Best 100 Year Old Camera
I've always wanted a relatively compact 6x9 camera. Because I love older cameras, my research led me to the Kodak No. 1 Autographic Special. It's a beautiful camera that takes excellent pictures for its age.
One of the reasons it was so "special" was the wide range of shutter speeds it offered (1 second to 1/300) and apertures (f/6.3 to f/45). In a day when a lot of cameras were box cameras with no adjustments you could make, this was a huge amount of artistic control.
As you can see, it's high degree of portability for its vintage comes from being a "Folder." A collapsible bellows let's you fold the camera up. This is the biggest point of potential failure after 100 years as the fabric and leather of the bellows can crack with age or develop pinholes at the corners of the bellows. When looking at eBay listings, look for sellers who document that they shined a light into the bellows in a dark room and seen no light leaks. Expect a discount if you have to repair the bellows which is not easy or usually very permanent. There are sites that will walk you through the process of using fabric paint to do so.
The "No. 1" in its title refers to the 6cm x 9cm film size, the same size as 120 film which you can still purchase. If you're buying an old Kodak that you want to shoot, go for a No. 1 rather than the bigger-bodied 1A, 2, 2A, 3, or 3A. Strangely, the Kodak Brownie models used different sizing, so a Brownie Number 2 uses 120 film.
Kodak made both Autographic and non-autographic models of many of their cameras in this period. The Autographic models used special autographic film (e.g., A120) that let you open a narrow window on the back of the camera and use a stylus to write what you just took a picture of onto the film.
The camera works just fine with regular 120 film, but you'll want to keep that autographic window closed to prevent light leaks.
This camera takes great pictures for a camera that is over 100 years old. Here are some examples:
Main street in Traverse City Michigan
Navy Pier Chicago
Monroe Harbor, Chicago