Evidence of Olympus Pen available in 1959?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by marc_rochkind, Nov 24, 2009.

  1. Much has been made about this year being the 50th anniversary of the Pen, mostly by Olympus. All the reference
    books I checked list its introductory year as 1959.

    However, I'm unable to find any evidence of this aside from what Olympus itself says. There are no ads, reviews,
    Photokina previews, or anything else I can find in my magazine collection. I have every Pop Photo issue from
    1959, 10 of 12 from 1960, and most from 1961. Yet, I see no mention of this camera until late 1960 or 1961.

    Does anyone have any first-hand evidence of the Pen's availability in 1959? I'm guessing that it was available
    that early only in Japan. But perhaps someone who knows can confirm this. Also, any factual information about
    when it was introduced into the US would be interesting.

  2. maybe it was available in japan.
  3. This is not an evidence, but maybe it helps.
  4. Marc- I have back issues of Modern Photography and U.S. Camera so I will check to see if I have any from those dates that might contain some information. One of those mags I think has an annual "round up" of available equipment so I will also look there.
  5. Olympus itself says that production started first with a sub contractor, Sanko Shoji, in October, 1959. Olympus obtained cameras from Sanko Shoji for quality checks and then distributed them to their wholesalers. In May, 1960 Olympus took over production in their own facilities. This information was presented in the book 'Olympus Pen Viewfinder Cameras' by John Foster. Much of his information came from correspondence with Maitani and others involved in the development of the original Pen. I don't think it's too odd that there was no mention of the Pen in US periodicals right away. Olympus was a small camera company and until the Pen took off in sales I think most of their models were fairly small production volumes of 200~300 units a month. The Pen however was in high demand quite soon and the factory couldn't keep up, even at 5000 units per month.
    I have an early 'one lug' Pen with a date code of July, 1960. Olympus typically started serial number blocks for new cameras at 100000. The serial number on my sample is 139070 indicating 39,070th camera made, or an average of about 3,900 pieces per month. I don't know how many went to the home market first but at an original price of 6,000 Yen there was a big pent up demand for cameras in Japan. At that time the least expensive camera Olympus made was 26,000 Yen and the average worker made about 12,000 Yen per month. Suddenly, here was a quality camera, well capable of 8X10 enlargements and within reach of many more Japanese. Therefore, I would not be surprised if early production was absorbed by the home market.
  6. Funny, look what I found via Google: http://www.olympus-global.com/en/corc/history/camera/pen.cfm
    A link from the same page: http://www.olympus-global.com/en/corc/history/camera/index_pop29.cfm
    The bottom right of the ad says "34.9.200M." Looks suspiciously like Showa 34 (1959) Sept to me.
  7. Marc, I remembered you have that neat classic camera site. I looked at the Pen you have pictured and see its a one lug, 2 or 3 months later than mine. Mine still has the flash GN calculation markings on the aperture ring that the early pens had. Otherwise they look quite alike. The flash markings were dropped because they would only work with the early Pen flash with correct bulb. Flashes with greater or lesser output would not return the correct aperture when using the dial. I really need to post some pictures of my Pens and a sample or two of their work......someday.....someday.
  8. John--

    My Pen is #152419.

    Where did you find the date code?

    Thanks for you explanation... indeed it seems that 1959 production was limited to sales in Japan, which is normal for a new camera. And, it seems that it started late in 1959.

  9. As John said, I think the limited production and sales scope was mostly because it was an underfunded, subcontracted experimental camera. The legend goes that Maitani was charged with designing a camera that could be sold for 6000 Yen. He produced the Pen design and it went into small scale subcontracted production. You see the same thing happening today all the time with cheap cameras. When Canon or Nikon wanted to produce all those el cheapo under $50 cameras in the 80's, do you really think that either company actually built them? Of course not, they were subcontracted and put into limited distribution to big box stores and pharmacies. The parts probably never stepped foot in a real Nikon or Canon factory and the boxes probably never stepped foot into a real camera store. When the Pen sold off the shelves, the good folks at Olympus had a moment of inspiration and handed Maitani a whole new product line. That kind of thing doesn't happen everyday.
  10. Morning Marc.
    The date code on early Pens is under the spring steel accessory shoe clip. From the front of the accessory shoe use a tiny screwdriver or needle to gently pry out, up and then slide back this clip (that's also where the hidden last screw is in removing the top). There should be two numbers or a number and a letter, the first is the year and the second is the month. Jan through Sept is 1 to 9, Oct to Dec is X, Y, Z. The numbers can be quite faint and hopefully haven't been rubbed off. A code can also be found on the back side of the pressure plate in many Pens. The trouble with the pressure plate is that backs are interchangeable and I have a couple of these Frankin-Pens cobbled together by myself. I have a Pen D with a back from a Pen, top from a Pen S 2.8 and repaired viewfinder from a Pen. It really looks kinda spiffy with it's new Leica style, pebble grain covers. The next thing to do is to get the missus to print up some Leica red dots on sticky paper so I can both annoy and confuse the Leica nuts. The bright frame in the viewfinder is for a 28mm lens field of view, not the 32mm Pen D lens. So when looking through the VF to frame I have to see 'inside the box' so to speak.
  11. OK, so it's really the Pen's 51st anniversary. What do you want to do, sue Olympus? :^)

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