James's Camera Collection: Tower 97 and Scout 120

Tower "97" and Scout 120 USA Box cameras
Tower 97 box camera Scout 120
Film type: Roll film size 120
Approx. dates of manufacture: 1950s
Approx. original price: $6.50
Approx. street value: very low


I got the Tower camera as a kid from the across-the-street neighbor. I picked up the Scout 120 years later at a garage sale. They're identical except for the front plate. I would never have bought the second one except that it's a) a Boy Scout model, and you don't see those often, b) it had the flash attachment (I didn't photograph it), and c) it had the original instruction book (not that you needed it).

Even though they're awful cameras, there are a few remarkable things about them. One is that they're metal clad. Kodak's box cameras prior to WW II usually had a box made of card, and the later ones were bakelite or plastic. I guess this would be good for the Boy Scouts, as it would be able to take more punishment than the equivalent Kodak.

Another surprise is that they take 120 film, which means you can still use them. Almost every other box camera I have takes 620 or some other long-discontinued format.

And lastly, they have that miserable tunnel-vision viewfinder on the side, the kind that's so tiny you feel like you're squinting through a peephole. The nice thing about it (the only nice thing) is that it's on the camera's right, which means that if you're left-eyed (as I am), you can hold the camera up to your face and look at with the camera body pressed against your nose. Most cameras are made for right-eyed people.

click for larger adThe Scout is obviously from the Boy Scouts of America. I don't know what goes on now, but when I was in Boy Scouts, that wasn't exactly a seal of quality. Tower was the house-brand for Sears department store, and they used the Tower name for quality and crap alike. This one, as shown in the advertisements, is a "97" even though it doesn't say it anywhere on the camera.

According to Camerapedia, these were made by Pho-Tak, an outfit in Chicago, which they badged eight ways from Sunday using different front plates. Ken Riley has a list and suggests collecting them all. I suggest collecting them all in a high-temperature furnace.

Camera manual: Orphan Cameras.com

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