Restoring Vintage Cameras V: The 3A Ansco- Restoration, Step By Step

Restoration, like cutlery at a formal banquet, proceeds from the outside in.  The leather first needs to be restored and reattached before interior work can be done.  However, before the leather can be reattached, those pesky copper oxide blisters need to be fixed:

Step 1:  Copper Oxide Blisters:

Copper oxide blisters are most effectively dealt with by removing the leather skin and scraping off the green oxide mound with a miniature chisel.  Note


Scraping Copper Oxide


that there is often a corresponding mound of oxide adhering to the under surface of the leather; this should also be scraped clean.  Since many camera


Cleaning Out Rivets


rivets are hollow,  it is also advisable to dig out the cheesy deposit in the center of the rivet after cleaning off the surface oxide.  If the leather is securely stuck down, and removal is difficult, one can cut an “X” in the surface over the oxide blister with a sharp scalpel or razor blade, scrape out the oxide, and re-glue the leather.

After both the surface of the baseplate and the undersurface of the leather have been cleaned, a thin layer of mildly diluted tacky craft glue is spread on both surfaces and allowed to dry slightly.  Then the leather is pressed firmly back into place and massaged gently to remove any air bubbles or glue puddles.  Carefully press down on the bumps in the leather formed by the copper oxide to flatten and reattach these areas to the metal.  Beware of exerting too much pressure on the leather with hard instruments, as this can sometimes flatten the grain once the leather is moistened by the glue.  In the Ansco as with many vintage cameras, the leather on the front plate bends up to cover the flange around the edge of the plate.  It is important to make sure that the leather covering around this flange adheres closely as the glue dries; this can be accomplished by massaging the leather edge as the tacky glue becomes progressively more sticky during drying.

If the leather is firmly attached, an alternative method is to slit a cross into each blister with a scalpel blade.  Fold up the four corners of the leather and scrape out the oxide from the rivet and the back of the leather. Place a small drop of white tacky glue or contact cement under the leather, then press down the corners.  Repeating gentle pressure, being careful not to crush the leather, may be necessary as the glue dries.  Thomas Tomosoy describes this process in “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras” on page 37.

Step 2:  Stretching Shrunken Leather:

Losing its attachment to the metal surface, the leather on the back has dried and shrunken so that it is almost 1/4 in shorter than


Shrunken Leather


the metal back.  This can be remedied by soaking the leather for 15 min in a pan of water to which a few drops of detergent have


Soaking Shrunken Leather


been added as a surfactant. Once it is thoroughly soaked, the old glue appears as a slimy coating on the underside of the leather and can be readily wiped off.  Both surfaces are then gently wiped dry, a thin layer of white tacky glue is spread on the metal back, and the leather is gently pressed down and massaged into its original configuration.

Step 3:  Exterior Painting:

Before any creamy or  oily leather treatment is used, the exterior paint should be touched up.  Be sure to remove all traces of the


Scraping Off Traces of Leather Tacky Glue


craft glue used to tack down the leather; this forms a rubbery coating, and can be scraped off readily in rubbery little clumps with a dental pick.  Clean the painted metal surfaces with alcohol, xylene or toluene before painting.  It is also advisable to check the integrity of the old paint before putting on a new coat.  While some early 20th century paints were quite durable, others deteriorated significantly with age.  The black paint on the Ansco


Painting the Base Plate Hinge


is stable in some areas, but has become almost powdery around the hinge on the base plate, and much of it had to be scraped off before repainting.  At this point it is advisable to touch up all of the paint that adjoins the leather, i.e., around the edges of the


Touching up the Edges of the Base Plate


back plate, in the slots where the back plate inserts into the camera, along the edges of the base plate, etc.  This allows the paint to adhere and dry before the surface becomes oily from the creams used to restore the leather.

Step 4:  Restoring the Leather:

Once the leather has been firmly reattached and the exterior paint touched up, the first step is to clean the surface by spraying with Windex or Fantastik and washing with a moist (not soaking wet) cloth or soft brush.  In the case of the Ansco, this removes a large amount of dirt.  The camera is then allowed to dry, and all of the


Removing the Hardware


removable external hardware pieces, including the strap, winding knob and film support inserts  are removed.

Once the leather is cleaned and the hardware removed, leather restoration can begin.  The covering is carefully examined and any


Glueing Down Loose Edges


loose edges are glued down.  Small, partially detached fragments are glued down over gouges by applying a small amount of glue


Rips in the Leather


with a dental pick.  The leather is then given a liberal coating of Dyo Leather Balm, a cream leather treatment, to rehydrate the fibers , followed after drying with Dyo Visco, a solvent-based waterproofing agent.  If these products are not readily available, similar treatments can usually be identified by contacting your local shoe repair establishment.  The surface is them given a coat of brown shoe polish and rubbed to a lustrous finish by hand.

Step 5:  The Lens and Shutter:

The first step is to remove the rear element.  The shutter housing is then removed by unscrewing the rear retaining ring.  However,


Removing the Rear Element


with the Ansco as with many roll film cameras, when the bellows are collapsed, much of the lens retaining ring is covered, and a


Needle Nose Pliers as a Lens Wrench


standard short-pronged lens wrench cannot be used.  The solution is to partially extend the bellows and use a long pair of needle nose pliers with fine tips as an improvised lens wrench.  This is an awkward operation that needs to be done with some caution, as it is easy for the pliers to slip and punch a hole in the bellows or damage the shutter.  On the Ansco, it was possible to simply hold the retaining ring while the entire lens and shutter assembly was unscrewed from the front.  On many cameras, either there is an orientation pin or the front standard is sufficiently cluttered that the whole assembly cannot be rotated, and the retaining ring must be laboriously rotated from the rear.

Once the shutter housing was removed, the front lens element was unscrewed and both elements were cleaned with Windex after carefully brushing off the layer of accumulated dust.  This


Front Element: Bubbles in the Glass


produced a surprise, as several bubbles in the glass of the front element became apparent once it was clean; these are unusual even in old cameras, were obviously present at the time the lens was manufactured, and do not speak highly for Ansco’s quality control!

Cleaning the rear element revealed another surprise:  a tracery of fine residual lines around the edges of the outer surface of the lens (i.e., that


Rear Element with Fungus


surface that would be exposed to the inside of the camera) consistent with fungus growth on the glass.  This can best be seen with a strong light shone obliquely across the back of the lens.  Fortunately, much of this material was removed by a determined cleaning with Windex on a Q-tip.  A patchy change in the color of the glass surface was still visible to careful examination by reflected light, but the filaments (fungal hyphae) were able to be scrubbed off successfully.  See my posting on “Lens Fungus” for further information on this topic.

After cleaning the lenses, the shutter was disassembled and cleaned.  First, the two shutter actuator levers were removed, followed by the shutter speed setting dial.  The settings


Removing the Front Controls


of the internal shutter mechanism are controlled by a master cam connecting with the dial by means of a small post on the back of


Removing the Shutter Speed Dial


the dial.  It is essential that this post and the cam slot be realigned correctly when the shutter is reassembled.  The cam


The Shutter Speed Cam


controls the action of the shutter mechanism by shifting the two small levers visible on the left and lower right of the cam.  Also note the small slot visible to the left of the cam housing.  The brass lever visible in this slot is a part of the shutter release lever; it is moved by a small post on the back of the shutter release lever to fire the shutter.

Once the front hardware has been removed, the front


The Ilex Acme Shutter Mechanism


panel can be lifted off after removing the two screws on the front panel, exposing the mechanism of the shutter.  The slow shutter speed movement is to the lower right, while immediately above is the movement for speeds 1/25 sec and above.  The large chrome-plated cylinder in the lower left accepts the cable release and abuts directly on the shutter release lever, which is immediately above.

Since the Acme shutter uses no lubricants, it can be cleaned with dilute isopropyl alcohol in a small ultrasonic cleaner and then allowed to dry.  This procedure should NEVER be used on any shutter that requires lubrication, and one must use solvents carefully, as many of the shutter blades on early 20th century cameras were made of non-metallic materials that can be readily damaged by concentrated solvents.  Cleaning in this fashion and judicious application of a small amount of graphite powder improved the performance of the faster shutter speeds, but the lower speeds were still approximately twice as long as the indicated values; this is probably secondary to weakening of the drive spring over many decades.  In the absence of detailed manuals, I elected not to disassemble the shutter mechanism further.

The chromium plated parts were then polished with a small amount of Flitz on a Q-tip.  Since the paint on the shutter housing was


The Finished Lens and Shutter


basically intact, a small amount of black shoe polish was applied to the black painted surfaces to restore the polish, and the shutter was reassembled.

Step 6:  The Interior:

With the lens removed, the next step involves polishing- and more polishing- the chrome front standard and rails.

To Be Continued…


Tomosoy, Thomas.  “Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras.”  Amherst Media, Buffalo, New York, 1998.


3 Responses to “Restoring Vintage Cameras V: The 3A Ansco- Restoration, Step By Step”

  1. Les Says:


    Thanks for the restoration comments. I am looking forward to the leather step. I haven’t been too successful so far. I love the photos and now I know what else to do with the dental tool!

    Les Hall
    Columbia, SC

  2. Bryan Says:

    Just picked up an Ansco 3A with extra back for plate film–and a few wooden film holders! All seem to be in great shape except for the leather, so this guide to restoring the leather will help bring this showpiece camera back to life! Thanks!

  3. line Says:

    Askіng questіons аre truly nice thing if yߋu
    are not understanding something entirely, except this paragraph presents
    nice understanding even.

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