discovery of a complete Asahiflex camera set
By Peter Jonkman
On a particular occasion in the beginning of 1998, I found a letter in
my E-mail inbox that originated from a nice gentleman in the USA who visited my Original
Asahi Pentax Spotmatic Home Page on internet. He asked if I was interested in acquiring a
complete Asahiflex IIB camera set, which was owned by his father, for my collection? I
didnt have to think long about that. Of course I was! Sadly, we soon lost contact.
That was because the sellers father was very ill and he could not sell the equipment
without his fathers consent. I felt very bad about this, and hoped that his father
would get better very soon. I forgot all about the camera set until the beginning of this
year, when I received another message from the same gentleman. He said that his father was
better again and that he gave him his permission to sell the items to me. I was very happy
with the fathers recovery as well as my good fortune.
Up to that time, I had only a very rough idea about the contents of the
set. Then, many E-mails with even more questions flew back and forth across the ocean. At
one certain point, I had enough information and felt that I should not miss this
opportunity. As a result, a price was agreed upon, and in February of this year, several
weeks after my payment was sent, a large and heavy package arrived at the post office.
The set described in detail
It is not rare to find single Asahiflex cameras or Asahiflex accessories for your
collection. They do show up every once in a while. But finding a photographers
Asahiflex set that was kept complete for more than nearly 45 years is something that
probably happens only once in a collectors lifetime. Thus, to keep the information
available for future researchers, I have tried to describe every item in detail. But
first, Ill tell you where and how the set was bought.
The pamphlets and the letter
Prior to ordering the camera and the rest of the items in 1955, the
buyer requested information from the Asahi Optical Co., Ltd. factory in Tokyo, which was
then located at the address no. 980 Maenocho, Shimura, Itabashi-Ku in Tokyo, Japan. After
some time, he received several pamphlets with an accompanying letter on rice paper (the
watermark on the paper says "Three Diamonds"). The letter is dated June 10, 1955
and was signed by Mr. S. Ishikawa, Sales Manager. Also note the paragraph where Mr.
Ishikawa mentions the "Tower 23" camera which was distributed by Sears, Roebuck
& Co in Chicago, USA. Strangely enough, the letterhead says that the company was
established in 1910. But all publications I have (both from Asahi Optical Co. and
independent publishers) state that the company only began producing in 1919. Uncertain of
the real establishing date, I contacted Asahi Optical Co., Ltd. directly. The Public
Relations Manager told me that the company was indeed established in 1919 and that the
letterhead was certainly a misprint. I am sorry for any of you who might have hoped that
the company is almost 90 years old. But imagine the name of the Pentax LX, which otherwise
should have been called "LXX" if the company was really 9 years older.
The first pamphlet that came with the letter is
from the Asahiflex IA era and shows a girl with a small parrot on the front. The other
pamphlet features the Asahiflex IIA and IIB models and shows a woman on the front. Mr.
Ishikawa also included the manual of the Asahiflex Microscope Adapter (in Japanese),
probably because there was no English version available at the time.
The purchasing of the items
Some two months after the pamphlets were received, the camera was
bought on July 5, 1955 at Plaza House in Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa is an island located
south of mainland Japan in the East China Sea and is mostly known of the famous American
invasion in April 1945. The shop where the camera was bought probably was a leftover from
the time American Forces occupied Japan. The original four receipts from the same shop are
issued on four separate dates. The recorded prices for the items were as reported in
As you can see, the original buyer was given a standard discount of no
less than 20% on all items, presumably because the camera shop owner was his friend (by
word of mouth from the former camera owner).
||Price with discount
|135mm f/3.5 Tele-Takumar
|Extension tube set
|Asahi Synchro-Flash Gun
|2 Sets Walz filters for Sonnar
|Skylight filter for Sonnar
|Walz lens hood
|Walz UV filter Nikkor 5cm f/1.4
|24 Flash Bulbs
|Walz Polarizing Filter Series VII
|Totaling (w/o sales tax)
The Asahiflex IIB
The Asahiflex IIB camera, with serial number 50708, is an interesting
early model because it still has many of the features of the Asahiflex IA. The shutter
speed selector and frame counter marks are no triangles as you might expect, but arrows
like those found on the I and IA. The ground glass also features the etched reticule
(crosshairs). The AOCo logo on the viewfinder hood is the bigger, earlier version (12mm
high and 10mm wide). The shutter speed dial is of Sherfy type 3. It is equipped with an
otherwise normal 58mm f/2.4 Asahi-Kogaku Takumar, serial number 59618, with its original
metal AOCo engraved front cap. The viewfinder window mask has the correct dimensions for
use with the 58mm standard lens.
The camera case is also an interesting piece. I could not find this
type of camera case in the available Asahiflex literature. It features a unique chrome
trim around the front rim of the extended lens cavity. I would say that this type of
camera case should be positioned between the second case style with shallow lens cavity
and the second case style with extended lens cavity as mentioned in Sherfys book.
Although it looks nearly the same as the second case style with extended lens cavity,
there are a few differences. For instance, the strap is fastened in a different way.
The 135mm f/3.5 Tele-Takumar
This lens came complete with its leather case and original metal front
and back caps. It has the serial number 42011, and at first I thought that it had the
lowest recorded serial number (Sherfy mentions that the serial numbers for this lens
probably started at 43000). After some research I found out about another example with
serial number 42129, so maybe the series started at 42000. However, it appears that there
is another example of this lens with an even lower serial number of 34645. Is there anyone
who can confirm that there are other 135mm f/3.5 Tele-Takumars with serial numbers between
35000 and 42000? Other than that, my lens with serial number 42011 does not differ from
later examples in my collection. The only difference I could find is the color of the
leather lens case. The examples I have seen were all in a dark brown leather, the example
that came with my lens is much lighter in color.
The Asahi Synchro-Flash Gun
This is one of the rarer Asahiflex accessories. Since an Asahiflex
owner was not committed to buy original Asahi equipment, it is quite understandable that
many of them chose to buy a cheaper third-party flashgun, making it very hard to find the
original Asahi Synchro-Flash Gun. The Flash Gun itself is of a very high build quality and
is made of heavy chromed brass. Its almost as heavy as the Asahiflex camera itself.
It is better made than most flashes that were available at the time (which were mostly
made of aluminium and plastic). The flash consists of three distinct parts: the bracket,
the flash handle and the screw-on reflector. The bracket is finished in an unusual way:
the bottom is in dull chrome, while the outside rim is in shiny chrome. The flash handle
is engraved with the well-known AOCo logo and the Asahiflex name and has connections for
the synchronization cable and an external flash. There is also a chrome lamp test button
above the AOCo logo. The top of the handle, where the flashbulb fitting is, appears to be
made of black bakelite. The flash accepts blue press-type flashbulbs. A funny side note:
it is very fortunate that the Asahiflex flash is so rare, because currently there is a big
demand for Graflex three-cell flashguns that look very similar. These Graflex flashes are
then converted to Star Wars light sabers, ruining them for the Graflex collector market.
Thanks to the new Star Wars film, prices of that ordinary flashgun have increased to no
less than US$300 in the last few months. So, please never mention Star Wars when referring
to the Asahiflex flashgun!
The accessories are items that an avid photographer of the 50s
could not live without. It is interesting that the former owner needed no less than nine
different filters. The two colored Walz filter sets are of a very high quality and, when
put next to each other, almost look like a box full of watercolor paint: the color of the
six filters varies from light orange to dark orange and from light blue to dark blue. The
polarizing filter is also of the Walz brand. It is interesting to note that the filter
sets, including the two remaining filters (the UV and the Skylight filter) have famous
lens names on them: the Nikkor 5cm f/1.4 and the Carl Zeiss Sonnar. Maybe this was to
increase sales to Nikon and Contax owners. To fit the filters on the camera, an ubiquitous
Kodak series VI to VII adapter ring was used, as well as a Walz series VII adapter
(engraved "For Nikkor") and Walz lens hood.
The original Asahi Optical Co. extension tube set
consists of four separate extension tubes of a very high build quality. Like the flash and
the Asahiflex lenses, the tubes are made of very heavily chromed brass. They are marked
from I to IIII (the last one is not marked IV, as opposed to some publications) and are
also engraved with the distance range in which the subject is in focus with the 50mm f/3.5
Also included in the set is a test lamp for the flash, which came in
its original box.
It is always thrilling to add a few new Asahiflex items to my
collection. As I said before, they are not rare, but I still find it amazing that these
items have withstood the time so well. This is a real tribute to the designers of the
Asahiflex camera. And, as you can see, it is still possible to find variations and
previously unknown items which help a collector to narrow down serial number ranges and
which give a better idea about the history of the early Asahi items.
In an upcoming article, I will describe the letter, the pamphlets and
the manual that came with the camera set in detail. After that, I will tell you a nice
story about the birth of the Asahiflex, its designers and the company behind it. Most of
the information I acquired during my research (with invaluable help from others) has never
been published in a language other than Japanese before. I will also tell you about the
prototype Asahiflex camera with pentaprism finder which was said to exist, but never seen.
That is, until the picture is published in Spotmatic Magazine!
|Thanks to my friend Ali Diblan for
proofreading this article and his moral support whenever I am caught in a severe
"Asahi" buying frenzy. Also a warm thanks to Fred Sherfy for his listening ears
and invaluable ideas. Last, but not least, I want to thank Preston Cook for providing me
with additional data.
original article was published on SPOTMATIC magazine #21, July 1999.