Although box cameras have been around since the 1820s, it wasn’t until 1888 that Kodak introduced the first commercially successful box camera using roll film, box cameras to that point used plates such as wet plate collodion or tintype.
Roll film box cameras were extremely popular with the public because they were inexpensive and easy to use. In later incarnations box cameras appeared in the form of Kodak Instamatics. With their simple lenses, fixed exposure and fixed focus; box cameras are clearly the precursors to the toy cameras we use today. The Ansco Craftsmen was introduced in 1950 but in size, shape, and function it is nearly identical to the Brownie cameras Kodak introduced over 60 years earlier.
The Ansco Craftsman was originally sold in kit form that you could assemble yourself, later, they were available pre-assembled. The Craftsman is a classic box camera in its simplicity; no shutter, focus, or aperture adjustments, no bulb or time exposure and no connection for a flash. Its purpose is to take snapshots in full sunlight and at medium distance. It uses 120 film and has a 6 × 9cm format which exposes 8 negatives per roll and can be used in either landscape or portrait orientation with dedicated reflex viewfinders for each. Because of the simple reflex viewfinders the image in the finder is reversed from left to right. It has a simple rotary shutter which is released via a red lever on the left or top of the camera depending on orientation. Like many of this type of camera, the shutter sits in front of the Meniscus lens. The body of the camera is mostly wood and cardboard covered with a vinyl material. The face plate, rear door, and parts of the film insert are stamped metal. It has a light comfortable feel to it, seems sturdy enough, and the viewfinders are reasonably bright.
So how does it perform? I think it does quite well actually—I took it along on my favorite walk to visit my favorite tree recently and was pleased with the results. Even when I broke the rules for shooting with this type of camera and shot directly into the sun, the results were fine—there was even less flare that I would have gotten with a Holga. The image is a little soft as you might expect, but color saturation is good and there is slight vignetting, similar to the Diana, and little, if any, barrel distortion that I can detect. It is an attractive camera with brightly polished front plate and modern (for 1950) graphics. They are readily available in good condition on the internet for about $10 to $15 USD. I say get one and see what people were using before the advent of the Diana.