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The Palko (sometimes given as Pal Ko, as illustrated here) is an unusual camera for postcard-size (3¼x5½ inch) images (or images one-third or two-thirds that size) on 122 roll film, made in Chicago from about 1920 until 1935. The camera's maker was at first the Cruver-Peters Company, which later became Palko, inc. as in the illustration here. The camera was patented in the USA by William A. Peters, first in his own name, and later as assignor to the International Patent Licensing Corporation of Chicago (that is, asserting his rights as the inventor, but giving the company the right to exploit the design).[1][2][3] The name of this company is the origin of the name Palko.

The camera allows ground-glass focusing with roll film, without a removable film-back as used in many cameras. This is achieved by moving the film uptake spool: the take-up spool sits in a carrier that can slide on rails up and down the body. The supply spool sits at the bottom of the camera body, and between exposures the uptake spool sits just above it, so the film does not enter the area illuminated by image-forming light. When the spool is at the bottom of the camera, the user can use the ground-glass for focusing. When ready to take the picture, the user pulls a rod at the top of the camera, pulling the supply spool to the top of the camera body. A ratchet prevents film from being drawn out of the uptake spool, so a fresh length of unexposed film is drawn from the supply spool across the film gate; and after exposure this is wound into the uptake spool when it is pushed back down.

Unusually, the camera allows three different frame sizes to be used within the same roll: the full postcard format, a frame one-third that long, or two-thirds that long (a nearly square picture). To achieve this, the supply spool is allowed to move some distance up the camera body. The spool holder itself forms the edge of the image frame in these cases. In the original 1912 patent, the camera is shown with a second control rod, used to move and lock the supply spool. The later patents show a single rod, which has a twist-to-lock action and controls both spools.

For the ground-glass to lie in the true film plane (and so give correct focus), it must move backward a little when the film spool is drawn up the camera body. There is also a flap cover which must be closed over the ground glass, to make the back light-tight before extending the film.

The 1930s brochure illustrated here makes much of 'automatic winding' (which might suggest clockwork, but only refers to the rod-driven mechanism described, which does not need the red window except when loading a new roll).

The mechanism of the uptake spool moving on rails, with a toothed rack to combine winding with this movement, was used again in the 1950s and '60s in designs patented (but not produced) by Carl Drewling and Hans Domnick in Germany. It seems unlikely that they were unaware of the Palko. However, their designs focused on the possibility, by having two such mechanisms, of loading two rolls of film at once (for example, one black-and-white and one colour).

Text from the booklet cited below at

The Palko is a modern camera, with a new name and combination of essential features never before assembled in any photographic apparatus. In spite of its many rare and desirable qualities it is light, strong, compact and distinguished in appearance.

GROUND GLASS FOCUSING: With this camera you can see the image, full size, on ground glass and focus direct, the same as with a plate camera. Yes ! focus between each exposure with the camera loaded and ready to snap the shutter the next instant.... There are no dark slides or separate parts necessary to accomplish this result.

AUTOMATIC WINDING: You insist on having a self-starter on your automobile, a self-filling fountain pen and a stem-winding watch. Why not be as particular in selecting a camera ? The Palko offers the same advanced service in photography. With dependable automatic film winding mechanism, exposures can be made very rapidly and without the common danger of double exposing. Few amateurs have escaped this unhappy ending of a perfect photographic day.

DIFFERENT SIZE NEGATIVES: The Palko uses standard roll film... the great advantage of the Palko is the ingenious mechanism permitting the operator to take three sizes of negatives in the same camera. (All size exposures are central with the lens). A ten exposure film may be used in making ten large pictures 3 1/4 x 5 1/2, fifteen of two-thirds size 3 1/4 x 3 3/4, thirty one of one-third size 3 1/4 x 1 3/4, or any combination of these sizes, and the six exposure film in the same proportion.

EXPOSURES COUNTED: Exposures are automatically counted by a novel, reliable device which also registers the amount of film exposed, so that the length of unexposed film can be easily calculated. When all the film is exposed, simply opening the loading door automatically returns the recording dial to 0, ready for a new count.

Prices: No. 3A Palko f 7.5 lens with Ilex General Shutter . . $75.00 No. 3A Palko f 6.3 lens with Ilex Universal Shutter .. $90.00


  1. US Patent 1031023, Roll-holder for photographic cameras, filed March 1907 and granted to William A. Peters in July 1912, describing the unusual film housing and advance mechanism later used in the Palko, though in a version requiring two control rods. At Espacenet, the patent search facility of the European Patent Office.
  2. US Patent 1374678, Photographic camera, filed October 1919 and granted to William A. Peters (but now as assignor to the International Patent Licensing Corporation of Chicago, in April 1921, describing not a camera but only the arrangement of a flap cover for the ground glass, to be closed when advancing the film across the gate.
  3. US Patent 1395293, Photographic camera, filed October 1919 and granted November 1921 to Peters as assignor to the IPLC, describing the whole camera in more detail than hitherto, including of the film-holders. The camera is shown with a single control rod, and with some attention to style, such as rounded ends to the body.

Error in book. The book: CAMERAS: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, by Brian Cole, 1978, wrongly names this 1918 camera as a Palco a number of times in his book. Three images printed in the book match the camera to the Palko.