Riga - Minox 8x11 Collection

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<-> | 1 screw | 2 screws | 12 tooth | USSR | Naziaccessories

year 1938-1943
serial 1000- 18,000 (post war assembly ~16,000-22,000)
lens 3 element 3 group 15mm / 3.5 Minostigmat
dimensions 80 x 27 x 16 mm 3-1/8 x 1-1/8 x 5/8"
weight 130g 4.6 oz
shutter 1/1000 - 1/2 B, T
battery none
finish stainless steel

 11 (?) variations

Finish Lens Engraving Film Advance Screws Focus Engraving
stainless steel  ?  ?  ? Metric Eagle Nazi
? ? ? Metric USSR short,
long over engraving
 ?  ?  ? Metric USSR ground out to put 'Made in Latvia' back  
horizontal 12 claw/ ?? 3 claw   Metric,
Imperial (Feet. inch)
Made In Latvia VEF Riga
diagonal 12 claw   Metric,
Imperial (Feet. inch)
diagonal 3 claw 1 Metric,
Imperial (Feet. inch)
diagonal 3 claw 2 Metric, Imperial (feet, inch)

The first of the breed, and so particularly collectible. However, the original Riga-Minox lens is not as sharp near the edges of the frame as later lenses; that and the high collector price leave this camera less useful as a user camera than later models. 

This camera was produced to the design of Walter Zapp by Valsts Electro-Techniska Fabrika (VEF), in Riga, Latvia,  from 1938 until 1945. The stainless steel body holds up well to heavy use and many of these have survived in excellent or better condition. The push-pull, fold-up design makes the camera tiny and adds protection to the lens. Other parts are chrome plated on brass, such as the dials.

The film was originally designed from splitting un-perforated 35mm film into four strips -- only 8.73mm wide and a negative size of 6x9mm. During the redesign of the Ur for production this was changed to the wider 9.2mm negatives and 8x11 format. 

At least 17460 of these cameras, if not many more, were produced. Many of these have survived, serving to keep their worth somewhat below what might otherwise be expected. Prices range from 500USD to 1000USD. 

There are several cases which are also collectible; the zippered on in blue, brown, or black and marked 'Riga' is the most common. Standard production accessories include two enlargers, post card easel, two developing tanks, two stainless steel tripod attachments, film strip viewer and an extinction meter.

Reproduction cases in the style of the original zip case are made in Italy and Germany by Minox collectors. The one from Italy has a heavier zipper than the originals whereas the German case has the same size zip but is made of nylon and will not scratch the camera. 

Variations in camera-body engraving and internal details such as the rare '12-claw' version (from 01090 to 03000), make the collecting of the Riga Minox a world unto itself. The three-toothed take up spool was from about 2950 and both flattened and sharp profiles have been seen. 

The first production model featured heavier, shiny stainless steel shells, compared to the lightweight brushed aluminium-"chrome" finish bodies of the later Model A, smaller viewfinders than later models, and it only had a single built-in filter. There were many other variations during the production runs of interest to collectors, including two different lens configurations (3-element and 5-element), different film take-up claws, chain eyelets at the top of the camera, and varied engravings on the rear of the body. Serious Riga Minox collectors tend to be quite well versed in this esoterica. The Riga Minox is also occasionally referred to as the "Minox I."

Nearly all of the standard features of the 8x11 Minoxes to follow are already present in these first models!

Serial numbers run from 1000 to 18460; thus up to 17,460 may have been manufactured. While this is not the smallest number made of any Minox model, due to how long ago this was-and how many were lost during World War II-the surviving examples are virtually all rare, expensive collector items.

When it comes to interesting histories, the Minox Riga is the clear winner.  No other camera has been through war, espionage and intrigue - and survived.  Some cameras offered for sale have what appears to be bullet damage and many show heavy marks that in a stainless steel body indicates very heavy use. 

Minox cameras are still made today, truly the long-distance runner in subminiature history. The Riga was the original production model. Zapp wanted a camera that anyone could take everywhere and to fit in a gentleman's waist coat pocket and to hide in the palm of his hand.  And that's what he accomplished in a camera only 80 x 27 x 16 mm. 

Riga (1938-1940)

The launch of the Riga in April 1938 met mixed reactions but was hailed as "the first real vest pocket camera" and the world's smallest precision camera. Acceptance in America was enthusiastic and an order for 100,000 annually was demanded of an American chain store - well beyond the capacity of the small VEF factory. Plans for building a second factory where  cancelled at the out break of war.

The Riga- Minox camera was used widely by British intelligence when they bought all available cameras in late 1939. The Times revealed that John Moore-Brabazon, later Minister of Transport used a Minox to take clandestine photographs in the House of Commons in 1940, perhaps the first ever photograph taken of the interior of the House while in session.

Soviet Minox (1940-1941? 1945-1946?) 

Then war complicated matters even more.  In a backroom deal with Hitler, Stalin occupied Latvia in early 1940 until mid-1941. During this time, and possibly after the Soviet re-occupation in late 1944, about 5,000 Minox Riga cameras were produced identical in all regards to the earlier Riga except that they are engraved 'Made in USSR'.  These cameras are rare, as not many were made and fewer yet have survived, and have a certain collector's cachet of their own. Prices range between 2400USD and 3000USD.

Cameras that were finished had the 'Made in Latvia' milled out and 'Made in USSR' engraved in the space. The back was engraved with various patterns to obscure the Riga engraving. These add to interest and also concern as a number of recently made engravings over standard Riga production camera are appearing in attempts to raise the value.

Swastika Minox

Hitler decided to break the non-aggression pact made with Stalin and attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.  So the German army re-occupied Latvia from mid-1941 until late 1944. During this time, some Minox cameras were produced under German supervision. At least some of these were marked with a swastika and other military markings, but were apparently not otherwise different. Both Hilter and Göring, it has been claimed, gave Riga cameras to SS Officers as rewards, and some may have been appropriately engraved. Göring had some engraved as an additional gift to the winners of the Knight's Cross. 

It is not know how many of these where made and this lack of information has not been helped by recent engravings done to raise the value of a standard or recently built from parts camera. Many of these parts are not stamped with serial numbers and the backs have no engravings - the so called 'no-name' Riga-Minox. This allows for a wide range of new engravings which can only be questioned if they get it wrong. In Germany there are laws against the selling of articles with the Swastika. What this means for Riga-Minox camera marked like this is unknown.

Minox give 17500 as the last number marked with a swastika made during WWII Nazi occupation. The markings of WaR and WaA below an eagle seen on some cameras may be fake as Leica cameras used for military purposes with validated history where not marked in this way. 

There is an interesting story of a find of 200 Riga cameras at the bottom of a lift (elevator) shaft at the Hilter's retreat in Berchtesgarden (Hilter's Eagle Nest). These were possibly being moved in evacuation of the site in the closing days of the war in May 1945.  The 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division where among the first there. It is reported that Col, Heintges, 3rd Infantry, gave 2 to each of his officers and one to the NCO's. These particular cameras are not marked in any special way. 

40 crates of Minox parts1 were later shipped to the VEF branch in Zürich. These were intended for re-established production. It is likely that a few cameras were built from these parts and have serial numbers above 18,000. After the war Zapp and Jurgens attempted to manufacture in Riga-Minox cameras in West Germany. Shortage of materials and the very high labour costs enabled Zapp to included his new ideas into what became the aluminium shell Minox ( Minox A model ) in 1948. 

About 120 black Riga type boxes here found in Jürgen's former home in Wetzlar. These boxes are un-marked and differ from either the VEF-Riga boxes or the later Minox A black boxes. It would appear these may have been for the abandoned post-War production of Riga-Minox  cameras in Wetzlar. Unfortunately these boxes and reproduction cases are now being sold without disclosing the source, making the camera look more authentic than it is.

In recent years, finds under the floor boards of buildings in Riga, Latvia have included parts, semi-assembled cameras and nearly complete kits. These have been turning up from Latvia and Poland. During production parts for a Riga-Minox where placed together and handcrafted to fit with one another. The shell ends, the top (cut for the dials), the film chamber and the end of the camera were engraved with the same serial number 2. If a camera is stripped it is therefore easy to see if it was made from spare parts later or assembled by an amateur from these finds.  

There is one other source of re-constructed Riga cameras - the display boards. Minox have made display boards available to shops showing the parts that make up a Minox camera. These have included the Minox A, B and LX models as well as the Riga. The camera shell and body are often drilled to take the fixing, but there are enough parts that a camera can be constructed. This does not make financial sense as the display board is more valuable than the camera and have been sold in London for 4000GBP.

Some cameras have a tiny eyelet for attaching a chain or strap. These are on serial numbers in the 3000 to 5000 and were made post production for owners in the USA. There have been Riga-Minox with a flash sync, but if this was working or not it was not part of the Minox production or repair services. 

Besides the stainless steel shell the Riga-Minox can be spotted by the circular viewfinder, the white ring of the single shutter blade indicating an un-cocked shutter (opposite of the post War Minox production) and brass on the dials (on worn samples). Some dials appear to be stainless steel, others are clearly brass.

Riga Engravings

The engravings are sometimes shallow but are usually deep. Before the final patent was granted all Riga-Minox cameras were engraved "Pat.app." on the cover part of the closed sliding cover (under the country of manufacture). After the patent was granted all cameras were engraved "Patented", and appears on cameras after 2000.

Early Riga-Minox had a horizontal engraving on the object lens cover6 (very small lettering e.g. 01115, 02627, change of font as 05215 and full width as 05966) and later ones had a diagonal engraving with earlier ones (eg 09999) being deeper than the later ones (e.g.14196).

The first cameras had a twelve-toothed "claw" on the take up spool but this was replaced in a few months with the familiar three-toothed claw.

The centre marking of depth of field mark may be a circle or dot. 

When the slide cover is opened you might see one or two screws in the side of the camera housing, which can be chromium-plated or unpolished.

Year Serial Numbers comment
38 01000-? Cameras made during the first months of production had the logo "VEF Riga" near the centre of the film chamber cover . Two screws visible on the inside of the camera.
38-40 01000?- 09000 stainless steel, Minostigmat 1:3.5/15mm engraved 'Made in Lativia' & Pat.app., yellow filter (Minox gives starting at 00001) marked VEF RIGA LATVIA. From about 1023 until about 3035 the film take up spool is twelve toothed but 2627 is three tooth. Two screws visible on the inside of the camera.
40-41 09001-12000 Minostigmat 1:3.5/15mm, 'Made in USSR' , yellow filter - during the Soviet occupation. Early cameras of this period had the 'Made in Latvia' milled away and "Made in USSR" engraved in it's place and the word "Riga" is made illegible by horizontal and or vertical lines. Cameras made later, during the occupation, have no 'Riga' present and are engraved "Made in USSR'. After 03035  the cameras have a three-toothed take up spool (2627 has three teeth, 03035 has 12 teeth).
41-43 12001-18460 Engraving from the German occupation the 'Made in USSR' was milled away and replaced with 'Made in Latvia' and the word 'Riga' added. Minox give 17500 as the last number Marked with a swastika made during WWII Nazi occupation. One screw visible on the inside of the camera from about 12000 to 18000. 
44-45 ? Second Russian Occupation and more re-engravings as in the 1940-41 period.
recent 16000-22000 No engraving on the film chamber cover or recently copy engravings of one of the original Riga-Minox types . Possibly made from spare parts.

Then,  after the War, Zapp and company got out and moved to West Germany.  In some ways it's surprising that the Soviets did not copy the Minox Riga and start production on their own. They did this with many other cameras, including, later, some 35mm Minox models. 

For further reading see 

1. Riga-MINOX (I) Hubert E. Heckmann Variations in 8x11 pages 69-71

2. Numerierung der riga-MINOX Minox Freund 3-4/94 pages 18-19

3. Riga-Minox im Wandel der Zeit Minox Freund 2/95 pages 10-11

4. Die Riga-Minox (VEF) Minox Freund 3-4/95 pages 9-10

5. V.E.F. "Riga" Minox Moses & Wade Spycamera The Minox Story 2nd edition, pages 79-91

6. MINOX8x11, Japanese Minox Club, pages 10-13, 64-67

Auction results Ebay

01/09/12 671USD ( #04371 ),
01/09/20 1580USD ( #09472 ),
02/01/07 1526USD ( #12697, box, case ),
02/02/24 1052USD ( #14110, case ),
02/04/01 895USD ( no.10589, case ),
02/04/15 535GBP ( No.08768 ),
02/04/22 680EUR ( #13206 ),
02/05/15 3806USD ( No 01097 ),
02/05/17 810EUR,
02/06/03 850USD ( #08643 ),
02/09/22 1338USD ( No.02627, 'post war' plain box ),
02/10/04 660USD ( with ring eyelet ),
02/11/17 1136.99USD ( zipper case, manual ),
02/12/03 630USD,
02/12/04 910USD ( # 16xxx ),
02/12/08 1073EUR ( #15264 ),
02/12/18 832EUR ( #05610, purse case ),
03/01/08 1000USD ( 01401 (without No.) ),
03/01/24 900USD ( #16650 ),
03/02/25 700USD,
03/03/09 800EUR,
03/04/21 1500EUR ( #15999 with fake early style engraving ),
03/04/21 1500EUR ( #15999, post war box ),
03/05/04 899EUR ( #06495 ),
03/06/17 799USD ( # 16xxx ),
03/07/28 800USD ( #03388 ),
03/08/01 646.76USD ( eyelet ),
03/09/28 832.77EUR ( # 7427 ),
03/11/12 910.03USD,
03/11/20 560.01USD ( #06127 ),
03/11/20 619USD ( #04956 ),
03/12/08 449USD ( #14409 ),
03/12/16 739USD ( #13674 ),
04/02/14 1275USD ( #15661 ),
04/03/11 475GBP,
04/04/01 799USD ( #16xxx ),
04/04/04 810USD ( No. 03174 ),
04/06/28 900USD ( No.-3086, A type chain fitted ),
04/07/02 750USD ( #16xxx ),
04/07/12 1133USD,
04/07/20 626.53EUR ( #11438 ),
04/09/18 675EUR ( #10939 ),
04/10/27 576USD ( #08776 ),
* 04/11/01 815USD ( #04799, imperial, horizontal engraving ),
04/11/03 775.43USD ( #03300 (metric, horizontal engraving) ),
04/11/21 720EUR ( #No. 03872, metric ),
04/11/22 810USD ( metric ),
04/12/08 677USD ( no.09859, milled German Made in Lativa ),
04/12/15 785.01USD ( #11068 ),
04/12/17 600.01USD ( #06391 ),
04/12/18 760.50USD ( #05241 ),
04/12/19 662EUR ( ?2217 ),
04/12/30 1125USD ( #07813, metric ),
05/01/26 820USD ( #16xxx + developing tank manual ),
05/01/27 790USD ( #14129 ),
05/02/06 606EUR ( #14820 ),
05/02/14 750USD ( #16xxx, enlarger manual German ),
05/03/11 785USD ( No 4243 ),
05/03/19 940USD ( No 04304 ),
05/03/21 950USD ( #16xxx, manual in Latvian ),
05/03/27 735EUR ( #13407 ),
05/04/10 547USD ( #02338 ),
05/04/18 911USD ( #11819 ),
05/05/10 382.77USD ( No.03466 ),
05/06/26 548USD ( No.07682 ),
05/08/12 965USD ( original box, case, #12649 ),
05/08/17 995USD ( #02388 ),
05/08/23 1177USD ( No.01524 ),
05/09/11 725USD ( No.04791 ),
05/09/18 657EUR ( #10950 ),
05/09/20 661.51USD ( No.05748 ),
05/10/09 481EUR ( #16666 aluminium 60g ? ),
05/05/01 1109EUR ( #16971 ),
05/05/02 748USD ( #13036, zip case ),
05/05/21 600EUR ( #5720 ),
05/06/05 350GBP ( #15100 ),
05/06/08 996EUR ( #16664 ),
05/06/19 620USD ( with eye loop, #04358 ),
05/08/21 787.77EUR ( #16667),
05/10/15 736.51USD (#17299),
05/10/26 760USD (#16465)
05/10/26 776.52USD (#17071)
05/10/28 683USD (#15340),
05/11/05 660USD (#17075)
05/11/12 613USD (#16252)
05/11/12 760USD (No.04318, imperial, shutter speeds 2 and 5 engraved wrong way around, fake logo)
05/11/13 600EUR (No.02338, manual)
05/11/22 710USD (No.03476, imperial, original Riga photographs)
05/11/22 722.83USD (#16445, metric)
05/11/26 488GBP (No.
05/11/28 760USD (#16xxx)

05/11/27 500EUR (No.2503, + commission)
05/11/27 1100EUR (No.1186, Pat.app + commission)
05/11/30 1245USD (No. 03735, original box)
05/12/04 705USD (#16xxx, no engraving, probably built up from parts in recent years)
05/12/06 560USD
05/12/10 577.89USD (imperial, No. 06274)
05/12/12 750USD (#17xxx, box)
05/12/23 535.11USD (#16444, lens for enlarger)
05/12/24 560USD (#17307, lens for enlarger)
06/01/05 330GBP (flash case)
06/01/09 750USD (manual, #16xxx)
06/01/13 755GBP (#
16957 but with early type engravings)
06/01/16 640USD (#16950)
06/01/16 823.87USD (#17242)
06/01/18 666USD (No.
07655, zip case)
06/01/25 810USD (#13132)
06/01/26 424.51EUR (#14579)
06/01/29 1804.79USD (No. 04209 with ring fitted and a zip case, tripod and adapter, Minox Guide, right angle mirror, prism finder, light meter, developing tank and slide mounts)
06/01/30 650USD (#17279)
06/01/30 650USD (#16669)
06/01/29 1894.79USD (
04209, tripod, right angle finder of B, developing tank, light meter, Minox Guide)

06/02/11 800USD (with error in scale has 2 and 5 reversed, No.04318, 2 screws, fake logos)
06/03/04 686USD (#17070, single screw, metric)
06/03/04 695USD (#17067, single screw, metric)
06/03/13 531.80USD (#11313, ding on corner, Luigi's case)
06/03/17 733.54USD (#17073, single screw, metric)
06/03/17 887USD (#17316, claimed to be the last number)
06/03/27 842USD (#16xxx, no name)
06/03/30 888.97USD (No.
06/04/19 876.23USD (#14929)
06/04/19 780USD
06/04/30 532.22USD (#16252)
06/05/01 750USD (#16xxx)
06/05/10 510GBP (No.1970, 12 teeth)
06/06/04 781EUR
06/06/12 750USD (box, instructions)
06/06/17 505EUR  (#17019)
06/06/25 819USD  (No.
08672, case)
06/06/26 878USD (#16xxx, box, instructions)
06/07/03 1370.67USD (#01436, snap shut case)
06/07/16 861USD (#17019)
06/08/10 570USD (snap case, #17251)
06/08/14 764.54USD ('no name', #16xxx, box, instructions, film exposure strip)
06/08/19 621USD (No.6xxx)
06/08/19 595USD (No.8xxx)
06/09/04 808USD (box, no engraving, #16xxx, instructions)
06/10/02 750USD (box, #16739, instructions)
06/10/13 960USD (02346 with case, no "No" on serial number!)
06/11/25 480EUR (05919, with Minox light meter)
06/11/25 300EUR (08514)
06/12/29 405GBP (16981)
07/01/04 512EUR (3536)
07/01/14 611.11USD (# 014107)
07/03/25 321GBP (case, No.08659)
07/04/04 599GBP (No 09359, Made in USSR)
07/04/12 455USD (No.4303, with fitted ring)
07/04/15 565.55EUR (metric)
07/04/16 509EUR (#18671)
07/04/26 500USD (No. 06734)
07/07/01 461.78USD
07/07/02 1095USD (Made in USSR, No.09951)
07/08/06 1100USD (box, instructions, exposure meter strip, case)
07/08/12 579GBP (#01131, case, instructions)
07/09/17 1100USD (#05xxx, box, instructions, zip case)
07/09/18 360.55USD  (#10522, flash case)
07/10/01 1325USD (#02xxx, box, instructions, zipper case)
07/11/27 556EUR
08/01/02 870USD (No.06391, imperial)
08/01/20 999USD (No.05621, imperial, box, zip case, instructions)
08/01/28 354USD (box, No.07085 cosmetic and mechanical damage)
08/02/04 790GBP (with exposure table, 15319)
08/02/27 797USD
08/04/03 658.65EUR (no.01814)
08/04/20 521EUR (#13674)
08/04/24 575GBP (#16722 with fake early form engraving)
08/08/14 899USD (#08921)
08/09/04 350.67USD (#11407, has a dent)
08/09/27 350EURO+commission (#03147 with horizontal engraving, metric)
08/09/27 350EURO+commission(#04674 with horizontal engraving, metric)
08/10/01 473.88USD #05251

06/06/29 249.50USD (box only)
06/11/21 99USD (red box)

06/11/21 95USD (Directions for Use)
08/03/10 64USD (Directions for Use)

08/03/10 75USD (Der Wendepunkt)

Last Updated on 28th September 2008