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Three Post-War 35s

After five years of building B-29’s and Patton tanks, the American industry turned to consumer goods- cars, refrigerators and cameras. All built like Patton tanks, the Perfex, Clarus, Vokar, Buccaneer, Kodak 35, Kodak 35 rangefinder, and of course, Argus C-3 were on the market. Some were designed in the late 1930’s and some just before 1946. All were heavy, bulky, made of post-WWII cast aluminum. One camera manufacturer commented that the product was “designed [bulky] because larger castings could be machined easier [cheaper] on current equipment and factory workers were unfamiliar with smaller, more sophisticated metal processing.” This was because it was expensive to retool and retrain for this kind of production. One company most guilty of this thinking, Camera Corporation of America (Speed Graphic 35, Perfex series), also designed one of the first American compact, rounded-bodied 35mm rangefinders: the Cee-Ay 35 (Ciro 35/Graflex 35) in about 1947. It was pedestrian but capable, plain, with somewhat inconvenient controls, rangefinder in the viewfinder and a Wollensak 4.5 and 10-200 shutter. It was marketed with few accessories, only the case and flash. Ciro lasted until about 1954 after an expensive move from Detroit to Delaware to avoid union confrontation.

Around 1947, Jacques Bolsey marketed his everyman’s camera, the Bolsey B (the A wasn’t introduced for several years). With a compact, thoroughly capable rounded body with a Wollensak 3.2 and 10-200 shutter, the Bolsey line included flash and strobe units, cases, filter sets , close-up rings, close focus kits, microscope and telescope adapters, medical and dental kits, oscilloscope kit, microfilm kit, reader, and enlarger. I don’t believe there was a slide viewer or projector. The everyman’s camera was also a scientific tool, and was even marketed as a women’s camera because it could easily fit into a purse and fit a woman’s hand better than a Detroit factory worker’s. The series became an extended line-notably America’s only twin-lens reflex 35mm, but never really captured a significant market share probably because of its small size. However, Bolsey may have been about 20 years ahead of its time. Bolsey ceased manufacturing in about 1956, reportedly after his longtime bookkeeper took a trip to South America. Bolsey’s Bolex and Alpa cameras continued to be marketed in Europe.

The only other American camera of this type and era was the Kodak Signet 35 with the touted Ektar 3.5 ( I’ve had several, none of which tested out to expectations) and the four speed shutter which killed sales. As far as I know, the only accessories were a case and a huge base mount flash borrowed from earlier Kodak cameras. Beautifully designed with unparalleled eye-appeal, the Signet replaced the incredibly large Kodak 35 Rangefinder, and in return was replaced by the increasingly larger Signet 30, 50, and three-lensed Signet 80 in 1958. The size of the Argus C-3 continually outsold anything Kodak could think up.

All three -- Ciro, Bolsey, Signet -- were compact, hand-sized, and had reputations of a Patton tank-- nearly indestructible and solid picture-takers. All had unit focus in a helical mount, coupled rangefinders, provision for flash, correction for color, and, compared to previous generations, were easy to handle. None of them really made a blip in the market. The Japanese invasion started in the late 1950s with solid advanced 35mm cameras –Minolta, Aires, Olympus, Konica, Petri, Ricoh- all of which were quite proud of their high-quality optics.


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