Wilart 35mm Motion Picture Camera           1919-1922               

Wilart Instrument Company Inc., 13 Rose Street, New Rochelle, New York






The Wilart Instrument Company manufactured professional motion picture cameras for Hollywood production, as well as amateur models for cinematic instruction.  This professional 35mm motion picture camera is currently unidentified.

Wilart's Model A was characterized by its top-mounted engine-turned external magazines and Pathe-type movement on which the camera's design is based:


          Model A illustrations from the Cinema Handbook, A.C. Lescarboura, 1921  


Wilart's Model B was a radical departure from the Model A, having internal magazines, a restyled outer case and a viewing and taking lens:


          Model B illustrations from the Cinema Handbook, A.C. Lescarboura, 1921  


Both these cameras are featured and described in detail in the Cinema Handbook by Austin Celestin Lescarboura, 1921.  This is a great source of information for collectors of early cinema equipment or anyone interested in the film industry during this period.

The book Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960 by Souto, describes a new Wilart design as a special unit with a radical change in the classic shape of the standard camera.  It describes a camera with film rolls inside, crank and shutter control on the side (versus a crank on the back in their Pathe-style model) and two identical lenses, one for viewing and one for taking.  This description could apply to the unidentified model shown here, or to the Model B.

Research is ongoing into the Wilart's origins.  In 1920, the Wilart Camera Distribution Corporation existed, as evidenced by this ad from Motion Picture News, August 28, 1920:

         Ad from Motion Picture News August 28, 1920


This ad hyped its all metal design, stating that "50 cameras will be ready for delivery about Sept. 10th".  This would suggest this to be the introduction of the Model A. However, with the ad also stating that it was now being used by cameramen and producers, the camera was already available by this time.

Per the Motion Picture Daily, Volume 11, No. 3 for December 17, 1921, the Wilart Professional Camera (Model A) will now be sold direct to the user at the net price of $750, by the Wilart Instrument Company, Inc., New Rochelle, New York:


The Wilart Instrument Company became Wilart Cinema Industries, as reflected in a public notice of name changes published in The New York Times, June 10, 1922.

The Manufacturer's Record Exponent of America for September 7, 1922, has an entry:

Md., Baltimore -Wilart Cinema Industries of New Rochelle, has plans by E.G. Blanke, 532 N. Calvert St., for construction of $200,000 cinema plant on Reistertown Rd., nr. Park Circle: 300x144 ft. ; California mission style architecture; stucco and glazed tile exterior; 2 story, basement and roof garden; fireproof construction; reinforced concrete vaults for storage of films.


E. William Nelson of Wilart is listed as a member in the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, 1920, and per Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960 by Souto, Nelson designed Wilart's "The Institute Standard" for the New York Institute of Photography. 

Regarding the example shown here, the Wilart Instrument Company name along with "PATENTED" is found on one of the dials at front.  The camera utilizes a coaxial magazine arrangement with two 400-foot capacity magazines. Finished in what appears to be a polished aluminum or nickel-plated exterior, black leather panel insets compliment the outer case. Weighing in at approximately 26.5 pounds, the unit appears complete with the exception of its crank and lenses, one for viewing/one for taking. The mounting threads are located internally and I haven't determined what the correct lenses are for this camera, or what the lenses even look like.  The viewing lens eyepiece at the rear is marked C.P. Goerz American Optical Company, New York, No. 1172.  The appearance of the Goerz name suggests that it may have been equipped with Goerz lenses, a popular lens that was found on other professional motion picture cameras of the era.

With a patent date of April 29, 1919, all metal construction and the company's name change, the camera was manufactured between 1919 and 1922.  The camera's coaxial magazine design is similar to that of the Pathe 28mm, the Debrie Parvo and the Russell Motion Picture Camera, all of which fall within the 1912-1922 era.  The camera contains a metal tag affixed with "Pat. April 29, 1919, Other Patents Pending".

Attempting to learn more, Patent No. 1,302,359 dated April 29, 1919 for an Elliptic Iris for use on motion picture cameras and issued to Frank E. Garbutt, Los Angeles, California was found.  Frank E. Garbutt (born Frank Alderman Garbutt) is listed in the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) as being born April 5, 1869, in Illinois, and died November 14, 1938, age 69, in Los Angeles, California.  IMDB also lists a Frank Anthony Garbutt, Cinematographer, born November 3, 1978 in Los Angeles that may be related.  It also stated Frank Garbutt was the co-founder of Bosworth, Inc. (Hobart Bosworth Productions Company, founded 1913), a film production company that was active from 1913-1916.  Further inspection of the camera will determine if it's equipped with an elliptical iris, whether the iris would have been mounted externally or internally and whether this patent is even related to this camera.

Also found is Patent No. 1,302,388 dated April 29, 1919, for a Motion Picture Camera issued to Samuel M. Lawhun of Jersey City, New Jersey, Assignor of one-half to Julius L. Perlman of New York, N.Y.  The patent deals with numerous improvements to motion picture cameras such as construction, reliability, means of re-focusing, shutter adjustment, dissolve, double exposure, etc.  There is a reference in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for 1920, to Lawhun as an assignor to the Invincible Cinema Camera Corporation of New York for Patent No. 1,359,392 dated November 16, 1920 that appears to be improvements over the previous April 29, 1919 patent.  The Monthly Abstract Bulletin from the Kodak Research Laboratories, Vol 6-7, January 1920, describes this patent as "A Motion Picture Camera having a sector shutter, the opening of which may be varied during exposure from the handle.  It is intended particularly for use in dissolves.  Associated with the handle is an indicator which when used with the usual film meter enables the operator to accurately control double exposures and fade-ins." Again, more research is needed to determine which, if any of these patents apply.


This Wilart was acquired from the American Society of Cinematographers Museum, as part of their de-accessioning process.  It is reputed to have been King Vidor's personal camera, although no documentation exists to confirm this provenance.  King Vidor (1894-1982) was a prominent American film director who had a long contract beginning in 1922 with Goldwyn Studios, which later became Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

 From a 1919 ad



With this unidentified model Wilart being the only example I've ever seen, and no advertisements or factory catalog information found so far, it's safe to say it's very rare.  The same can be said for the Wilart Model B, for which I have never seen an example and the Wilart Model A, of which I have seen maybe six examples over the past 30 years. 


I welcome and appreciate anyone's input for more information on this camera or its lenses.