Elvis' 8mm Home Movie Camera

Elvis with camera and case at Magnolia Gardens in Houston - May 1955
Photo of Elvis courtesy web, case courtesy ebay

In 1955 Elvis purchased a new 8mm home movie camera.  There are several photos of him with it in May of 1955.  The camera appears to have been a Revere Model 40, made by the Revere Camera Company of Chicago.

Elvis in Meridian, May 26, 1955 with what appears to be a Revere 40 8mm movie camera
Photo of Elvis © Sherif Hanna source FECC

8mm home movie film was developed and first introduced by Kodak in 1932. It was essentially 16mm film that when run through the camera exposed one edge. It was then reversed and run through again exposing the other edge. The film was later split and spliced during processing. For home use it was available on 25 foot spools that depending on frame rate would yield about 3.5 to 4 minutes of filming. In 1934 Bell & Howell introduced the first lightweight 8mm camera that featured the film loaded in a cartridge/magazine allowing changing in daylight.

Elvis in Meridian, May 26, 1955 with what appears to be a Revere 40 8mm movie camera
Photo of Elvis courtesy Jimmie Rodgers Snow

Originally founded in 1920 as a radiator company by Samuel Briskin, an immigrant from the Ukraine, the Revere Camera Company of Chicago began making 8mm cameras in 1939 through a subsidiary of his son's. The name was derived from the Revere Copper Company, which funded the radiator company through the depression.

The Revere 40 8mm camera. The slide on top acts as a zoom for the rangefinder.
Photo © James V. Roy

In the 1950s the company acquired the New Jersey based Wollensak Optical Company, primarily a supplier of OEM parts but also a producer of high end still cameras. The Revere brand became their budget line while the Wollensak models with superior lenses and more stylish casings became their premium line. By then the company was said to be the second largest manufacturer of home movie cameras in the US, competitive with Kodak and Bell & Howell.

The Revere 40 8mm camera showing controls for winding, feet gauge, frame rate and activation
Photo © James V. Roy

Though the normal frame rate for 8mm at the time was 16 frames per second, most cameras like the Revere 40 allowed a variable setting. The model 40 was said to have been first offered in 1952 and provides indexed settings for 12, 16, 24, 32 and 48 fps.  The lens has f-stops of 2.5, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16 to adjust exposure settings.

The Revere 40 8mm camera with original unprocessed film
Photo © James V. Roy

The Revere Camera Company was sold to 3M in 1960 after Briskin was diagnosed with Cancer. In the '60s with the introduction of Super 8 format the standard frame rate was set to 18 fps. By the 1980s home movie film and cameras would give way to VHS camcorders and then ultimately digital video.

The Revere 40 8mm camera and cartridge/magazine
Photo © James V. Roy

Unfortunately, Elvis' camera was short lived.  The one he is pictured with here burnt up in the glove compartment of his first Cadillac on June 5, 1955 just outside Fulton, AR. That was according to Ken Palmer who happened upon the scene.

added April 1, 2013

History of the Revere Camera Company of Chicago is according to and courtesy of Ólafur Gunnlaugsson.


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