G. Gennert, New York           1910-1918

Photo Cines No. 4 professional 35mm motion picture camera.


Although the camera featured here has no maker's identification, it appears identical in construction to Gennert's Photo Cines No. 4 and to the Bass Camera Company's 35mm, both of the same 1910 time period. There is some speculation as to how and where these cameras were constructed (entirely in England, entirely in the U.S., or the movement in England and the box in the U.S.), and by whom (made or assembled by G. Gennert and sold by them, and to Charles Bass, or vice-versa).

Sam Dodge stated that the Bass Camera was manufactured in the U.S., with the movement licensed by Prestwich in England.  Per Christie's Motion Picture Cameras auction catalog of October 16, 2001, "the Gennert is an American copy of a Prestwich No. 5."  In fact, although the Gennert's movement appears the same, much of the rest of the camera differs from the Prestwich No. 5.  Per Sam Dodge, the Gennert was manufactured in England.  

Using the Gennert and Bass camera examples seen on Sam Dodge's website, some differences between the two cameras are evident.  Compared with the camera shown here, the wooden film magazine doors, the black hardware surrounds and the crank handle are all identical to Sam Dodge's Gennert. The external fader linkage (as well as the internal fader adjustment dial) is also identical to that seen on his Gennert, to the fader linkage depicted in Gennert's advertisements shown below, and I have not seen a Bass camera equipped with a fader.

Having said this, film magazines could have varied in construction, and one other known Gennert example has circular metal lids as seen on the Bass. Hardware and their finishes could vary, and crank handles could have been changed out as well. Some cameras may have been sold before the fader feature was developed, or sold without them after the fader came into existence.  In the formative days of the film industry, improvements and modifications to motion picture apparatus were made by manufacturers, as well as by cameramen to suit their needs or personal preferences.  As a result, in most cases no two cameras will ever be alike. But I really believe both the Gennert and the Bass were made by the same manufacturer and with more time and research, we'll know the truth. I'm confident though, that the example shown here is a Gennert.

The origin of the Photo Cines name may lie with the company that either manufactured or imported it. Trow's General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York for the Year Ending August 1, 1912 lists the Photo Cines Co. films 24 E. 13th.  Maurice G. and Gustav C. Gennert both share the same 24 E. 13th St. address, listed as being in the photo materials business. 

R.L Polk's, Trow's New York Directory for 1915  lists the Photo Cine Co. (Maurice G. and Gustav C. Gennert) at 24 E. 13th St. in Brooklyn, as a photo materials business.  This same address is used in later advertisements, listing "G. Gennert" as the business.  Since G. Gennert existed long before the turn of the century, the Photo Cine Company appears to have been a spinoff or subsidiary for marketing motion picture equipment and supplies.


Sold by G.Gennert, the Photo Cines No. 4 was constructed of polished Honduran Mahogany, the wood panel sections being assembled with opposing grain patterns to mitigate the effects of expansion and contraction from climate extremes.  Having a 400' capacity with two internally placed film magazines, the No. 4 represented Gennert's top of the line, and they reportedly offered 100' and 200' models as well. Previous to this, a number of cameras had externally mounted magazines that tended to leak light. To remedy this, cameras were enlarged to facilitate placing the magazines inside. Eventually, with improvements and better mounts, magazines wound up outside again as on the Bell & Howell 2709 and the Mitchell Standard. 

John Alfred Prestwich of London, England, previously secured patents for his movement in Great Britain (No. 17,224 dated August 4, 1896) and in France (No. 266,632 dated May 4, 1897), prior to obtaining his U.S. Patent No. 620,357 on February 28, 1899:


                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


This Photo Cines No. 4 is also equipped with a fader that was cutting edge technology for the time. The late Sam Dodge's description of this operation, and of the camera itself from an identical example featured on his website, says it best:

"With the push of a button on the top of the camera the fader, which is attached to the lens, will move the iris mechanically to either a higher F-stop or a lower F-stop at your choosing. "In camera" fades to white or fades to black are done with this mechanism.  This camera is quite rare as it is one of the earliest special effects cameras. The camera cranks backwards as well. This means that you can fade out on one scene and then cap the lens and crank back to where you started your fade, go to your new scene and fade up with an overlapping dissolve. The fader is adjustable. You can make your fade in two and a half, five or ten feet of film. See the picture of the gear with these markings on it. I have never seen a camera earlier than this that did this type of in camera effect. It seems simple to us now but this was a very professional thing to do and was quite a major innovative special effect for cameras around 1910."


                               Photo Cines No. 4's fader adjustment gear


The Photo Cines No. 4 shown here came with its leather carry strap,  a Bausch-Lomb Tessar 50mm lens and its access door key which is conveniently stored at the back of the camera.  Critical focus is achieved through the taking lens, via an angled mirror and viewing port on the left side of the camera. The port is capped externally, with an internal geared flap to further block light from entering. Showing relatively minor wear, it's in exceptional shape, considering that most early motion picture cameras were either heavily used or modified.  The camera's dimensions are 16" tall x 5" wide x 12-7/8" in depth and it weighs 22-1/2 pounds with its magazines, but unloaded with film. The camera appears functional in every respect, and is unsurpassed in the quality of its construction.  As Sam Dodge would often say "this camera will shoot today".

I initially believed the camera dated earlier than 1910, since the No. 5 Prestwich on which it is based dates to about 1905. But the production timeframe narrowed with Sam Dodge's circa 1910/1911 assessment.  An advertisement in The Moving Picture World, October 7, 1916 shows the Photo Cines No. 4 still being offered that year.  Along with the Prestwich, the Williamson and the Moy & Bastie that emerged during the first decade of the 20th Century, these vertical wooden English-style cameras were generally in use prior to the height of the Pathe's popularity which was well established by 1915.  By the June 30, 1917 issue of The Moving Picture World, another version of camera was now being offered as "The Competitor", essentially a Photo Cines No. 4 with an ebonized finish.  The Photo Cines No. 4 was still being advertised in Moving Picture World for January 5, 1918, but it's unknown for how long thereafter.


By this point, the Bass Company was now promoting the Universal 35mm Camera and by 1919-1920, the Bass Camera no longer appeared in the company's catalogs.  Cameras like the Gennert and Bass would continue to decline in use with the Pathe's dominance, and by 1919, Bell & Howell's 2709 had replaced the Pathe as the industry standard.



Searching eBay one evening, I came across this Photo Cines No. 4 at an extremely reasonable Buy-It-Now price.

I quickly reviewed the photos, and while there were many, none of them showed the interior mechanism.  The brief auction description didn't indicate whether the camera was complete, or if it even cranked.  But what I knew of its excellent exterior condition, the presence of its crank, lens, viewfinder, leather strap, even the key to unlock its access doors, told me that I'd better act fast. There was no time to ask questions, so I bought it, taking a chance that part or all of the interior could be missing.  But my gut told me the camera was well cared for, by all appearances original and unmolested, and I just felt that it had to be all there.  Upon receiving it, I opened the sides to reveal that everything was in fact present, even the film magazines.

Sometimes you have to let your instincts guide you, and armed with a good general knowledge of what you collect, make your best attempt.  More often than not, you'll make the right decision.  


From The Moving Picture World October 7, 1916


         From The Moving Picture World June 30, 1917


From The Moving Picture World January 5, 1918


From Motion Picture News, December 20, 1919