On clearing out cupboards at home before her death, my mother re-discovered the two old family heirlooms that she remembered her parents having proudly brought back from their honeymoon in Paris way back in 1912. Despite assertion that they were different, both appeared to be identical, although one had stood the test of time slightly better than the other.
Each took the form of a bronzed tin repoussé vertical drum 5cm thick and 12cm in diameter with a crank handle on one side and a ‘window’ at the top through which a drum of photographs was visible. On turning the crank the internal drum was made to revolve, exposing each photograph in turn for a fraction of a second. The effect was to give a moving image of the happy honeymooners spooning in front of the camera. Anyone who has seen a ‘What the butler saw’ machine will be familiar with the arrangement.
Sadly the individual photographs within were getting scuffed and bent and the machines had become damaged with use; accordingly they had been ‘put away’ to save them for posterity. Now seemed to be the ideal time to resurrect them in another format.
Accordingly I embarked upon a project to copy each individual photograph and then, using suitable software, to string them together to re-create the moving image. Before I could do this, however, it would be necessary carefully to dismantle each drum to release the tiny 4cm x 3cm photographs and flatten them for scanning.
Before dismantling could begin it was essential to number the photographs on each drum so that they could be re-assembled correctly later; this was to throw up some interesting comparisons. Although each drum ended with the same ‘clinch’
followed by a frame bearing the number
one contained 174 photographs and the other only 153. The frames on the ‘long’ film I numbered L001-L174: those on the ‘short’ film S001-S153. The long film commences with some 22 frames which are absent from the short film. There is also a discontinuity on each film some 9 frames before the end, thus ensuring that the couple end in the planned embrace. More than 100 frames are common to both films, however, and the ‘short’ films contains some 30 frames that are missing from the ‘long’ film. Between the two films, therefore, it is possible to compile a ‘complete’ film comprising just over 200 individual stills. For good measure, it became apparent that some of the images in mid reel had become jumbled, leading to another apparent discontinuity; once these were untangled and re-ordered the film ran much less jerkily.
We had recommended to us some GIF compilation software currently available as shareware available for downloading from the web. The long hard work of scanning every image could then begin. Each was saved to disk as a .gif file, those from each film identified typically as either S123.gif or L123.gif as appropriate and was then loaded in turn into Photo Editor and cropped to the same size. Other programs are available to clean up each picture by re-touching the scuff marks, etc., but use of these can await another day.
The next task was to assemble the complete reel for compilation. The best copy of each of the individual frames was selected for building into the finished product; each was assigned a number in the series C001.gif - C203.gif. Each .gif file is about 40kb long and the full directory takes up a little over 8Mb of disk space.
Before actual compilation it was useful to be able to preview the likely result and experiment with different projection speeds; from experiment the most 'natural' movement was obtained by setting the delay to 0.125 seconds or 8 frames/second. The program accordingly loads the set of 200 pictures and compiles the animation; the output is a single super-compressed animated .gif file a mere 1.6Mb long. Eureka!
I had hoped to be able to say something about BIOFIX D.R.G.M, the company which produced this little gizmo; alas, apart from the obvious fact that it is made in Germany and would have become unavailable after the outbreak of war in 1914, I have been able to discover next to nothing. From the number on the film it is apparent that a few thousand machines were produced; I have not seen another, although I understand that there is a 1910 example in a photographic museum in Frankfurt-am-Main, and it would appear to be quite rare. I have been informed that in 1912 BioFix were operating in Paris at 23 Boulevard Poissonnière.
Last, but not least, I should say something about the honeymoon couple themselves. They are, of course, my maternal grandparents: Newbury Abbot TRENT ARBS ARCA London (1885-1953) was a sculptor and lived in Chelsea; Hilda LEDWARD, his wife (1886-1980), was the sister of Gilbert LEDWARD RA (1888-1960), another well known sculptor. They were married on 20 December 1911 in Putney. And here they are over 100 years later:-
How many other families can lay claim to a home movie of 1912?
If you can help shed any light on the company that made the BIOFIX or know of another example please e-mail me with details.
April 2002, with additions December 2012.
Oh - the piano accompaniment is Scott Joplin's ‘Maple Leaf Rag’, written in 1898!
Feedback from kind viewers since this site ‘went live’ has drawn my attention to the Titanic website, which, amongst everything else you ever need to know about that ill fated liner and more, includes snippets from a Biofix of one of the passengers taken in London shortly before the ship sailed. The Titanic Biofix webpage is here.
It would appear that the London studios of Biofix (Great Britain and Ireland) Syndicate Ltd were only operative for a few short months in 1912 and 1913; the earlier company Biofix (Southern Counties) Ltd having been compulsorily wound up in July 1912.
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