Wilart Instrument Company, 13 Rose Street, New Rochelle, New York         1919 - 1922     



The Wilart Instrument Company manufactured professional 35mm motion picture cameras, as well as more basic models intended for newsreel work or cinematic instruction.  This Wilart professional 35mm model is currently unidentified.


Wilart's Model "A", also referred to as the "Wilart Professional Camera" was characterized by its composition alloy construction, top-mounted engine-turned aluminum magazines and its Pathe-style movement on which the camera's design is based:


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


Both these cameras are featured and described in detail in the The Cinema Handbook by Austin C. Lescarboura, 1921.  This handbook 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 H. Mario Raimondo-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 professional model) and two identical lenses, one for viewing and one for taking. Although this partially describes this unidentified model, the rectangular shape of the camera is not a "radical change" as this style was already seen on the Parvo, the Askania and the Ernemann to name a few. Also, the shutter control on this unidentified Wilart is located on the front rather than on the side. Based on the illustrations above, this description no doubt applies to the Wilart Model B.


Regarding this unidentified model, "Wilart Inst. Co., New Rochelle, N.Y." along with "Patented" is found stamped into the shutter control dial:


                                          Shutter Control dial



A metal tag affixed to the side of the camera reads "Pat. April 29, 1919, Other Patents Pending".  Having the "Wilart Inst. Co." stamping versus the name "Wilart Instrument Company, Inc." as seen on Wilart's Model "A" Professional Camera, and the April 29, 1919 patent date, may suggest that this unidentified model was introduced before the Wilart Instrument Company was incorporated around June, 1919. It may also suggest that this unidentified model either pre-dates or closely coincides with, the introduction of Wilart's Model "A" Professional Camera.

It should be noted that the earlier version of Wilart's Model "A" Professional Camera, which is also shown on this website, has a manufacturer's tag stamped "Wilart Instrument Company, Inc." with a stamping of "Wilart Inst. Co., New Rochelle, N.Y." on the film gate. The difference in company names may or may not be a definitive indicator as to date.  The company may have chose to either use a foreshortened name on the film gate (or on the shutter control dial as in the case of this camera), may have neglected to update the film gate stamping to reflect the newly incorporated name, or still yet may have continued to use previously stamped parts after the company's name transitioned.

With a patent date of April 29, 1919, all metal construction and the company's name change to Wilart Cinema Industries around June, 1922, the camera was manufactured sometime within the 1919-1922 timeframe. 


The camera's alloy body is trimmed in what appears to be polished aluminum or polished magnesium, with black leather panel insets that compliment the outer case. The camera's dimensions are 7-3/8" wide, 7-5/8" tall and 14-1/4" deep. Weighing in at approximately 26.5 pounds without film, this camera is missing its hand crank and lenses, one for viewing and one for taking. The lens' mounting threads are located internally and I haven't determined what the correct lenses are for this camera, or what they might even look like.  The focusing eyepiece at the rear is marked "C.P. Goerz American Optical Company, New York, No. 1172":


                        Goerz American Optical Company eyepiece


The appearance of the Goerz name on the eyepiece suggests the camera was probably equipped with Goerz lenses as well, a popular lens found on Wilart's Model "A" and other professional motion picture cameras of the time.


One of the camera's unique features is a swing-away film gate and focusing screen, outlined in the patent which allowed for focusing without having to open up the camera or expose film. Moving the large lever above the camera's crank on the right side, swung the film gate backward along with the film, permitting the ground glass screen to swing downward:


                                               Film gate in place

                                 Film gate swung away for focusing


Through a series of gears, the internal focusing tube could then be moved forward over the frame opening via the knob located on the upper right side at the rear corner. This allowed for fine focusing and aperture adjustments, all without having to open the camera or expose film:


              Focusing tube and retractable ground glass screen




The camera utilizes a coaxial magazine arrangement with two 400-foot capacity magazines. The magazines are similar in construction to those found on Wilart's Model "A" Professional Camera, being of aluminum construction. They are the same approximate weight and identical in size.  But they differ with the Wilart's Model "A" magazines being more finely finished with engine-turning, having protruding film ports and mounting pins, larger spindles, metal rollers and double-edge serrations on the lids to improve grip. In contrast, this unidentified Wilart's magazines are roughly finished with no engine-turning, have flush film port openings, no mounting pins, smaller spindles, wooden rollers and single-edge serrations on the lids.  Other than the film ports being tailored to each camera, the other characteristics suggest theses unidentified Wilart's magazines to be of an earlier design.


                                          Coaxial Magazines


      Wilart Model "A" Professional                  Unidentified Wilart

      Wilart Model "A" Professional                Unidentified Wilart



                            Wilart Model "A" Professional               


                                          Unidentified Wilart 




   Wilart Model "A" Professional                  Unidentified Wilart


    Wilart Model "A" Professional             Unidentified Wilart


      Wilart Model "A" Professional            Unidentified Wilart








                             Wilart Model "A" Professional   



                                          Unidentified Wilart 



                     Wilart Model "A" Professional  (metal rollers)


                             Unidentified Wilart  (wooden rollers)


The Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers for May 9-12, 1921, Washington, D.C., under the section "Motion Picture Cameras" by Carl Louis Gregory, wording states that "the French Pathe Camera remains practically the same as before the war, but the American Pathe which is the name frequently applied to the Wilart camera, has forged ahead so consistently that the old simile no longer applies. Even the old familiar form of the studio model with overhead exterior magazines will soon become a thing of the past for the new model of the Wilart Camera which will appear shortly has lines distinctively its own and the magazines will be placed inside the camera so that it can be taken from its case threaded ready for operation. Once again, this statement sounds as though it could have been describing the unidentified Wilart model featured here. However, sounding much like the description from  Motion Picture Photography: A History, 1891-1960 by H. Mario Raimondo-Souto, it was most likely referring to the Wilart Model B.


The patent date of April 29, 1919 seen on the tag affixed to the camera, refers to Patent No. 1,302,388 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. Although the patent drawings differ, the patent's design specifics are incorporated into the camera shown here:


            Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                  Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


The Monthly Abstract Bulletin from the Kodak Research Laboratories, Vol 5, No. 7, July, 1919, describes Patent No. 1,302,388 as "A Motion Picture Camera in which means is provided for moving the film away from the exposure area in line with the lens and while the film is protected from light the lens may be focused through an opening provided for that purpose."

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 VII, No. 2 for February, 1921, describes this patent (Patent No. 1,359,392) 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."

This Patent No. 1,359,392 dated November 16, 1920, is believed to be one of the (or the only) "other patents pending" as noted on the camera's tag:


                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                  Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

                 Source:  U.S. Patent and Trademark Office


Per a news reference in American Photography, Volume 13, December, 1919, "The New York Institute of Photography announces that the number of its students has increased so markedly, that it has become necessary to open a branch school at 104 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, opposite the Long Island railway station, a situation which is easily accessible from all parts of Brooklyn and Long Island.  The credit for the success of this rapidly growing enterprise is due to the untiring efforts of S. McKee Lawhun, President, and Samuel Fortune Falk, Secretary."

It's interesting in that Samuel Lawhun, as the holder of both these patents, was also president of the New York Institute of Photography for which Wilart manufactured the Wilart "Institute Standard" 35mm to be used there for cinematic instruction. The application of Patent No.'s 1,302,388 and 1,359,392 to this camera and the interrelationship between these three parties, adds a new element towards ultimately identifying this model.


This unidentified Wilart 35mm was acquired from the American Society of Cinematographers Museum.  It's reputed to have been King Vidor's personal camera, although no documentation exists.  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 trade paper advertisement            Source: Wikipedia


Although this unidentified Wilart looks as much to be a production model as anything else, it's been suggested that it could have been a prototype or a one-off.  In whichever case, it's the only example of this Wilart 35mm model that I've ever encountered. And with no advertisements, factory catalogs or other references found so far, it's safe to say it's a very rare camera.

The same can be said for the Wilart Model B, for which I have never seen an example and the Wilart Model "A" Professional Camera, for which I have seen maybe six examples over the past 30 years.