I picked up a Kodak Monitor 620 on eBay not too long ago. It’s a heavy thing, probably the heaviest folder I have come across, and it’s described on a number of websites as “one of the most sophisticated folding cameras of the 1930s and 1940s”, “robust, and well-crafted.” It’s interesting in that it has a parallax adjuster on its flip-up viewfinder, and also has a brilliant finder to allow the camera to be used at waist-level. With one of the best lenses of its time and a shutter speed of up to 1/400 second, the camera would have cost nearly $1,000 in today’s dollars. Here are a couple of photos:
As you can see, mine is in particularly good condition, but it arrived wrapped in a leather case whose seams had become completely separated. And inside the cover flap we saw someone had written his name (and scratched it out): Ron Stone, 4527819 | USS New Jersey | “King” Division. And this was intriguing. Because every camera has a story, no matter how long it has lain in someone’s attic. Especially a camera at the more pricey, sophisticated end. So my daughter Molly and I started some googling.
It turns out the USS New Jersey was around for years and years – it’s the U.S. Navy’s most decorated battleship! It currently sits off the New Jersey coast near Camden, where it functions as a museum ship. But the “King Division” refers to a very specific period in its history, 1952 to 1956, when it was employed in the Korean War. And we found Ron Stone had posted on the “ship’s log” at ussnewjersey.com:
|Served on the J from 9/6/52 to 8/3/54, then on to the Missouri to decommissioning at Bremerton, subsequently to USS Eldorado, discharged from the latter on 12/20/55. Would like to hear from some of my shipmates like Herm Silkwood, Ben Basis, Carl Denny, Jimmie Dykes, Tiger Tansey, Nobert Delacy, Conrad Pete Johnson and Messrs Portnoy and Newton.|
On the outside of the case is scribbled in pencil what looks like an address. The best I can make out, it’s 200 (or 20A) W. Grant Street, in Cano, Michigan. And Molly followed a few leads on some chat groups – for a time we thought Mr. Stone might have been some sort of war journalist. Or just a hobbyist photographer. Was he an ordinary sailor, working somewhere in the bowels of the ship? Or is it possible for example that he might have taken a photo like this one, using (now) my camera?
Mr. Stone also put a significant amount of effort into drawing a fancy “S” logo on the front of the case with a sharpie:
But eventually all the trails ran cold. And we realized that sadly, many vintage cameras only appear on the market when their owners pass away – so we may never find Ron Stone. But regardless, we felt like we were holding a small part of history. So I am posting this in case someone ever stumbles across it and wants to find out where Ron’s camera ended up. Right now, Ron Stone’s camera is in Oregon for a few weeks. Soon it will go to India. In the meantime, I’ll post some of the first photos taken 59 years after Mr. Stone used it in the Korean War, aboard the USS New Jersey…in Namibia, in southern Africa of all places.