THE "CUB SPECIAL" 35MM MOTION PICTURE CAMERA
U.S. Cinematograph Company, Chicago, Illinois 1916
The U.S. Cinematograph Company's "Cub Special" utilized 200-foot coaxial magazines, and was advertised as having all the important features of more expensive equipment. Advertisements touted its ability at direct focusing through the film, the use of aluminum magazines to prevent fogging, a Bausch & Lomb Tessar f3.5 Anastigmatic lens, and an "exposure meter" mounted to the front of the camera. This "exposure meter", essentially a nameplate with exposure modes in addition to an aperture scale, is the camera's most prominent feature and a bit of marketing genius. With the company's name proudly displayed, it's the first thing that hits your eye. Enhancing an otherwise plain exterior, it has no doubt raised the camera's appeal among collectors. The nameplate on this example is stamped "Copyright 1916":
A Davsco advertisement in a David Stern Company catalog for 1917, references an intermittent with a "newly patented cam and shutter type". This, together with the fact that by September 30, 1916, the camera was now being marketed under the Davsco name, would suggest this U.S. Cinematograph example dates to no later than September 30, 1916. I've not been able to learn more about the 1916 copyright or determine the patent number for the referenced cam and shutter design. Both magazines are stamped "U.S. Cinematograph Co., Chicago", with diameters of 5-1/4". Measuring 10-5/8" long, 5-1/2" wide and 6-3/8" high, the camera weighs in at approximately 9 pounds with crank and magazines, but without film.
Despite having professional attributes such as through-the-lens focusing, the "Cub Special" didn't have a wide range of lenses, higher capacity magazines or the quality of construction found in the Debrie Parvo, as an example. The majority of coaxial magazine-styled cameras during the late teens and early 1920's, were utilized for documentaries, news work or as a director's personal camera. While some were used in professional filmmaking, compared with the Bell & Howell 2709 and the Mitchell Standard, they were the "amateur" cameras of their era. This was just prior to the introduction of 16mm film in 1923.
Later versions of the "Cub Special" were marketed under the Davsco name by the David Stern Company of Chicago. David Stern was in business from 1885 per one of their 1918 advertisements, selling cameras, lenses and other photographic equipment. A September 30, 1916 ad in The Moving Picture World, offers for sale the "Davsco Kine camera 200 ft capacity, up to the minute, $110.00 " by the David Stern Co., The National Camera Exchange, 1047-R, Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois. Stern marketed the camera through at least 1917 (David Stern Company 1917 catalog), under various names as the Davsco,"a camera for motion photography", as the "Professional Kino", or simply the "Kino Camera". Under the U.S. Cinematograph name, the camera has been seen in both single-lens and 3-turret lens models, and single-lens models under the Davsco name. An excerpt in The Photographic Journal of America, Volume LV for 1918, notes that the David Stern Catalogue No. 102 "includes a large line of standard supplies. This enterprising firm has instituted a free service department to answer inquiries of any nature pertaining to photographic matters". The Davsco, now renamed the "Universal M.P. Camera", appears in the David Stern Catalogue No. 102 for March, 1918.
David Stern was selling talking machines in 1919, and it's not known if they were still marketing photographic goods at that time. By October 1921, their business was selling boots and shoes, and they were filing for bankruptcy.
From internet research, a Captain L.(Louis) A. Boening was associated with the camera's design or development (Louis Boening owned the Roseland Theatre in Chicago, circa 1914), as his name is referenced in a testimonial in the David Stern Company 1917 catalog written by Charles Bass. Bass rented and sold motion picture equipment in Chicago from 1910 into the teens, offering many makes of cameras including the Prestwich, for which Bass had a licensing agreement. In 1919, Bass Camera Company, Chicago, continued marketing the U.S. Compact Motion Picture Camera, by U.S.M.P. Camera (U.S. Motion Picture Camera Company, I'm guessing). There is a Bass ad from Motion Picture News 1919 listing a 200-ft. capacity U.S. Compact M.P. Camera with a f3.5 Tessar lens, slightly used, for $82.50.
The Certified List of Illinois Corporations for 1913, shows L.A. Boening, 2335 Berlin Street as Secretary of the American Cinematograph Company, 617 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. Reference was found to a Captain L.A. Boening who became Treasurer of the National Projecting and Producing Company, Chicago, in 1911. That same year, Boening is shown as Secretary of the International Projecting and Producing Company, 109 Randolph Street, Chicago, with J.J. Murdoch as President. Boening was also the Treasurer of the Reel Fellows Club in 1915, an organization for those with an interest in the creation and production of motion pictures in Chicago.
This information on Boening suggests a connection between American Cinematograph and U.S. Cinematograph, and raises questions as to who actually manufactured the camera over the entire course of its production.
The example shown here is in poor cosmetic condition, missing a significant portion of its leather covering and having a broken strap at one end. It's missing its hand crank, but is otherwise complete with two 200-foot coaxial magazines, a Newton-style viewfinder and a 50mm Bausch & Lomb Tessar Series 1c lens, all original equipment for this camera.
The "Cub Special", under the U.S. Cinematograph, Davsco or U.S. Compact Motion Picture Camera names, is a quite rare American motion picture camera. Only a handful of examples under each name are known to exist today.
Ad from David Stern Company catalog 1917
Testimonial letter from Charles Bass in the David Stern Company catalog 1917
Purchased on eBay, this Cub Special was admittedly, not in the best of shape. Some leather was gone, and it was missing its crank and one of the aluminum magazines, both necessary for the camera to function.
For me, these shortcomings factored little into the final bid. Because I already had an example of the missing magazine, and I had to reunite it with the camera.
I had acquired this magazine probably twenty years ago, long before I had a serious interest in early motion picture equipment. It was purchased with other photographic items as part of a junk lot, and although prominently stamped "U.S. Cinematograph Co., Chicago", I had no interest then, in its identity. At one point, I even considered posting it on eBay in an effort to dispose of some odds and ends.
As I became more interested in motion picture cameras, I eventually realized what it fit. I reasoned that, finding the camera would be remote and that owning the magazine was about all I could hope for. I even thought, that should I ever be lucky enough to acquire the camera and it was missing one or both of its magazines, I'd be ready.
And then this camera shows up! What are the odds, and who would have ever guessed.....