Universal Camera Corp. (aka: Univex) was a film maker and camera maker that created some unique camera designs in New York during the 1930s and 40s. The company was founded in 1932 by Otto W. Githens and Jacob J. Shapiro. Its address was 521 South Avenue New York, NY, later 23 West Road. It made cine cameras and projectors, still cameras, and binoculars. In 1952 the company became insolvent. Somehow its business was kept alive until 1964.
Univex Model A Circa 1933
Despite its looks it is not an early printer cartridge. This is a small bakelite camera which sold very well beginning in 1933. It sold 2.4 million units in 1934, and solidified Universal in the small camera market. The disadvantage was that while small, it was bulky compared to folding vest pocket cameras offered by Kodak and others.
What in the world is bakelite?
Univex Model AF 2 Circa 1936
The AF series was introduced in 1935 as a direct competitor for the vest pocket cameras, and meant to target the 8 - 16 year old market. Both Boy Scout and Girl Scout versions were produced and offered in the catalog for each organization in 1936. The price was $1 compared to Kodak's folding vest pocket for $6. The model shown above was offered in 1936 with upgrades for $1.50.
Univex Model AF3 Circa 1936
The oxidized front plate is part of the design. This was also introduced in 1936, but with more features for $2.50. It offered a superior lens. While an initial success, the folding vest pocket market was soon to wither in favor of compact 35 mm cameras like the Argus.
Univex Iris Circa 1938
Universal introduced the Univex Iris in 1938, a line of three models all with metal bodies, the Standard, Deluxe, and Zenith, the last having an all aluminum body. This followed an innovation by newcomer Argus in 1936 of rigid body camera with a collapsible lens and ultra low pricing made possible by a fully bakelite body. The Iris series was a step up from the early Argus offerings.
All of these cameras used a proprietary Univex 00 film which was readily available. However, WWII soon disrupted availability from the Belgian supplier, and failure to secure domestic sourcing in a timely manner killed demand for these cameras, just as the Zenith hit the market in 1939. Due to sparse sales the Zenith is very rare and highly valued.
Univex Iris Deluxe Circa 1939
The Deluxe was an aesthetic upgrade to the basic Iris, with a leatherette covered body and polished metal upper-structure rather than the fully painted finish of the basic Iris.
Univex Mercury CC Circa 1938
In 1938 Universal introduced their only serious camera, one with world class potential. This camera uses an innovative shutter system where a large wheel rotates past an adjustable-sized opening. There is a pie shaped opening in the wheel, and it allows light into the camera as the opening rotates. The second part of the shutter is a sizeable window which by narrowing the width controls the amount of time when light hits the film. The combination allowed shutter speeds of up to 1/1000 of a second. The camera was marketed in the $25 range compared to other fast shutters in Leica and Contax in the $200 to $300 ranges respectively. In an effort to go faster than the competition Universal offered the Mercury CC 1500 Super Speed which had a faster shutter than the Lieca and Contax, at 1/1500 of a second. Sadly the engineering compromises to reach this speed caused consistent failures.
This camera sold well and boosted company revenue by over $25%. It was a hot seller until Universal shifted to wartime production of binoculars.
Univex Twin Flex Circa 1939
Though simplistic and cheaply built, it is a true twin lens reflex camera, and among the smallest ever produced. It is made of bakelite plastic with twin meniscus lens, and an adjustable lens board.
Univex Uniflash Circa 1941
The Univex Uniflash was a bakelite viewfinder camera which used Univex 00 film. It had a flash synchronized shutter, a flash shoe and a Univex 60mm Vitar lens. It was made in 1941 by the Universal Camera Corporation.
Univex Mercury II Circa 1946
In 1946, the Mercury II was introduced with more dials, knobs, and features.
Univex Buccaneer Circa 1947
The Buccaneer was a big sturdy metal camera with a built-in extinction meter, made by Universal (Univex). It was a revival of the pre-WWII Univex Corsair II, but adding a metal top housing incorporating a rangefinder. This used standard 135 cartridge 35mm film and came with a f3.5 coated lens.
Uniflex Circa 1947
The Universal Uniflex I and Uniflex II are aluminum bodied TLR cameras built between 1947 and 1950 by speeds from 1/25 sec. to 1/200 sec. plus B mode. The II model, whuch we show here, has flash synchronization and 'T' mode. The camera can use either type 120 film or 620 film.
On the Uniflex I, the taking lens is a 75mm f/5.6 Universal Anastigmat and the viewing lens is a 75mm f/4.5 Universal Anastigmat. On the more upscale Uniflex II, the lenses are 75mm f/4.5 Universal Anastigmat and 75mm f/3.5 Universal Anastigmat. Both cameras have a self-cocking Universal shutter with
on the back. The focus knob is also on the right and the focus screen is ground glass with a small fold-up magnifier.
Univex Meteor Circa 1949
The Meteor is a simple 620 film camera one step above a toy camera. It has a resetting shutter and offers I and B settings. The aperture is a rare adjustable rectangular system, with range from f11 to f32. It offers focus from5' to infinity.
Universal Roamer Circa 1949