Bell & Howell # 586 was originally sold to Seminole Films, Inc. of Eustis, FL on April 2, 1923. Seminole Films was incorporated in Eustis by Dr. Edgar J. Banks in November of 1922. Dr. Banks (1866-1945) was an interesting and colorful figure, often called an inspiration for the character Indiana Jones. Banks began his career as an archaeologist and the American consul to the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s. He spent nearly 10 years fighting for permission from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to excavate the ruins of the Babylonian city of Adab, or Bismya. In 1903, Banks was finally granted permission to begin his dig. Sponsored by the University of Chicago, Banks and his crew uncovered thousands of objects and cuneiform tablets dating from 4500 to 2800 BCE. After the dig was stopped due to accusations of artifact theft, Banks returned to teaching and lecturing, which he continued until 1921. Perhaps Banks’ biggest contribution to history were the thousands of cuneiform tablets he sold to museums, universities, and private collectors all over the world.
In 1921, Banks was invited to Hollywood by Cecil B. DeMille to consult on historical and architectural matters for DeMille’s biblical epics. For a short time in 1921 and 1922, Banks served as a producer with a company called Sacred Films, before moving to Florida and establishing Seminole Films, Inc. in November 1922. Both companies made films with biblical and mythological themes. The first reported feature of Seminole Films was about the Greek God Bacchus. It is unclear what became of any of the films Banks made while in Florida, nor if any of the films were ever screened. Banks’ daughter suspected that her father destroyed them all as he was dissatisfied with the final products.
This particular camera was setup to work as an animation camera and was probably mounted to an ansmstion crane in its previous life. You can see a drive shaft mounted in the opening where the critical finder used to be. An excellent working camera. Could be converted back to a standard 2709. We chose to leave it in its current configuration. The camera comes with one 400' magazine, one Mitchell Matte Box, one custom display base, Rotoscope prism and a boresight mounting tube.
The Bell & Howell Company was founded in 1907 in Chicago, IL by Donald J. Bell and Albert S. Howell. Bell began his career in the movie business working as a projectionist. Howell had moved from Michigan to Chicago where he found work building and repairing projectors. In 1906, Howell patented a device that improved framing for 35mm Kinodrome projectors. Bell and Howell joined forces soon after this and formed their own company in 1907. Bell & Howell began by manufacturing, jobbing, leasing, and repairing machines for other companies in the Chicago area, helped along by Bell’s contacts in the movie projection business, and Howell’s inventive genius. After their first years in business, they began designing their own equipment. Their first original project focused on reducing the flicker of movie projectors and standardizing film sizes.
By 1908, Bell & Howell had successfully refined the Kinodrome projector to reduce flickering, and begun their work to standardize motion picture film to 35mm in width. They would no longer build or repair equipment using anything other than 35mm film after this point. By 1910, they had constructed their first camera, this canera was made of wood and leather. On an expedition to Africa, one of their cameras was heavily damaged by termites and mildew, and so they began redesigning the camera to be made of metal. In 1912, the all metal, design 2709 Standard Cinematograph motion picture camera was introduced to great fanfare. It quickly earned a reputation for precision, durability, and reliability that made it a favorite camera of the film industry for nearly five decades. The Bell & Howell 2709 was the preferred camera of industry pioneers such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Even after the 2709 fell out of favor as a studio production camera, its steady, reliable movement made it well suited for visual effects and optical printing work.