Well after a few months of research and hard work, I finally finished the Anniversary Speed Graphic in August. It's been a labour of love but one I have thoroughly enjoyed.
When I first bought it, I was quite stumped about what to do with it - restoration vs customisation. The emotional side of me wanted the camera to look like new as it would have 70 years ago. The practical side of me knew how hard that would be - my ability to re-trim a camera in leather was questionable, but also finding the parts for an American camera to restore it properly. In the end the head ruled and I decided I was going to strip the camera down to it's bare components - be them brass, mahogany or stainless steel. I secretly preferred this option.
The biggest job out of them all were the bellows - the state these were in rendered the camera useless. I attempted to make my own and was not far away from getting a template but in the end I contacted Henry De Haas in Belgium who was recommended by Jo Lommen, camera restorer who also worked on an Anniversary Speed Graphic among others.
Whilst the bellows were in Belgium, the camera sat in my office and staring at me. The peeling leather was like an unstuck bit of wallpaper asking to be picked at. I started to pick and peel, unscrew and dislodge...there was no going back now, I had started. I had downloaded the service manual for the camera thanks to Graflex.org which broke the camera down into groups and then parts for that group. With that in mind I ordered various sizes of clear ziplock bags - one small size for parts and one larger bag to keep the parts in their groups. The bags were labelled and the parts stored away.
Working on the shell, the leather was held on with an animal glue so soaking it with a hot damp rag would soften it quickly for it to simply be wiped away. Underneath the glue and cheap leather was a lovely Honduras mahogany which is too pretty to cover up. I was doing the right thing.
A few weeks passed an then Henry sent me a new set of bellows developed from what was left of the bellows that I had posted him. I don't know how he did it but he did an amazing job. I can admit now, especially after my initials attempts at creating my own bellows, that without him I would have been quite stuck and had to wait along time to get the camera up and running. They fitted perfectly first time.
With the bellows in place, the rest of the camera build was gathering pace. The body was glue free and and sanded down and once oxidised brass fixtures were shining once again. Work began on the rear which was also covered in leather. With the leather removed, it exposed a metal backing plate with painted mahogany screwed onto it. I decided to clean up the metal, prime it, and spray it matt black. I was instantly taken with the look. The black painted mahogany was sanded down to reveal the natural colour of the wood again.
The front was treated in exactly the same way - cleaned up, primed, and painted matt black. The oxidised studs were all cleaned up and polished, and I had a look I was happy with.
The next problem caused the project to grind to a halt. Some of the screws that were on the camera were clearly the wrong size and had been replaced with cheap alternatives. They were important screws as well - the ground glass retaining screws and the drop bed side arms. This proved I had chosen the right direction with camera because a screw specialist here in Edinburgh spotted I was looking for American screw sizes and that was a problem. Eventually, I turned to a recommendation from a friend and found a good supplier who was able to help me out.
Finally, the camera was finished.
I've get a huge amount of satisfaction when I look at this camera now. I love that I can see the flaws and changes that have happened to the body in the 70 year history. What I am very excited about is the ability to shoot large format, something I had no plans to do any time soon.
I have a number of projects lined up for it, all which I'm really excited about so I'll keep you posted on the shape these take as I tackle them.