The Ensignette Camera Ensignette

Rare focusing version of the Nickel plated Ensignette No.1b (c.1914).

The Ensignette was designed by the Swedish Engineer Magnus Neill. Niell had already produced several highly successful designs such as the "Cyko" and a pocket watch camera called the 'Ticka', manufactured in Britain by Houghtons Ltd. His design was also manufactured in America by the "Expo" Camera Co. of New York who sold it as the "Expo" camera and in Japan by Ueda shashinki Ten who called it the "Moment".

He patented the design in 1907, which is why the camera has this on the front. However the camera was not introduced then. It was at the end of 1909, presumably in an effort to catch Christmas trade, that the "Ensignette" camera and E1 roll film were introduced. The 'Ensignette' measured only 3 7/8 x 1 7/8 x inch when folded. Taking negatives of 2 x 1 inches. This was the first all metal mass produced British camera, it also used an entirely new film size so Houghtons (Who manufactured it) were taking a risk with its introduction, however, they were confident in the new design and its appearance in the shops was accompanied by a blaze of publicity in both the National Press and Photographic Journals.

The first models were made of black enamelled brass with nickel plated phosphor bronze fittings. There were two models initially, the No.1 with an f/11 Achromatic Meniscus lens for 30/- and a No.1x with an "Ensign" Anastigmat lens f/5.6 for 70/-. Soon after these were joined by two further models, the No.1b with a Cooke Anastigmat f/5.6 for 4-10-0 and a No.1g with a Goerz Syntor f/6.8 for 5-10-0, none of the initial models had any provision for focusing.

Early in 1912, encouraged by the instant success of the Ensignette - the sales of which Amateur Photographer quoted to be 'tens of thousands' - and the growing popularity of small pocketable cameras Houghtons introduced a new version. The new model was called the No.2 Ensignette, it took six pictures of 3x2 inches on a new size roll film 2E. It was intended for those photographers who preferred larger negatives and cost 50 shillings. A roll of 2E film cost 1 shilling. It was slightly larger than the No. 1 Ensignette measuring 5 x 2 3/8 x 7/8 inches when closed.

The success of the Ensignette meant that Houghtons entered into trade agreements with several retailers world-wide. In America G. Gennert who had shops in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco stocked the camera. In Australia, Houghtons agents Harringtons sold the camera. Houghton-Butcher (Eastern) Ltd. was later set up by the company and sold Ensign cameras in India out of the branch office in Calcutta. I have even managed to find an Ensign catalogue from a dealer in Phoona with prices in Rupees to add to my collection. In Japan Asanuma & Co sold a complete range of Ensign cameras including the Ensignette and produced some beautiful catalogues. The Ensignette became so popular that in 1913 Kodak took the unprecedented move of producing film for the Ensignette, the only time they manufactured a film specifically for use in another makers camera, Kodak film 128 fitted the No.1 and 129 fitted the No.2. Looking back it is clear to see the impact the Ensignette made on the popular camera market at the time. Kodak themselves never made a camera that used these film sizes so the market must have been very large indeed for them to take this step.

In 1920, under the direction of the new works manager A.J. Dennis, who later designed the Cupid camera, the Houghton-Butcher Manufacturing Co. applied for patents on a substantially altered Ensignette, now made of aluminium. The Ensignette was given a new speeded shutter providing 20,40,60,T,B and the wheel stop aperture selector of the earlier cameras was replaced by a variable diaphragm-type iris which was adjusted by a lever under the lens. The front panel lost the Red Ensign trade mark and was no longer flat but had raised cheeks either side of a redesigned lens mount. Spool holders were provided with the camera for the roll of film making the spring clips that had been needed in previous models unnecessary when using the new camera. This model became known as the Aluminium Ensignette.

In 1927 the Ensignette disappeared altogether from catalogues of the still newly joined Houghton-Butcher combine ending a seventeen year run. Its demise being due to a combination of many factors, however the main reason must certainly have been that they had lost the battle with Kodak over film format. Houghton-Butcher conceding this by discontinuing the Ensignette in favour of their 127 roll film based Vest Pocket Ensign. (Basically an Ensignette that used 127 film)

There were over 57 variations of the Ensignette listed and many more that were not listed. Handbag cameras, Silver plated models and Guilt models. All of which are very rare today. There were also several copies. 'La Filotechnica-Salmoiraghi' of Milan, produced a version under license and the Ueda Shashinki Ten produced a copy of the number one Ensignette called the 'Starette'. This camera can be distinguished from a Houghtons Ensignette by the two stars engraved on either side of the lens panel, the star being the trade mark of Ueda. Apart from this it is almost an exact copy of the original number 1 Ensignette.

It is safe to say that the Ensignette was the camera that laid the foundations of Houghton's success in the early part of this century. The Ensignette was a milestone in popular photography, providing for the first time a practical, truly compact camera at an affordable price to the average man. It was immensely popular, its appearance being timed perfectly to fill the need for a compact pocketable camera. It helped create a new type of photographer the 'Pocket Snap Shooter' and did more than any other to show both the public and the photographic manufacturers the possibilities of Vest Pocket cameras.

Ensignette Films

Film Size Manufacturer Code
No.1. (1 x 2 inches) 4 x 6cm Austin Edwards (Ensign) E1
  Austin Edwards (post1926) E28
  Barnet 28
  Kodak 128
  Selo 28
Film Size Manufacturer Code
No.2. (3 x 2 inches) 5 x 7.5cm Austin Edwards (Ensign) E2
  Austin Edwards (post1926) E29
  Agfa N6
  Barnet 29
  Bayer 22
  Ensign (Ultrachrome) EC29
  Ferrania 129
  Gevaert 129
  Goerz Toxo 12
  Ilford 129
  Kodak 129
  Pathe & Hauff N6
  Perutz 72
  Selo 29
  Voigtlander N6
  Zeiss Ikon N6

If You have any Houghton-Butcher/Ensign cameras in your collection could you take a moment to let me have some information about them? Just visit my ONline serial number data page.

Ensign Serial number Data Project

Copyright Adrian Richmond 1998. All rights reserved.

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