From the early days of photography there was a desire for instant results, above all for street photography. The
earliest were conventional box cameras with a "built-in
darkroom", a light-proof compartment inside the camera, accessible via
a sleeve. You exposed a sheet of sensitive paper in
the usual way, plunged it into devloper, stop bath
and fixer to have a paper negative. The negative was photographed again
and treated the same way. The result was a positive, but the whole
process took quite some time. These cameras are still in use in some
countries like Afghanistan ("the Afghan box camera").
step forward was the dry tintype (ferrotype), an early direct positive
process. It used a thin sheet of metal with black lacquer, covered with
a gelantine emulsion. A very underexposed image was developed and then
treated with a special fixer. At the end of the process, the most
exposed areas (white) had a grey to white appearence, whereas the black
areas were translucent and let show the black laquer. So you had a
(slightly dim) positive, however, the picture was a mirror image,
reversed left to right, like a negative. The use of an underexposed
picture made portraits much easier.
The Mandel brothers made
further improvements to the process: they introduced black coated
cardboard, size of a small postcard, instead of tin and they invented a
60-second monobath developer for these cards. And, of course, they
invented cameras around this process. They called their company "Chicago Ferrotype Co."
Mandel-ette postcard camera was launched in 1909 (some parts patented
as late as 1914). The camera could be loaded with a pack of
their cards in daylight, and, after being exposed, the card had
just to be plunged into the development tank at the bottom of the
camera. The photo was ready within one minute, it had to be watered
only 15 seconds outside the camera. So this was really fast and stayed
popular until the invention of Dr. Land's Polaroid process.
Mandel-ette cards were 2½×3½" and sold in packs of 16 or 50 for just 2
US cents each. The monobath developer/fixer ("Wonder" Developer) was
easy to use and could be re-used. A starter set with a camera, 16
postcards and developer was only 5 US-Dollars, monthly payment was
possible. The company placed ads which promised an 8 cents gain per
photo. Bigger format (3x4½")
and multi format cameras followed, later the card material came in
bigger rolls and there was a complicated mechanism to automatically cut single cards
from the roll inside the camera. There were even cameras that could
produce badge size photographs at a speed of 250 per hour, the "Wonder
Machine", later improved to 360 per hour, named "Wonder Cannon" because
of its shape. During the 1930s the Chicago Ferrotype Co. changed its name to PDQ (Photo Done Quickly). You can find their ads until 1958.
It all disappeared finally because of the upcoming
Polaroid. I would like to revive the Mandel process, but I haven't
found enough chemical details yet. So if you happen to know more of it,
please let me know.
Let us have a look at the camera:
Front. Single meniscus lens, B-time shutter (as long as you press, it stays open), Finder.
Camera with development tank attached. The little chain could secure the tank by attaching it to the base of a tripod.
Camera with its sleeve.
Top with handle and finder.
Inside, card pack holder closed.
Card pack holder open, looking at the back of the shutter.
Drawing from the patent application of the card pack holder for better understanding how it works.
A very friendly seller from the big auction site let me have a copy of the hard to find manual (and some more papers), called "Directions for operating the "Mandel-ette"". I made a .pdf file of it.