Duties and taxes on imported goods have always been very high in Italy, so that contraband
has always been rampant in this country. Several gray market importers also came and went
over the years, thus eating away sizeable market share for official camera importers.
For that reason, many Italian camera importers stuck different
kinds of small badges on officially imported cameras, in order to help distinguish them in
the market jungle.
During the golden age of the screw mount SLRs, the Spotmatics
were absolute best sellers and some Italian photo dealers which were already in business
during that era told me that the Asahi Pentax cameras were by far the most contraband
ones. Apparently, something alike happened with the M-series cameras in the Seventies. API
was the exclusive Pentax importer for Italy from 1959 to 1998 and, as you can guess, they
also stuck seals on their cameras.
Some foreign collectors dont like Italian seals on
cameras, because they violate the integrity of their beloved cameras, while
others like them because of the interesting story they tell, while also giving birth to
other camera variations to look for. Whichever your opinion, it can be worth discussing
this topic, making Italian cameras a bit different from others sold worldwide.
Three generations of API seals
I believe it all began in 1963 or 1964, just before the introduction of the
Spotmatic and its TTL metering on Italian market. API staff probably realized that such a
revolutionary camera could greatly boost their sales. Moreover, they could gain more on
each single camera by keeping its price high because there was little if any competition
for this exclusive camera. At that time the only competitor in the TTL arena was Topcon,
which never had good distribution in Italy.
click to enlarge
Among the earliest evidence of API seals, I noticed a 1966
advert on Italian photo magazines, where all shown Asahi Pentax cameras (SP, SV and S1a)
sported the then new round badge. The 11mm diameter API seal of first type (type 1A) was
struck of heavy metal (probably bronze) and sported the early API diamond logo surrounded
by garanzia di regolare importazione lettering (meaning guarantee of
import by law).
Then, in 1967, another advert was fully devoted to the
Spotmatic. It stressed that only the API warranty seal distinguished a safe
Asahi Pentax camera, that could take advantage of an efficient service center. Also,
customers buying API imported cameras during November and December 1967 period would have
received a free Asahi Pentax gadget bag. The seal is placed where you usually see it, on
the right side (looking at the camera), close to the meter switch.
In late 1972, API advertised the ES, still showing the old style
seal. That picture shows an oddly placed seal, on the upper left corner of the frontal
leatherette. I never saw a marketed Asahi Pentax camera having the seal in that position.
A 1974 ad for the SPF was showing the seal in its standard position. The API seal was not
reserved for 35mm cameras only. As you can see in the picture, the 6x7 also bore that
click to enlarge
In 1974 the seal look was modified with the new API logo
surrounded by garanzia API lettering (API warranty). This late variation still
retains the 11mm diameter and the heavy, medal-like construction, so that I name it type
1B. You can see it stuck on late screw mount cameras and on early K-bayonet cameras up to
1977 as well.
click to enlarge
Between 1977 and 1978, another variation of the API seal saw
light. In order to better match the tiny M-series cameras, it also shrank. It was of
cheaper manufacturing, being made by black silkscreen printing on a small (9.5mm) punched
aluminum disc. In order to make this seal as little trouble as possible for
photographers fingers, API personnel punched a round hole in leatherette, so that
that the thin seal could almost stay within its thickness. This newer seal is quite
delicate, since the black ink of the logo can be quickly removed either by fingertip sweat
or alcohol when cleaning the camera. Seeing ME, ME Super or MX cameras with partially or
totally blank seal is quite common. Again, this seal was stuck on equipment of all formats
and you can see it on all 67, 645 and Auto 110 cameras sold in Italy by API.
|Seal type 1A
||Seal type 1B
||Seal type 2
In the mid-eighties, P-series cameras introduced the third
generation API seal printed directly on the camera body. Black finished cameras bore a
white logo (type 3A), while the chrome K1000 got a black seal (type 3B). This late
variation of the API seal was also used on autofocus SLRs up to Z-series, while pro
cameras of the same period still wore the type 2 seal.
A special seal
In 1994 API announced the K1000 Anniversary, a special edition camera (only 300pcs)
manufactured for celebrating 35 years of API-Pentax partnership (yes, I know that 35 years
are quite an odd anniversary, but this is the way things are). That special edition camera
was adorned with a special numbered seal. The K1000 Anniversary #1 was donated by API to
Asahi Opt. Co. and is on display at Pentax Museum in Mashiko, Japan. In order to remark
that the importers was established and still had their premises in Florence, the special
presentation box also included a reproduction of a silver florin, a coin that was in
circulation in Florence back in year 1252.
Seal type 1A was put on the SV (registered numbers from 639425 to 888133) SP model
231 (1164150 to 1173983), SP model 23102 (1210942 to 3791493), SPII (5000776 to 5298270),
SPF (4512953 to 4614889), ES (6503732 to 6556913) and ESII (6630423 to 6642744). I have no
registered numbers for SP500 wearing API seal, since this model is quite scarce in Italy.
From these registered numbers I guess it was used from 1963 to 1973.
Seal type 1B can be traced on SPF (4718782 to 4924008 and then
6036193 to 6150354), SP1000 (5622492 to 5817180), ESII (6683958 to 6732483), ESII MD
(6746548), K2 (7025664 to 7138656), K2 DMD (7163375 to 7171556), KX (8297312) KM (8164111
to 8285577), K1000 (7614251 to 7885879), MX (9178859 to 9294563) and ME (9708215 to
9725498). From these registered numbers I guess that seal type 1B was used from 1974 to
Strange enough, type 1B was also seen on ES #6504226, that
should bear type 1A. Maybe it was the result of mixing parts between two different
I registered seal type 2 on K1000 (6811630 to 7745504), ME
(1275786), MX (9433517 to 9443376 and then 4122810 to 4436332), ME Super (1856762 to
3970060), LX (5241358), Super A (1008576 to 1630261) and P30 (3315459). It is my
understanding that seal type 2 was used from 1977 to 1985 on 35mm SLRs and from 1977
to 1998 on medium format cameras.
Registered numbers for cameras showing seal type 3 are very few:
P30 (4208012), P30n (4292044) and SFXn (4366789). No registered numbers at all for other
camera models. It was used by API from 1985 to 1998.
Registered numbers for K1000 Anniversary are 6131728 for No.36
and 6131955 for No.112. Yes, I also noticed that the difference is 76 in special number
and 227 in their serial number. What does it mean? Somebody supposed that more than 300pcs
were made. I just believe that API simply took 300pcs of K1000 they had in stock and
turned them into special edition, without care or concern for their original serial
I always welcome further information on published topics, so should you have
more registered numbers for Italian Pentax cameras bearing the API seals, please let me
know their model, serial number and seal type.