i have awesome pen friends

YOU GUYS. I got an email from one of my penpals yesterday, he lives in Belgium. I have 3 penpals from that tiny country. And sending postcards is HUGE in the Netherlands, half of my Postcrossing postcards are from Dutch people. The Dutch postal system even released a Postcrossing stamp. Snail mail must be a Low Countries thing.

ANYWAY. He found an old camera while he was cleaning out his father’s attic, and he wanted to give it to someone who appreciates old cameras. So he’s sending it to me!

Gevabox is a German-made Bakelite box camera from the 1950s that shoots 120 film. He doesn’t know anything about non-digital cameras, so he couldn’t tell me if it worked, but I would be very surprised if it didn’t. Those old Bakelite cameras are practically indestructible; they’d probably survive a nuclear blast, along with cockroaches and Keith Richards (my apologies to Bill Hicks).

This is the nicest present I’ve ever gotten from a penpal, but by no means the only. I’ve gotten stationary, vintage postcards, samples of tea and candy, a fortune-telling fish toy, a tiny abalone shell on a silk cord, a hand-carved rubber stamp, and a pencil sharpener shaped like an old TLR camera.

I send things too; photos, of course, whenever I have anything new developed. And lately I’ve decided I have too many little notebooks–mostly Field Notes and things I got when I was subscribing to Lost Crates–and I’ve been giving those away. I’ve sent tea bags as well, and sealing wax sticks, ink samples, and cheap little jade charms I bought at Laos New Year. Whenever I go to any kind of festival, I look for small items that I can buy a lot of to send to my penpals.

I’ve been doing snail mail for about a year now, and it’s become a really fun and rewarding hobby. My penpals are smart and interesting people, and I get seriously bummed out on the rare days that I don’t get personal mail.

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kodak brownie hawkeye

I’ve mentioned the Washington, LA Old Schoolhouse Antiques Mall before; today was day one of their 3-day semi-annual (they have another one in October) “outside” fair, so called because they have a lot more vendors than usual, and they’re all outside of the building. I went with the ‘rents, although Phil spent most of the time sleeping on the front steps. Mr. Excitement.

Frankly, I thought most of the outside vendors were straight-up junk, except for one booth that had a lot of cool old jewelry. I bought a pin shaped like a blue seahorse from her. But I’ve always made good finds inside the mall. It’s where I bought my Kodak Duaflex last year. It still has the take-up spool inside it, which means I could modify 120 rolls to shoot in it (technically it takes 620, which hasn’t been made in decades). But the lab would have to send the spool back, or I’d never be able to shoot in it again, so I’ve been too nervous to actually use it so far. I will one day, though. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise.

Anyway, I was hoping the same vendor would have more old cameras, and she did not disappoint. I got the above flash model Kodak Brownie Haweye for $40. It has all the flash bulbs! And a roll of 620 that expired in 1968! And how’s this for freaky: there’s a roll in the camera, exposed up to frame 11. I will definitely be sending that in for development. The vendor told me I had to come back if there was anything interesting or weird on it.

The fact that there’s still a roll of film in the camera tells me that it’s not missing any parts inside, so that’s awesome. There’s a space in the box where something used to be, but whatever it was it wasn’t vital, because the flash still connects to the camera. Maybe it was a little tripod or something.

This camera isn’t as old as my Duaflex. My Duaflex was the first model made — I can tell because there’s no Roman numeral after the name — putting it between 1947-1950. The flash model Brownie Hawkeye was in production between 1950-1961, and this one feels like mid-50s to me. It’s bakelite, not plastic; I rubbed some water on the side and it released the smell of formeldahyde. I learned that from Antiques Roadshow.

I’m building up quite a collection of old cameras. One day I will own a Rolleiflex. Oh yes… it will be mine.

ETA: I put the question of the missing space to the Brownie Hawkeye group on flickr, and the likeliest scenario is it contained the batteries for the flash. It’s the right size, and also explains why they’re missing when everything else — even all the flash bulbs — is still there, because batteries will always get put into something eventually.