holed” to reduce it a bit), and I used a thin nylon material for the liner which isn’t light tight by itself but serves as a “binding layer” to keep all three layers together. I borrowed the construction procedure from a website that has instruction on how to make a bellows for an Agfa Isolette. The actual construction is not very difficult and I had a somewhat intact bellows from the VPK that I could use for a pattern (I didn’t have such a luxury with my Solinette experiment). I had originally coated the bellows for the VPK with a liquid vinyl substance at an attempt for an “on the frame restoration” procedure, which didn’t work, but may have preserved the outer material enough to keep it intact when I removed the bellows.

    The bellows on the VPK is riveted to the front frame “lens board”, which I drilled out and didn’t replace the rivets because the lens ring is enough to hold the lens to the “lens board” similar to a view camera. There is a thin metal stiffener for the front of the bellows and one in the rear. The rear of the bellows is clipped to the frame using bent metal tabs so I had to cut the bellows away to get at the tabs to bend them out. These tabs won’t take much bending and unbending. Remember, these cameras were not designed to be repaired (although in 1925 the cost of the camera at $6 was about a day’s wages!).

    After I fabricated my attempt at a bellows, crushed it onto the camera frame, checked, tightened and rechecked the camera for light leaks, I loaded some fresh Kodak Tri-X 400 35mm onto some 127 backing paper and took her out for a test spin.

    The bellows is a bit “fat” and doesn’t easily 100% fold and clasp shut but it can fold up at least 95%. I’m hoping that the bellows needs to just be “broken-in” a bit to be more compliant. I found I still have some light leak in the front of the bellows which may need some gasket goop to seal it, I hope.

    I’ll have to admit, one must really need to have a strong desire to have a working Model B to go through all this. The camera is fun to use but the small waist level view finder makes it difficult to operate and it is limited to outdoor snap shots with slower film (ISO 100) with its fixed shutter speed (maybe 1/50?) and small aperture choices (f11, f16, f22, f32). There is no connection for a flash. And of course one would need to cut some 120 film down to 127 size and mount it on 127 backing paper or buy some not-so-cheap pre-made version of this. Or just shoot 35mm on 127 paper and enjoy the sprocket holes.

    So here are some pics of my restoration and some of the test shots. The negative size is a “large” 127 and one would get 8 shots from a roll.

    My advice about building a bellows is that material selection is critical. I would advise to attempt one on a camera bigger than a 127 folder but the camera leather covering material I found was only available in 8 ½ x 11 inch sheets so a bigger bellows may not fit on a sheet of it. I haven’t really found any other material which is suitable. I wouldn’t want to make an all paper bellows because it would be too fragile and I haven’t found any suitable paper except roll separator paper which is too small for a large bellows. The only possibility I can think is to use thin black nylon or polyester fabric, which is available in large sheets from fabric supply stores, and somehow rubberize or black-coat at least the outer layer.
    I hope this article is helpful to anyone looking to restore a VPK Model B or any other bellows camera. DSC_0843.jpg DSC_0836.jpg DSC_0832.jpg DSC_0833.jpg DSC_0834.jpg DSC_0835.jpg Untitled (5).jpg Untitled (6).jpg Untitled (7).jpg Untitled (8).jpg Untitled (11).jpg
    Rick_van_Nooij and PapaTango like this.
  2. Thanks for an interesting account of your project! While it may not be cosmetically perfect, at least the camera becomes usable, and that's what it's all about. And, of course, it's such a delightful little camera, anyway.
  3. Thanks, Rick. The look on that young girl's face when I asked to take her picture with my antique camera was worth all the effort. Who could say no to such an adorable little camera? BTW, the bellows looks much better in life than in the photos and is folding a little nicer now that's getting broken in.
  4. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Moderator Staff Member

    Have worked with leather a good bit, though not with cameras. First thing that occurred to me was black goatskin -- I used that to completely recover a Nikon FB 5 case. It has a bit of stretch, and would need the inside dyed black. The second thought would be to lay up a positive form in the shape of the old bellows with corrugated cardboard - could be quite exact and cut with xacto or other razor knife, glued and stacked. Could be sprayed with a sealer or covered with clear kitchen wrap. The leather could be wet down and stretched around the mold and held in place with elastic bands or cords till dry, then final gluing and fitting done. Should be possible to get a quite decent looking outcome.
  5. Thanks Sandy! I didn't go into the details of the bellows construction since it is covered in the website for the Isolette but using the old bellows to cut a pattern in a piece of cardboard and making an upright form is exactly what I did. I used contact cement to glue the materials so I didn't need to clamp them with elastic bands, but you have to get the placement right because you can't do much readjusting. But it seemed to work for me. The materials need to be very thin, much thinner than a leather say for a jacket. I could have purchased real leather but decided to try with the less expensive leatherete and I was grateful that even has this materials. Morgan Sparks there was great about communication and sounded like he had some experience with this. Again, I'm glad you enjoyed my article and thanks for the input.
  6. I also have a Vest Pocket B, and used it over the weekend.

    As well as I can tell, the bellows are still light tight.
  7. Thanks for the report...Sounds like you have a rare, sound example of a good bellows....take care with it! I'm about through trying to buy one sight-unseen and I may as well keep trying to make bellows for them. Post some pics when you develop them...
  8. Last edited: Aug 29, 2017
  9. It seems that I have a leather case for a Vest Pocket III to store my model B in. Strange.
  10. Thanks John! I would have had no idea what the bellows part number was or who has one...I'll order one today!
  11. Thanks Glen, John S. Confirms the p.n. and I'll order one....this site is so great, thanks for all the input!
  12. I decided to look more carefully at mine, and it does have some light leaks.

    In the folding corners, the light sealing seems to have gotten too thin, and so some light gets through.

    I don't have many rolls of 127, though. More rolls of 116, and less light leaks on my 116 cameras.
  13. Yep, that's about where they start to leak. You could try some liquid electricians tape. On my bigger folders I reinforced the corners with fabric electrical tape and then coated over this with flex-seal and that seems to have cured them. But on the smaller folders the tolerance is too tight to take any extra material, maybe all they can take is some liquid sealer. This is why I was interested in a replacement process and a procedure that could be customized for cameras that don't have known replacement parts like my Agfa Solinette.
  14. I didn't win the first auction for the 32587, but weeks later got a "second chance" offer, so I now have one.

    I also today won and auction for four rolls of XL Pan 127, made in Belgium and use before 1970.

    I have always had good results from old VP, but I don't know about old XL yet.

    My still favorite bellows camera, an Autographic 1A Jr., that I got from my grandfather when I was 10,
    when you could still find 116 in stores. Looking at that one, the bellows looks pretty good.
    I put a roll through it in 1968, another in 1975 (from the expired film table at a nearby store),
    and some rolls more recently.

    I will have to check the bellows on some other cameras.
  15. Hi Glenn, I was able to get a replacement bellows and installed it the night before I left for a three week trip and my VPK made the cut for selection for my trip (of the fifty film cameras I have, I took nine). I loaded it with some very expired Verichrome Pan (1960's) but I haven't returned yet or processed any of it. I may stand develop it in Rodinal 1:100 for a hour. I hope the new bellows holds, I had to cement it to the back frame with gasket goop because the metal tabs finally fatigued. I'll post when I get results...
  16. I hadn't gotten to figure out how to replace the bellows, and found some liquid (black) electrical tape at a popular home store.

    So, now I am trying that before actually changing the bellows. It is drying now.
  17. Glen, don't waste your time trying to patch the bellows. The only real solution to a leaky bellows is to replace it. I've been there and done that. I just pulled some of my 127 film from the soup and it looks a lot better than my patched job.
    The replacement is straight forward. Remove the lens/shutter. Drill out the front rivets, the tension from the lens ring obviates replacing them. The rear bellows frame is held down by metal tabs on the camera body, just bend them (gently) away and out comes the bellows. You'll need the front frame from the old bellows if the replacement doesn't have one. I lost too many tabs in the rear to feel comfortable that I could have a light tight seal so I just glued it in with gasket goop to make sure.

    I'll have pics to post when they dry...
  18. Yes, but I can always do that.

    This way, I get practice with using liquid electrical tape.

    I suspect the old bellows won't survive removal, anyway.

    Though I can see the tabs, I didn't figure out how to bend them yet.
    They are farther in than I can see how to get pliers on.
  19. You may need a pair of bent needle nose pliers to get them from the back. The destructive way is to cut the old bellows away and get the tabs from the front with a small stout pry bar.

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