The Universal Camera Corporation, New York City, NY, USA was incorporated in January 1933 by Otto Wolff Githens, a former NY loan company executive, and Jacob J. Shapiro, a taxicab insurance agent. The company was founded upon the idea that America needed affordable photography. They contracted Norton Laboratories to design a small Bakelite camera, simple to use, and cheap to manufacture. The two companies had a disagreement which result in Norton selling the camera under their own name. Universal when on to manufacture the Univex Model A themselves.
The company boasted manufacturing "more cameras per year than any other company in the world". Their first venture, Univex Model A, sold for 39 cents with over 3 million purchases in the first 3 years. The success of the Model A was also because the low cost 6 exposure rollfilm The No.00 rollfilm was packaged in Belgium on a special patent V spool and sold for only 10 cents in the United States. Twenty-two million rolls where sold in 1938. It was the monopoly of the special Univex film that contributed to the collapse of the company 20 years later.
Universal ran into problems in 1940 when supplies of film where held up because of the war in Europe. Shortage continued, even though Universal now packaged film in the USA, but then the USA entered the war and ordered $6m in binoculars and other optics from the company.
The post war Mercury II was over priced and used proprietary film type. Later models used standard 35mm film. 1948-49 saw another depression and Universal invested $2m in the poorly designed Minute 16. The small Minute 16 looks good but has film advance problems and the results from the f/6.3 lens were very poor. The company went into bankruptcy in 1952.
Full details of the company's history can be read in Cynthia Repinski's excellently researched book "The Univex Story".
Aristocrat 1938 Rare name variant of the Univex AF.
Duovex 1934 Two Univex A's mounted in a special attachment for stereo work. Manufactured by Pacific Coast Merchandise Co. of Los Angeles and sold as a package with a simple metal viewer and 12 mounting cards. The mechanism is a very simple metal frame coupling the shutter on two Univex Model A cameras together.
GE 1936 Toppers Club Convention Promotional model of the Univex AF. Black body, black front plate with GE logo, top hat and cane and the wording '1936 Toppers Club Convention'. Given as an award at the 1936 convention for the top salesman of General Electric products.
Girl Scout Model AF Univex 1936-38 Special model of the AF series. Green front with Girl Scout name and trefoil emblem.
Hollywood 1936-40 Name variant of the Univex AF.
Norton-Univex 1935 Cheap black plastic camera taking 6 exposures on Univex No.00 film. Because of the over whelming success in 1933 of the Univex Model A, the Norton camera made by Norton Laboratories never gained public interest when introduced in 1934. A special version with the badge "Century of Progress Camera 1934 World's Fair" was also sold. The Norton-Univex appeared in 1935 after Norton Laboratories sold the remains of their line to Universal.
Rower 1936, cheap black plastic, same form as Norton-Univex, same fixed view finder, but with different markings and labelled in French.
Univex Model A 1933. The original small black plastic gem for No.00 rollfilm. Similar to the Norton, which was originally designed for Universal Camera Corp. Wire frame sports finder attached to front of camera, and moulded-plastic rear sight. Cost $0.39 when new. Several minor variations.
Univex AF 1935 A compact collapsing vest-pocket camera for No.00 rollfilm. Cast-metal body. Only 3 3/4" long, 2 1/8" wide and 7/8" thick when folded. Original price was $1.00, a very low price for a folding camera. Made in black, brown, grey, light blue and light green. Blue and green are the least common.
Univex AF-2 1936 An improved version of the Univex AF, featuring a hinged back and a new release lever to open the front. Black cast-metal body. black front plate with red and silver art-deco design.
Univex AF-3 1936 Upgraded model of the AF series, featuring colour corrected Duo Achromatic lens. Oxidized silver front plate. Originally sold for $2.50 compared to the $1.00 for the normal AF.
Univex AF-4 1938 Same as the AF-3 but lens name no longer marked on front. Original price of $1.95 was cheaper than it's predecessor.
Univex AF-5 1938 Employs the same basic cast metal body as the earlier AF models, but turned sideways. The normal orientation is horizontal, but could be used in either direction due to the wire frame and eye-level finders. Finished in antique bronze colour and fitted with Ilex Achromar 60mm lens. Variants with and without "Minicam' name on the front.
Last updated 16th September 2005