Other Ica products in 1913

The best way to use a bellows camera was, and still is, the one pictured here. A matte screen was installed in place of the plate holder, and using the focusing goggles model #808, the photographer could set up the camera for the exact desired composition, adjust focus, judge depth of field, and so on. When ready, he would pull the aid off the camera, remove the matte screen, install the plate holder, and trigger the shutter.

The mustache was of course a basic feature of every self-respecting gentleman of the time!

The Ica catalog has several pages devoted to tripods. They came in all sizes and qualities, and were made of ordinary woods, exotic woods, brass or steel.  Telescoping legs had up to seven sections. Some tripods could be disguised as walking sticks, others as umbrellas. Some were extra-solid, others extra large, still others were resistant to tropical climates. But the tripod I liked most, by far, is this one, designed to enable a photographer to make bird-view shots!

Considering the weight of 1913-style cameras, I can understand that photographers preferred to invite their clients into the studio for a portrait, rather than taking the camera out. But a flat wall is unsuitable as a background for a quality photograph of Uncle Robustus! So Ica offered oil-painted backgrounds for the studio. They came on folded canvas, and the customer had to moisten them and nail them onto a wooden frame. While drying, all the wrinkles flattened nicely.

These backgrounds were offered in two versions: In gray tones, suitable only as backgrounds; or in full color, which was more expensive but allowed to use them as decoration too! Both versions were carefully shaded.

But painted backgrounds alone were not enough: For 75 Reichsmark, Ica could sell you a set of objects to be used around your victims during portraiture work! This set of two pillars on sockets, one balustrade with socket, one bench, a two-part wall and one fence was made of wood and cork, painted in the color of stone and carefully shaded. It could be set up in any required way, in front of a painted background.

When you watch photos of your ancestors sitting among such utensils in a gorgeous landscape, keep in mind that both the utensils and the landscape could be ordered straight from a catalog, and that only the ancestors were real!

Plates, film, paper and chemistry

There are many pages in the Ica catalog containing plates, paper, and everything else one could need in the darkroom. The most common material to load your camera were plates. They came in many brands, qualities, thicknesses, speeds, and sizes. A typical sensitivity was the equivalent of modern ISO 260, but the equivalents of ISO 25 to 400 were available. For most material there was a choice between orthochromatic and panchromatic sensitization. Common plate sizes, in cm, were 4.5x6, 4.5x10.7, 6x9, 6x13, 9x9, 9x12, 9x18, 10x15, 12x16.5, 13x18, 18x24, 24x30, 30x40, 40x50, and 50x60, but a fair number of other formats were available too.  Typical prices for normal plates in 9x12 size was about 1.5 Reichsmark per dozen. As a marketing strategy, Ica offered 1-Reichsmark packages of many products, in which the amount of plates was inversely proportional to quality and size. Ica produced most of this material in-house, but they also sold products of other companies such as Agfa, Schleussner, and Lumière.

Film was not nearly as common as plates. Only one page was devoted to film! It could be bought in packs or blocks, with one individual sheet for each exposure, much like plates. It came in the same sizes too, up to 13x18cm. The price was more than twice that for similarly sized plates.

Roll film was available in widths of 64, 66, 71, 88, 93, 100, 118, 130, and 182mm. So much about standardization!  The cost was about the same per picture as that of flat film, so it was over twice as expensive as using glass plates.

With photographic papers a similar situation happened as with glass plates, but paper cost only about a quarter as much as plates. It was available in glossy and satin versions. Most papers were thin, and required framing or at least being glued against some backing, but some strong papers were available too. There were special papers that allowed pulling off the coating. Most pictures in that time were gold-toned, and for this purpose some self-toning paper was sold that didn't require the toning bath.

A special paper for gas light processing came in 13 versions. These were combinations of matte, satin and glossy finishes, hard, medium and soft gradation, rough or smooth surface, and thin or thick backing. Of course, a lot more combination were possible and could be specially ordered in suitable quantities! Silver bromide paper was available too, in 11 different versions.

The above considers only the papers made by Ica. But they also distributed papers made by Schwerter, Kurz, Kraft&Steudel, Lenta, Rembrandt, and others. All taken together, you could order roughly 90 different kinds of paper from stock, and each in at least 8 different sizes!

Darkroom chemistry was available as individual chemicals; also as ready mixed developers, fixers, intensifiers, softeners, toners, bleachers, stoppers; and as complete kits for specific purposes. Ica made many of them, but they also sold third-party products.

Of all plates, papers, and chemistry, two items specially caught my attention:

This is a kit for making color slides. It contained two dozen glass plates with paper-type emulsion on them, on which the user would make contact copies of glass negatives; the special developer and fixer; 20 thin cover plates that would be used to protect the emulsion on the developed slides (they assumed you would loose at least 4 of the positives); 100 adhesive-coated black paper strips to join each photo plate to its cover plate (the excess probably accounted for glue strips that came off); 100 masks with a selection of shapes, so you could chose the ones you wanted; and the best: A palette, three paintbrushes and 7 jars of glossy paint for doing the coloring work!

An "Instruction manual for the production of lantern images based on your own photographs" was also included.

And this is quite different: This is real color photography, in 1913 style! The Lumière Autochrome process was simple enough to be used even during a voyage, and directly produced positive transparencies on glass plates, in reasonably natural colors! The process involved only two baths! A yellow filter was required during exposure. The shelf life of this material wasn't long, so Ica stocked only the most common formats, backordering the less common ones from the French manufacturer, on customer's requests.

The cost for color photography in 1913 was stiff: About 6 to 7 times as much as for black&white negatives! Despite this, it was attractive and widely used. The well known National Geographic Society equipped its photographers of the time with Autochrome outfits, and sometimes they look through their archives and publish an old Autochrome picture or two in their modern magazine! Certainly, Fuji Provia 100F is better, but the old Autochromes were impressively good, considering the time they were made, and how much they must have faded before we get to see them!

Welcome to 1913-style flash photography! To make a flash exposure, you first set up the camera and your victims. Then you hung up such a paper bag from this support, which could be placed on the floor or on a table. You filled the bag with the right amount of flash powder, depending on how much light you expected to need. Then you put out all lights, asked the people to stand still, and opened the camera shutter. Then you lit a match and set fire to the bag's tail, or used the special igniting paper strips for the same purpose. Then you ran.

A second later, the powder exploded. If the load was right, the support would fall over, but not be damaged. Too large a load could make the camera fall over too, or blow out a window. In any case, you had to run back to the camera through the smoke-filled room, and close the shutter before your shocked victims lit the room lights!

The flashes came packaged in a can like this. The kit included the flash powder separated into two parts, so it was safe to ship; some paper flash bags, ignition strips and instructions.

I guess that the flash powder was simply gunpowder with an aluminum or magnesium load, but I would like to hear of people who know the true recipe.

Instead of using paper bags, the powder could also be burned on a special flash lamp, which had the shape of a sardine tin (and probably was one!). But an uneven powder load could transform it into a cannon ball, or too large a load could make it behave like a grenade, so I understand why the more safety-conscious photographers preferred the paper bags!

So much for the Ica 1913 catalog. It has 250 pages, so I could spend a month scanning it, and another one writing my comments. I will stop it here, hoping that you enjoyed this glimpse into the past glory of photography!

Back to the Ica catalog index page.