The Ilford Envoy, a glossy black bakelite box camera, was in production from around 1953 to 1960 and appeared in three styles during its life span. Envoy products were manufactured by Photo Developments Ltd; Leonard Road, Birmingham 10, for marketing by Ilford. The three Envoy styles are illustrated above (courtesy of David Muggleton).

The Envoy was fitted with an Optimax lens which could be set for 2 positions of focussing; notice the instructions around the lens reads "For Faces Pull Out - For Places Push In." For close-up portraits (FACES), at a distance of 4-8ft, the lens is pulled OUT, and for more distant subjects or views (PLACES) the lens is pushed IN. This was the only camera setting movement required or possible. When all was ready the snapshot was taken via the "downward smooth acting push-button release of the single speed shutter".

The Envoy took 8 pictures, sized 2¼"x3¼" on 120 or 620 roll film. The body was formed of shock-resistant black plastic mouldings. Designed to provide "excellent snapshots for those with the minimum of photographic knowledge." The shape allowed comfortable eye level handling and the direct vision viewfinder showed a brilliant (though much size reduced) picture of the subject.

The Style 1, c1953, is shown at the extreme left (above) and in the two pictures immediately below. The right hand picture (below) includes the original box. The Style 1 had a black coloured (rather than bright metal) lens surround. In mid-1953 it cost £1.19s.9d (£1.99p).

To the left is the Style 2 Ilford Envoy. It is also shown central in the top picture. It appeared in spring 1955 when it was priced at £1.19s.9ds (£1.99p - the same as the preceeding Style 1). A case was 9s.3d (46p) and a strap was 1s.1d (5.5p).

Both Style 1 & 2 had projecting strap lugs to either side of the top of the body moulding, so that the camera naturally sat on its base and was therefore intended to be displayed with the viewfinder to the top. These strap lugs were prone to breakage and the resulting modification resulted in the Style 3.

The pictures in the series below are all of the Style 2 Envoy, but many of the remarks would be equally applicable to the Styles 1 and 3.


The red window used for positioning the film between each exposure via the top mounted wind-on knob, is at the lower right hand end of the camera back.

Note the curved shape, making for a pleasing shape and also helping to accomodate the curvature of field of the simple lens.

The camera was fitted with a top carrying strap (missing from the above) which was looped through the projections either side of the top plate. An ever ready case was also available.

Loading and unloading was simplified because the camera separated into 2 parts by a quick release rotary catch in the camera's base.

The Envoy was an 'indoor' camera too. The 2-pin B.S.S. (British Standard) flash contacts can be seen below the lens. These synchronised the shutter for use with flash bulbs so that indoor snapshots were just as easily taken as those outside. The Style 3 had a more conventional (by the time of its release) 3mm DIN PC flash socket.

In 'Ilford News' for Summer 1953, the Envoy was described as a "24-Hour" camera.

To compensate for the glossy nature of the plastic construction, likely to cause internal reflections and degrade the image quality, the light path is baffled by ribbing of the side walls of the film chamber. A downward plastic projection, towards the front, provides a similar duty of baffling the 'roof' of the film chamber, while the bottom of the chamber is a metal plate, painted matt black.

The picture shows a view of the inside of the camera, looking from the film plane towards the camera front.

The Style 3 Envoy is shown to the right hand side in the top picture and also in the various pictures alongside and below. The Style 3 modification avoided the need for the projecting plastic carrying strap attachments, which were prone to being broken off. Instead, the strap was attached directly to the main bodywork (see left).

Also, note the silver winding knob, rather than the black of the previous models.

It sold for £2.1s.8d in 1956. The every ready case cost 9s.9d extra (£2.08p & 49p respectively). The Syle 3 still appeared in AP's camera supplement for 1960, but was reduced to £1.14s.10d (£1.74p).

The Style 3 had a (by then standard) 3mm PC coaxial flash synchronisation plug (still below the lens), rather than the 2-pin fitting of the Styles 1 & 2.

The designers of the Style 3 took advantage of the removal of the strap attachments to provide sturdy projecting Bakelite 'feet' to the side opposite the carrying strap, so the camera would 'sit' firmly and square on a flat surface.

In consequence, the 'Ilford Envoy' logo, on the bright bezel surrounding the lens, was rotated to appear upright with the camera standing on end (see the Ilford advert to the left).

Interestingly, however, Style 3 Envoys are not uncommonly seen with their bezels still orientated as the Style 1 and Style 2 i.e. as if the camera was meant to be stood on its flat base (as is the case in the top picture and the different Style 3 shown alongside).

This Style 3 Envoy has a differently shaped case to that in the Ilford advertisement. It has a neat, reinforced, snout, proclaiming its Ilford origins.

Below is an Envoy, intermediate between a Style 2 and a Style 3.
It has the black film wind-on knob of a Style 2 while otherwise being a Style 3 body.

This interesting curiosity, an Envoy Style 2½ as the owner suggests, belongs to David Cowie and can be seen on David's Flickr page at:
"Bought in a charity shop for a tenner".

Thanks for letting me use your image, David.

This page last modified: 5th September 2010