This is a very small “folding” camera from the German firm of Contessa Nettel. Contessa Nettel was formed in 1919 by the amalgamation of Contessa and Nettel camera companies who were two of the many small camera manufacturers in Germany at this time. In 1926, Contessa Nettel merged with Ernemann, C.P. Goerz and Ica to form Zeiss Ikon – who continued to produce this model camera for a few years.
focal length: 75 mm
apertures: f/11, f/18, f/22, f/32
focus range: fixed
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Gauthier Acro
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, B, T
flash: no facility
film size: 127
This bit of history gives me a date range for this camera. It was made after Contessa Nettel formed in 1919 (before then it would have been a Nettel Piccolette) but before Zeiss Ikon formed in 1926. So – a date range of 1919 to 1926. In the absence of serial number information this is the best I can do (there is a serial number but I can find no data relating numbers to years). However, looking at other Contessa Nettel cameras of known date, it would seem that the serial number of my camera (294406) is nearer to 1919 than to 1926.
When closed, the camera measures 120 by 67 by 32 mm and weighs 247 g with no film loaded. The camera opens for use by pulling the lens board forward – it is released by a small chrome button on the base. The lens board is supported on “lazy tongs” struts – see photos above – and so is not really a folding camera (hence my use of quotation marks in the opening sentence of this article). This reveals a weakness in this camera as the lens board is made from a piece of aluminium sheet which is prone to bending while pulling the lens forward. On the other hand, this camera is over 90 years old so it cannot be a profound defect.
The “lazy tong” struts are chrome plated and, with my camera, in very good condition. At first glance, these struts do not look very robust but they hold the lens board very firmly – even after 90+ years.
The lower part of the lens board curves in towards the camera body and acts as a foot so the camera can be stood on a flat surface. This would be more useful with the higher specification models with a self-timer which would allow the photographer to be included in the picture.
My particular Piccolette is the bottom of the range. It has a simple, everset, shutter from Gauthier – the Acro. this offers three speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/75 seconds) and B and T. The lens is a simple meniscus lens behind the shutter. The position of the lens gave me the initial impression that the lens was missing as the iris diaphragm is exposed at the front – the first time I have seen this. Searching on the Interweb has shown many images of Piccolettes that are the same so not a fault.
There are four apertures available, selected by a lever beneath the lens. These are the sequence of f/11, f/18, f/22 and f/32. This diaphragm has seven blades giving an almost circular aperture. Above the lens is the shutter speed dial. At this age, speed selectors are always dials above the shutter housing. These are known as dial-set shutters. This dial bears the shutter name “Acro” (which is Greek for ‘height’). The selected speed is the one at the bottom of the dial – there is a small index mark to show this. B
Beside the lens is the logo for the shutter maker – a circle with the letters AGC in a three-bladed shutter. AGC stands for Alfred Gauthier Calmbach. The shutter is an Acro shutter and it offers speeds of 11/25, 1/50 and 1/75 as well as B and T.
Above the shutter housing on the right is one of two viewfinders. This is a brilliant finder which I always find very hard to use. The eyepiece measures 10 mm square and needs to be around 200 mm or so from your eye. This gives a rather small and faint image to look at. This finder (the bulk of which is behind the lens board) collapses when the camera closes. On the opposite side of the lens board at the top is the maker’s logo – Contessa Nettel and the letters CN all within two circles and a square.
Below the shutter housing is the model name – Piccolette – in Italic script. Attached just behind the lens board on the right (or left when using the camera) is the second viewfinder. This consists of a wire frame that pulls out. The eyepiece for this second viewfinder slides out of a housing on the back of the camera. This eyepiece is missing on my camera – more later.
Also behind the lens board, on the right (or top) when using the camera is the shutter release lever. This is not as accessible as it could be and compromises a steady grip on the camera. Further around the shutter housing on the right is a socket threaded for a standard cable release.
Between the lens board and the camera body are the bellows. These are made of leatherette and appear to be in very good condition. I can tell they are leatherette and not leather by looking at the inside which is clearly fabric.
On the back of the camera is a removable disc. This has three functions. The first is that it contains a red window to allow the user to see the frame numbers printed on the back of the film. The second function is that it contains a slide. Sliding this out produces the eyepiece for the second viewfinder mentioned above and also exposes the red window mentioned earlier. When the camera is not in use and this slide is slid in, it covers the red window to prevent light entering and fogging the film. The third function of the disc is that it can be removed. This leaves a 30 mm hole in the back of the camera. This gives access to the lens for cleaning and repair and, if need be, for collimating the lens.
To access the inside of the camera to load or remove the film, the top edge of the camera body is removed together with a cradle to hold the film and take-up spool. The catch for this is a round disc marked A and Z. A (Auf) is open and Z (Zu) is closed. Turn the disc so A is against the mark and the edge pulls away – see photos.
The cradle has two spring-loaded spool holders. The take-up spool fits under the winding key and the new film fits at the opposite side, fitting into a leather pad rather than a metal fitting. Between the two spool holders is the film gate. This measures 65 by 40 mm and will give eight negatives on a roll of 127 film. On either side of the film gate is a chrome plated roller. On the frame beside the film gate the last three digits of the serial number are repeated.
When replacing the film cradle with the new film, the edge of the cradle and film have to fit into a fairly narrow slit between body the locking plate. This locking plate carries the full serial number – 294406. The outside finish of the camera is black paint with a semi-mat crinkle finish. The camera was supplied with a leatherette case embossed with the name Piccolette. I have this case with my camera and it is in remarkably good condition.
My camera has a round black and brass plaque on one end with the retailer’s name on it. It is “Anton Podworsky O.Y. A.B”. This retailer was based in Helsinki, Finland. “O.Y.” is the Finnish (strictly, Suomi) equivalent of the British “Ltd or USA’s “Inc”. It is literally “Osakeyhtio”. The “A.B.” is “Akiebolag” which is the Swedish for O.Y. (Ltd and Inc). The use of the Swedish A.B. does not imply any Swedish connection but is merely because Swedish is the second official language in Finland after Suomi. I think this plaque adds to the collectability of the camera – I like anything that tells me about the actual camera I have rather than just generic facts.
6 thoughts on “Contessa-Nettel Piccolette”
Minor point: “A” is short for “auf”, not “Aus”, Interesting writeup, I now know what “OY” stands for.
Thank you, Bruce. I am not good at languages and should have Googled like I did for OY and AB.
Great informative post about German cameras, being a newbie photographer how far I have come to know that time it was a rockstar camera on the market. Competitively the photo quality was not so bad. Thanks a lot for sharing such incredible blog post with us. Cheers!
Greatly influenced by the Vest Pocket Kodak