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Old Photographs - Photobooths in Cambridgeshire


Occasionally amongst your family photos you may find a tiny photographic print or strip of prints from a photo booth. Wikipedia describes a photo booth as a vending machine or modern kiosk that contains an automated, usually coin-operated, camera and film processor.

1931 photobooth photograph of unknown boy

Photo Booths in Cambridgeshire

It is very difficult to re-construct the spread of photobooths in Cambridgeshire. The arrival of a photobooth wasn’t sufficiently newsworthy to appear in the local press or to be included in a shop’s advertising. Perhaps we can build a picture from readers' memories.


Can you remember when and where you first encountered a photobooth in Cambridgeshire? Can you remember where you have seen these over the years – in shops, post offices, rail stations? Your memories and information on this would be most welcome – please e-mail webmaster@fadingimages.uk


The first press reference relating to a photobooth in Cambridgeshire appears in the Cambridge Independent Press of 17 Jan 1919 p3. This was a report of a case before the local magistrates involving the use of an illegal gaming machine, "The Pickwick", in an amusement arcade at 92 Mill Road, Cambridge. The defendant was the arcade manager, Harry Fordham, aged 21. When police gave evidence describing the amusement arcade they mentioned in passing that there was a photo machine there – but it wasn’t part of the court case. Was this some sort of automatic tintype machine? The following is a description of the type of machine this may have been – taken from the US Popular Mechanics Magazine of Oct 1915 p575

“For concession purposes at summer amusement parks and similar places an automatic camera has been constructed which takes tintype pictures of its customers with the same mechanical precision with which other types of vending machines deal out peanuts and gum after a coin is inserted. The operation of the device is purely mechanical . It is only necessary for the subject to deposit a dime and seat himself before the lens. The apparatus is built on a short platform with the camera placed at one end and a chair and background fixed at the other. By glancing into a finder the subject assures himself that his posture is becoming and then drops a dime into a slot. As soon as this is done an arc is illuminated which throws a strong light over his countenance. Subsequently the shutter opens and closes . In another minute the tintype, fresh from the chemicals and mounted in a circular brass frame issues through an aperture at one side of the machine. It is then placed in an electric drier for a minute to evaporate the moisture. This was a machine produced by the United Vending Machine Co inc of Cleveland.


Early tintype auto-foto machine from the US, Popular Mechanics Magazine 1915

The full history of the Photomaton machine is on our sister site www.stickybacks.com. No trace has yet been found of Photomaton machines in Cambridgeshire, but it is possible that one was installed somewhere. The image below was found in a late 1920s Cambridgeshire family photo album and is cut from a photobooth strip - stuck into the album with the caption "1929". The width of the strip overall is exactly 45mm the image is edged in black with rounded internal corners. This could well be an early Photomaton print, but where was it taken? While most of the photos in the album are Cambridgeshire based, others suggested the owner visited Lowestoft, Heacham, Hunstanton, Great Yarmouth and Eastbourne in the 1920s.

Early photobooth print from a Cambridgeshire family album

It is not known whether any photoweigh machines were installed in Cambridgeshire - these were probably more popular at coastal resorts. Were there any at Railway stations?

From the 1960s photo booths started to appear in larger branches of Boots and FW Woolworths and in major Post Offices.



Links to Stickybacks and related pages on our other site: www.stickybacks.uk:

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