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1923 Bell & Howell 2709B

Hello! You look at me as if to say, “Who are you and what are you?”. Well let me answer some of your questions:

I am a Bell & Howell 2709B, serial number # 653, and I was built in mid-1923. We were the standard of the industry during the most creative time of the silent film era from 1920 to 1929 and there were 1225 of us built between 1912 and 1961.

Our cameras had many great innovations:

  • We were the first motion picture camera system to be built with a body machined from cast aluminum.
  • We were the first to have a rack over system that allowed for precise viewing and for critical focus.
  • We were the first with a four lens turret and we were the first to have register pins that held the film completely steady and in a precise position.
  • Our design was so good that we remained in production, almost unchanged, from 1912 to 1961.  I was sold to the Metro Company in mid-1923 and was used on several of the company’s biggest films that starred Ramon Narravo, Rudolph Valentino, Aileen Pringle, and Blanche Sweet before the organization was merged with the Goldwyn Company and the Mayer Company to become MGM in April 1924. While at MGM I worked on two of the greatest, most famous, and most successful of all of the silent films, Ben Hur and The Big Parade in 1925.

    Ben Hur (1925) - Chariot race

    Myself, and the tripod I stand on, were used for the filming of the legendary chariot race that was staged in an arena built in Culver City at the corner of what is now Venice and La Cienega Boulevard and in front of a huge crowd of 125,000 spectators. This became one of the most dangerous and exciting sequences ever put on film and still holds up today some 85 years after it was filmed with 43 cameras, the most cameras ever used on any sequence in the long history of the film industry.

    As the silent era passed into history, I was sold to Malcolm Film Laboratories in New York City. There I was used for making title cards and dialogue cards in English that were used for foreign movies being released and shown here in the US and that is where I ended my career. Even after 87 years I am still fully operational as long as you use the crank. My very rare 87 year-old Bell & Howell motor (on the rear of the camera) has not been used in many years and is still wired in the 1920’s technology and therefore I would never allow it to be plugged in. The lenses are of the same era and have not been used in years and therefore I suspect they are no longer reliable.

    Bell & Howell 2709B with original hand crank

    Some of my accessories (side finder and matte box) say Mitchell on them. The reason for this is that when the Mitchell Standard Camera came on line in 1920 many of its accessories were better then the ones produced by Bell & Howell. Since the accessories were interchangeable, many cameramen updated their cameras with these parts. My very rare Akeley Tripod and gyro head were state of the art during the 1920’s and were in huge demand by most of the cameramen of that era.

    It is possible that some of us may still be in use today in animation studios around the world since we were used very successfully in much of that process for many years. A camera like this is extremely rare now since most of us have been cut up or converted to other uses.

    My owner has been told that there maybe no more then 100-150 of us left in original condition in the world. Several well known experts have also said that I maybe the only B&H camera left in the world today with the original Bell & Howell motor attached.

    Please look at me but do not touch me since I am now 87 years old. I am a wonderful piece of the incredible history of the motion picture industry and I have worked with legends so please respect that.

    My owner, Dave Friedman, will be happy to answer any of your questions.



    1. My grandfather was John E. Leonard. He held the patents id’d below. Do you know any of the camera’s history that might include him (photos, too)

      Mitchell Camera Corporation was founded in 1919 by Henry Boger and George Alfred Mitchell. Their first camera was designed and patented by John E. Leonard in 1917, from 1920 on known as the Mitchell Standard. Features included a planetary gear-driven variable shutter (US Patent No 1,297,703) and a unique rack-over design (US Pat No 1,297,704).

    2. I’ve worked with the Standard for high speed work when I was an asst. at Fox. This camera is a Bell & Howell 2709B.

    3. Lauren, may I ask you to contact me via E-Mail. I do research on John Leonard, too.


    4. I have an incredibly well preserved akely gryo tripod from the us army pictorial center. It still has the army issue olive drab head and feet covers with the us army stencils.

      I would love to speak to you about it. I may be reached at 757-639-3800

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