Well, the Asanuma arrived yesterday. Opening the box answered many questions, but raised many more.
It’s a sturdy, well-designed, well-engineered camera. It indeed looks to be an Asanuma, mainly due to the arrangement and design of hardware details (the locking knobs on the front standard, the scroll work on the lensboard retainers, the inlaid brass braces in the corners and base).
It has the original plate back, but the back is unsuable in its current state, with parts removed to make room for a poorly-fit Graflex spring back. There are loose joints needing gluing, the bellows are poor, and the base needs a contemporary tripod mount. The metalwork is pretty tarnished, and appears to be a mix of metals – the top and bottom lensboard retainers are steel, and rusted, while the rest of the hardware appears to be chromed brass. That’s the bad.
The good: The wood, which appears to be mahogany, is in beautiful condition. The leather strap is sound, and appears new. The back will make an excellent template for the new back(s) the camera is going to be fitted with. Everything locks down appropriately, nothing is broken or bent, and the camera has about 14″ of draw and good movements. The back is easily reversible. And the camera, while robust and sturdy, is a featherweight.
Questions raised: Should I file the peened heads down to remove all the hardware for painting? Should I just paint the steel parts and polish as best as possible the rest? What was the actual format of this camera? I’ve been assuming it’s half-plate, but the window on the plate back is 4-7/8″ x 6-1/4″, which is less than half-plate. There are no bellows frames – they’re glued directly to the standards. Should I fabricate frames, or glue the (eventual) new bellows in place as the originals?
I’ve already pulled the top lensboard retainer and soaked it in CLR, which removed a little rust. I tried buffing with Flitz and a Dremel, which removed a little more rust. But I think the solution to the two rusted retainers is Krylon.
Once I decide what to do with the bellows situation, the camera is coming apart today. I want to get the loose joints glued, the mahogany finish renewed, and see if the finish on the hardware is salvageable. This will be a user camera, but there’s no reason to leave it an ugly one. The new back is either going to be black walnut or mahogany; I have decent stock of both woods, and while I lean toward using a similar wood with a compatible finish, walnut looks so nice, especially against mahogany…
Considering the seller (when I inquired about the back) replied, “…this is a junk parts camera, I wouldn’t give it a lot of thought,” I’m happy this camera never quite made the junk pile. I think it’s going to be a great 4×5.