The Meteor, Vestkam, Epochs and Beauty 14 are subminiature cameras taking 17.5mm film, made and distributed by Taiyōdō in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The Vestkam was perhaps imported in the US by American Home Industries Inc.
All the models take ten 14×14mm exposures on 17.5mm film. They are better finished than the average Hit-type cameras, and have a much sleeker design. The viewfinder is contained in a clean top housing, covering the whole length of the camera. The advance knob is integrated at the left end (as seen by the photographer).
The back is hinged to the left for film loading, and is locked by a sliding bar on the right. It contains a single red window, protected by a sliding cover. The film plane is incurved to compensate the lens aberrations.
All the models have a fixed focus and aperture. The details of the lens engraving and shutter unit vary according to the models.
Single finder models
The Meteor (メテオール) was announced in the January 1948 issue of Kohga Gekkan and in the March 1948 issue of Ars Camera. Advertisements appear in Japanese magazines from March 1948 to June 1949. Most mention an f/4.5 lens. The name "Meteor" is spelled correctly in advertisements until late 1948, but all later advertisements have the name "Meteall" instead. No actual camera has been observed with "Meteall" markings, and the newer spelling is thought to be a misprint, because "Meteall" and "Meteor" would be pronounced the same by a Japanese speaker. However the fact that this misprint lasted for six months and displaced the correct spelling (instead of the reverse) remains unexplained.
|Advertisement in Ars Camera February 1949. (Image rights)|
The camera is identified by the name Meteor engraved on the top housing. The shutter plate reads Meteor at the top and T.K.K at the bottom, with metal stripes on both sides. The everset shutter is tripped by a lever on the right. It gives B, 1/25, 1/50 speeds, selected by a sliding button on the side of the casing, with B, 1, 2 positions (position 1 is 1/25, position 2 is 1/50).
Variations are known in the lens rim. The regular examples have a plain bezel with no marking, as appears in all the advertising pictures observed so far. Some examples have a lens rim engraved Vestkam 1:4.5 F=25mm or Vestkam 1:3.5 F=20mm, the same as on the later Vestkam, with no change at all in the lens itself. The mention of f/4.5 or f/3.5 aperture, either in the advertisements or on the lens markings, is misleading, and the actual aperture is reportedly close to f/9.
It is said that early examples of the Meteor have no pressure plate, whereas later cameras have both a pressure plate and a U-shaped metal insert to hold the supply spool. The camera perhaps suffered from some problems of stiff film advance, and the introduction of the spool holder certainly tried to overcome this.
At least some examples of the Meteor are engraved MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN on the bottom plate. At least one example, probably very early, is known to have a serial number (no.1075) engraved on the top housing.
The Vestkam (ベストカム) was released in July 1949 as a successor of the Meteor. Advertisements mention an f/4.5 lens until spring 1950, and an f/3.5 lens later, until August 1950. The column in Photo Art December 1949 mentions an f/4.5 lens and B, S, F speeds; exactly the same text is repeated in May 1950.
|Advertisements in Photo Art December 1949 and May 1950. (Image rights)|
|Columns in Photo Art December 1949 and May 1950. (Image rights)|
The camera is identified by the name Vestkam inscribed on the top housing and on the shutter plate, instead of Meteor. The speed selector now has clearly labeled B, 25, 50 positions. No other difference from the Meteor is visible. It is possible that the name was changed because of a conflict with the US company Universal, which produced a Meteor camera at the same time, but this is a mere guess.
|Vestkam, f/3.5, with original box. Picture courtesy of Pacific Rim Camera. (Image rights)|
The lens rim of the Vestkam presents the same variations as that of the Meteor, but the Vestkam 1:4.5 F=25mm or Vestkam 1:3.5 F=20mm engravings are more common than the plain rim. Again, the engraving variations occurred with no change at all in the lens itself. It is possible that the Meteor and Vestkam were produced in parallel for some time, explaining that the three lens variations are found on both models.
|Vestkam, f/4.5, for American Home Industries Inc.|
Pictures courtesy of Scott at www.collectiblecameras.com. (Image rights)
It seems that all the Vestkam have a pressure plate, whose incurved shape reflects that of the film path. It is said that the early Vestkam have a removable insert on the supply side, whereas later cameras have a spool holder hinged to the central part of the body. Most examples of the Vestkam, if not all, have MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN on the bottom plate. Some have the additional mention FOR AMERICAN HOME INDUSTRIES INC, probably corresponding to the name of the US importer.
The Vestkam was sold in a small red and blue cardboard box, which is not uncommon today.
The Epochs is a name variant of the late Vestkam. It was not featured or advertised in the Japanese magazines of the time, and was certainly made for export only. It was perhaps rebadged on request of some distributor.
The name Epochs appears on the top plate only. The shutter plate is slightly different, with a five-pointed star at the top, instead of the camera name, and round dots on both sides of the lens, interrupting the usual metal stripes. The lens rim is engraved Talent 1:3.5 F=20mm on all the examples observed so far. The Epochs is less commonly found than the Vestkam. It sometimes comes with its original box, which is similar to that of the Vestkam.
Dual finder model: the Beauty 14
|Column in Photo Art December 1949. (Image rights)|
The Beauty 14 is an upgraded version of the Meteor. The name Beauty is engraved on the top casing. The main viewfinder is slightly offset to the left, and there is an additional angle finder on the right, with an eyepiece at the right end of the top casing. The shutter has slightly better features, giving, B, 25, 50, 100 speeds selected by turning the rim. It is cocked by a lever on the left and tripped by another lever on the right. The shutter plate is the same as on the Epochs, with a five-pointed star at the top. (The shutter unit is thus similar to that of Taiyōdō's Spy 16 camera taking 16mm film.) The lens engraving is Beauty 1:4.5 F=20mm on all the examples observed so far.
The Beauty 14 is featured in the article in Photo Art December 1949 on Japanese camera production. The document mentions the Beauty 20mm f/4.5 lens. Another mention of the camera is reported in an article dated May 1952, but it was perhaps discontinued at the time.
- Columns reproduced in Awano, pp.4–5 of Camera Collectors' News no.239. These are the earliest articles featuring the camera according to Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.370. The column in Kohga Gekkan mentions an earlier US-made camera of the same name, and Awano speculates (on p.1) that this is a confusion with an earlier announcement of the Japanese camera in a US magazine, but this is most probably an allusion to the Universal Meteor. The column in Ars Camera says that the camera takes 16mm film, but that in Kohga Gekkan confirms the use of 17.5mm film, and this is merely a mistake.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.370; Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- F/4.5 lens: column in Ars Camera March 1948 reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.239, advertisement in Ars Camera October 1948 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.200, advertisements in Kohga Gekkan December 1948 and January 1949 reproduced in Awano, p.6 of Camera Collectors' News no.239, and advertisement in Ars Camera February 1949 reproduced in this page.
- The advertisement on p.6 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin April 20, 1948, reproduced on p.84 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku, and those in Kohga Gekkan May and December 1948, reproduced in Awano, pp.5–6 of Camera Collectors' News no.239, have "Meteor". The advertisements in Ars Camera October 1948, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.200, in Kohga Gekkan January 1949, reproduced in Awano, p.6 of Camera Collectors' News no.239, and in Ars Camera February 1949, reproduced in this page, have "Meteall". Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239, says that the name appears as "Meteor" in Ars Camera until September 1948 and in Kohga Gekkan until December 1948, and as "Meteall" after that date.
- This is commented in Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- Examples pictured in McKeown, p.912, and in this page at Submin.com.
- F/4.5: examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 5063, and in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.239. F/3.5: example pictured in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239. This is certainly based on the observation of the two examples pictured in the article, which have non-standard lens rims.
- The column on the Beauty 14 in Photo Art December 1949, p.35, says that the camera was cleared of the problems of stiff advance encountered on previous subminiature cameras.
- Example pictured in this page at Submin.com.
- Example no.1075 sold as lot no.215 of Christies auction no.5690 (May 6, 2005).
- The earliest advertisements listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.363, are in Ars Camera and Kohga Gekkan July 1949.
- F/4.5 lens: advertisement in Kohga Gekkan July 1949 reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.239; advertisement in Photo Art December 1949, p.2, reproduced in this page. F/3.5 lens: advertisement in Ars Camera April 1950 reproduced in Awano, p.7 of Camera Collectors' News no.239. No mention of the lens: advertisement in Asahi Camera March 1950 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.178, and advertisement in Photo Art May 1950, p.2, reproduced in this page. The last advertisement listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.363, is in Ars Camera August 1950.
- Columns Photo Art December 1949, p.35, and May 1950, pp.46–7, reproduced in this page.
- Plain rim: examples pictured in McKeown, p.912, in this page at Subclub.org, and offered for sale by a dealer. F/4.5: examples pictured in Pritchard, p.78, in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.239, in this page at Submin.com, sold by Christies as lot no.255 of auction no.9837 (May 7, 2004) and lot no.215 of auction no.5690 (May 6, 2005), and offered for sale by dealers. F/3.5: examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 5155, in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.239, in this page at Moshe Bar-El's camera site, offered for sale by dealers and observed in online auctions.
- Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- Example pictured in this page at Submin.com.
- Examples pictured in McKeown, p.911, in Pritchard, p.78, in Sugiyama, item 5034, and in this page at Submin.com.
- Original box pictured in this page at Submin.com.
- Examples pictured in McKeown, p.113, in Pritchard, p.79, in Sugiyama, item 5014.
- Column in Photo Art December 1949, p.35, reproduced in this page.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.360.
- Ars Camera. Advertisement by Taiyōdō in February 1949 (p. 2).
- Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin (日本写真興業通信). Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku (百号ごと十回の記録, Ten records, every hundred issues). Tokyo: Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin Sha (日本写真興業通信社), 1967. No ISBN number. Advertisement on p. 84, corresponding to p. 6 of the April 20, 1948 issue.
- Photo Art Advertisements by Taiyōdō in December 1949 (p. 2) and May 1950 (p. 2).
- Photo Art December 1949. "Ōru kokusan kamera" (オール国産カメラ, All of Japanese cameras). Pp. 34–41.
- Photo Art May 1950. "Kokusan kamera" (国産カメラ, Japanese cameras). Pp. 42–7.
- Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Items 727, 802 and 959.
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Meteōru, Besutokamu, Epokkusu" (メテオール、ベストカム、エポックス, Meteor, Vestkam, Epochs). In Camera Collectors' News no.239 (May 1997). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha.
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Pp. 113 and 911–2.
- Pritchard, Michael and St. Denny, Douglas. Spy Cameras — A century of detective and subminiature cameras. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1993. ISBN 1-874485-00-3. Pp. 77–9.
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Items 5014, 5034, 5063 and 5155.
- Meteor, Vestkam and Epochs at Submin.com (the page on the Beauty shows a Beauty 16)
- Beauty 14, Epochs, Meteor and Vestkam among 17.5mm film cameras at Subclub.org
- Past auctions by Westlicht Photographica Auction:
- Past auctions by Christies:
- Vestkam in Moshe Bar-El's camera collection
- Vestkam in Nigel Richards' website
- Vestkam among other subminiature cameras at the Subminiature site of Gary Sivertsen