Digitising a rare Kinora reel

BY MIGUEL GONZALEZ

The NFSA recently received a donation from cricket historian Glenn Gibson: a reel for the earliest home entertainment system ever produced, the Kinora. The only problem was that even though we had six other Kinora reels in the collection, we did not have a player. They are extremely rare!

NFSA staff photographing the Kinora reel

The NFSA Paper and Stills Team, Darren Weinert and Tony Rowley, and Paper Conservator Shingo Ishikawa, setting up the custom-made device in our photographic studio.

The Kinora system works using the same principle as a flipbook, displaying one still image after the other to create the illusion of movement. Instead of being printed on the pages of a book that the user flips manually, Kinora's mechanical system allowed for a much higher image quality. The photos were printed on a reel which was placed in a player, and the user turned a crank handle to view the images.

Kinora reels ran for a maximum of 30 seconds and could be purchased or rented for home use. Topics that could be viewed ranged from everyday activities to historical events, as well as moving images of sportspeople and entertainers of the day. Reels of family members could also be made at photographic studios, and from 1908 a camera was available for people to purchase and make their own Kinora home movies. As the popularity of cinema increased, interest in Kinoras waned. Following a factory fire in 1914, Kinora ceased production.

Bringing it back to life

This new donation featured two famous cricketers, Ranjitsinhji GCSI GBE (also known as Ranji) and CB Fry. They played for Sussex and England in the early 20th century. Footage of these legendary sportsmen is so rare, that our experts decided to create a device that would allow them to replicate the mechanism of the original Kinora player, and photograph each of the 465 frames. These could then be animated to create a film.

NFSA Curator Jeff Wray explains that the Conservation team's solution was to adapt a film winder to replicate the Kinora mechanism, using a metal ruler to hold the images so they could flick through the reel without damaging them: 'Our custom-made device allowed the reel to be viewed, and held the images in place to be photographed, one by one.’

Yes, one by one! Our experts are not only skilled, but also very patient and managed to capture every single frame. These photos were then animated and stabilised using advanced compositing software, to produce a moving image close to the original. The resulting film shows Ranji and CB Fry in batting action, and you can enjoy it here:

We will use this custom-made device again, to digitise the other six Kinora reels in our collection. There is one of a woman dancing, the launching of a lifeboat and a man reading a letter. Stay tuned for more Kinora action.