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Japanese Baby (3×4) and Four (4×4) (edit)
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rigid or collapsible
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The Gokoku (ゴコク) and Ricohl (リコール) are Japanese cameras taking 3×4cm pictures on 127 film, made by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō (the predecessor of Ricoh) and originally announced in 1938 as the Riken No.1. They have a focal plane shutter and look like the Leica screw models, without a rangefinder. (It is said that the Roico 4×4cm camera with leaf shutter used the body of the Gokoku and Ricohl in a slightly modified form.)[1] These cameras were manufactured in Riken's Ōji plant.[2]

Context and possible predecessors Edit

The Gokoku was preceded by the Lausar and Baika with the same features, made c.1937 in small quantities by Tomioka and perhaps Sankyō Kōgaku. The general aspect and the layout of the controls are very similar to the Riken No.1 and Gokoku but the body is more angular and it seems that no part is shared with Riken's models. The striking design similarity nonetheless leads to the hypothesis that Riken took over the Lausar or Baika project from Tomioka or Sankyō and developed it into the Gokoku.

These Japanese models were not the only 3×4cm cameras with a focal plane shutter: other examples are the Foth Derby, the Ensign Multex or the French Lumière Elax, Gallus Derlux and Pontiac Lynx II. However they were perhaps the only ones with an exposure counter and film advance fully coupled to the shutter winding.

The Riken No.1 Edit

The Gokoku camera was first announced by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō as the Riken No.1 (理研NO.1) or Riken Camera (理研カメラ). The first mention of the camera found so far is a column in the August 1938 issue of Shinkō Graph, reproduced below. The document contains no picture. It merely says that the camera, planned for release in early September, would be a "Japanese Leica" with focal-plane shutter, 3×4cm frame size and an f/3.5 lens made by Riken itself. The price is mentioned as ¥195 (same as the Weha Chrome Six or Auto Semi Minolta).

From late August, the Riken No.1 was offered to subscribers,[3] whereas the camera was not yet ready for production. This was certainly a big mistake on the part of the manufacturer.

The camera was announced and advertised in major photography magazines in October.[4] The camera pictured in these documents is identical to the later Gokoku, but seems to have no markings above the top cover. The range of shutter speeds reportedly goes from 1/20 to 1/500 and B.[5] The lens looks like it is interchangeable but this is not mentioned anywhere in the documents.[6] It is described as a Riken Kōgaku Anastigmat f/3.5 in the advertisements, and as a Ukas Anastigmat f/3.5 in the column in Asahi Camera. The advertising picture shows the marking RIKEN 1:3.5 F=50mm on the front rim, but may have been retouched. The focusing tab is much larger than that normally found on the Gokoku lenses.

It is usually believed that the Riken No.1 project was launched by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, but the column in Asahi Camera says that the camera was developed "at Asahi Kōgaku".[7] This subsidiary of Riken was the successor of Asahi Bussan, and was making Olympic cameras in the Ōji plant. Its relations with the parent company are not completely understood, and its degree of involvement in the project is unknown.

The camera was not mentioned again after that date. The company certainly faced technical problems with the auto-stop advance and shutter cocking mechanism,[8] and the release was delayed as a consequence. The company had to refund the subscribers,[9] and was sued by dissatisfied customers on June 1939.[10] It seems that the camera was never produced as the "Riken No.1", and no surviving example has surfaced so far.

The Gokoku Edit

The Riken No.1 was actually sold in 1939 and 1940 under the name Gokoku (or Gokoku No.1). The word gokoku (written 護国) means "protector of the country", it is an example of the "patriotic" wartime names often used by Riken.

Description Edit

The camera has a metal body with leather covering and chrome-plated top and bottom plates. The viewfinder is offset to the left, as seen by the photographer, and is contained in a casing extending to the right. The name GOKOKU N°1 is engraved above the finder (with a stylized G) together with the R.K.K initials of Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. The accessory shoe, speed dial and shutter release are above the top casing, to the right of the viewfinder. The speed dial has Z, 20, 30, 40, 60, 100, 200, 500 settings. The serial number is engraved in front of the accessory shoe.

The advance knob is at the right end, it turns in the counter-clockwise direction and is surrounded by the exposure counter. The film is advanced and the shutter is wound in the same movement.[11] Because of the absence of perforations, the film advance mechanism only relies on feeler-rollers, and was plagued with reliability problems.[12] There is a fake rewind knob at the left end of the top plate: the camera does not need rewind and it is only there to mimic the Leica.

The back is removable together with the bottom plate for film loading. It is locked by keys at both ends, and the bottom plate also has a tripod thread. There is a single red window at the left end of the back, used to set the position of the first exposure. It is protected by a cover that is retracted by a thumbwheel surrounding the red window.

Original documents Edit

In an advertisement dated February 1939 by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, the Gokoku was listed among the camera range for ¥195 (the name was written 護国).[13] A full advertisement for the Gokoku was inserted in the October 1939 issue of Shinkō Graph. The camera was presented with a fixed Gokoku Anastigmat f/3.5 lens and the price was ¥170.[14] The Gokoku was listed again in another advertisement dated October 1940 in Asahi Camera.[15] It was also listed for ¥190 in the list of set prices compiled on October 1940 and published in January 1941.[16]

Variations Edit

With fixed lens Edit

The regular version of the Gokoku has a Gokoku Anastigmat 50mm f/3.5 fixed lens, with a collapsible barrel. The focusing helix is driven by a tab, and the lens focuses down to 0.5 metre. The front rim is engraved GOKOKU ANASTIGMAT 1:3.5 F=50mm and the lens number is engraved on the distance scale. The diaphragm is controlled by an index around the front element. On some lenses, the aperture scale is 3.5, 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18; on others it is 3.5, 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22. The camera normally comes with a metal lens cap engraved RKK.

Variations are known in the feeler roller system advance system, presumably because of an attempt of making the troublesome mechanism more reliable. Some cameras have a roller attached to the back and facing the main roller inside the body. On others, there is a metal bridge forcing the film onto the main roller and the pressure plate is accordingly modified.[17]

Examples have been observed with body numbers ranging from 1168 to 2954 and lens numbers ranging from 10168 to 12043. The production of this version can be estimated at about 1,500 to 2,000 units.

With interchangeable lens Edit

One example of the Gokoku is known with an interchangeable lens; it has body no.1887 and comes with an Ofunar 50mm f/3.5 lens (no.48010).[18] It is not known if a small batch of interchangeable-lens cameras were made, or if that particular example is an isolated prototype or an aftermarket conversion. The lens mount is the standard Leica thread mount; it is said that the camera can take regular Leica lenses but that they end up in the upside down position, with the infinity setting at the bottom.[19]

The Ofunar 50mm f/3.5 lens found with the camera is the only example of its kind observed so far. The collapsible barrel is closely copied on the Leitz Elmar 5cm f/3.5. The focusing mount is driven by a tab with an infinity lock, and goes down to 1 metre. The front rim is engraved Ofunar 1:3.5 f=50mm N°xxxxx. The diaphragm is controlled by an index around the front element, and the aperture scale goes from 3.5 to 18. It seems that the lens has a rangefinder coupling cam;[20] this is useless on the Gokoku, and it is not known for sure if it is properly adjusted for Leica-mount rangefinder cameras.

Little is known on that Ofunar lens. It is not certain that it was originally mounted on the camera, but the inverted mount makes this quite plausible. The Ofunar brand was used after World War II by the company Ōfuna Kōgaku, which started during the war as a factory of Tomioka in Ōfuna, near the city of Kamakura. The lens might have been manufactured in that factory, either during the war by Tomioka for Riken, or after the war by Ōfuna to fit a specially converted Gokoku — the serial number 48010 might indicate year 1948 and come in favour of that theory. The lens looks very similar to the Lausar 5cm f/3.5 made by Tomioka for the Lausar camera (see above), but the similarity between these two Elmar copies might be fortuitous.

Accessory rangefinder Edit

An external rangefinder was available for the camera. It is marked RKK and GOKOKU RANGE-FINDER, and it was copied on the external rangefinder of the Leica Standard, with a shorter base.

The Ricohl Edit

Riken launched the Ricohl, successor of the Gokoku, around late 1940. It is said that Ichimura Kiyoshi (the founder of Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō) sought the help of Fujimoto Sakae (藤本栄), who would later design the Ricohflex III, to make the camera more reliable.[21]

Description Edit

The Ricohl has a longer top housing covering the whole top plate. The finder is larger and the fake rewind knob has been suppressed. The accessory shoe, speed dial and release button are similar to the parts mounted on the Gokoku. The advance knob is different, it turns in the clockwise direction and contains the exposure counter. There is an index next to the advance knob, pointing to the frame number. The advance mechanism was completely reworked, and the knob is now turned clockwise. It is said that the shutter is wound first and the film is advanced next, and that this needs about three turns of the knob.[22] The auto-stop mechanism still relies on feeler rollers, but now works reasonably well.[23]

The name Ricohl is engraved above the viewfinder, together with the model number and the initials R.K.K for Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. The serial number is engraved in front of the accessory shoe.

The Ricohl I Edit

The Ricohl I (リコールⅠ型) has the same fixed-mount Gokoku Anastigmat 50mm f/3.5 lens as the Gokoku. The aperture scale usually goes from 3.5 to 18, but at least one advertising picture shows f/22 minimum aperture.[24]

The Ricohl (I) already appears in the list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, at ¥190.[25] Advertisements appear in the February, March and October 1941 issues of Shashin Bunka, showing the same price of ¥190.[26] The camera was also featured in the new products column of the April 1941 issue of Asahi Camera.[27]

Examples of the Ricohl I have been observed with body numbers ranging from 2750 to 4218 and lens numbers ranging from 10642 to 12285. (The lenses were not matched to the bodies in strict ascending order.) It seems that the serial number sequence continues the sequence of the Gokoku, with some overlap at the beginning of the production, and that about 1,000 to 1,500 examples of the Ricohl I were produced.

The Z indication on the speed dial was substituted by B soon after the beginning of the production run.[28] A few examples are known with maroon leather covering, which is perhaps original.[29]

The Ricohl II Edit

The Ricohl II (リコールⅡ型) is a more expensive version, about which little is known. It was briefly announced but no picture has been found yet, and no surviving example has ever surfaced.

The Ricohl II already appears in the list of set prices published in January 1941, at ¥335 with no further detail.[30] The price was set according to the camera characteristics, and is on par with the original Leotax and with the rangefinder versions of the Canon, perhaps indicating that it was equipped with a rangefinder too. The camera was also advertised for ¥314 in 1942, along with the Ricohl IIB at ¥256.[31]

The Ricohl IIB Edit

The Ricohl IIB (リコールⅡB型) has an interchangeable lens using a specific screw mount, with 40mm diameter, 32 threads per inch and 27.9mm flange to film distance.[32] Very few examples have been observed so far, and the only observed serial number is in the 44xx range.[33]

The Ricohl IIB was offered for ¥256 in various advertisements dated February 1942.[34] The price later rose to ¥291.48,[35] and the camera was advertised until mid 1943.[36] The Ricohl is still mentioned in a government inquiry listing the Japanese camera production as of April 1943, with no specification of a model name.[37] In that document, the focal plane shutter is said to give B, 1–500 speeds, surely by mistake.[38]

Neutar 50mm f/3.5 lens Edit

The standard lens of the Ricohl IIB is a collapsible four-element[39] Neutar 50mm f/3.5, seemingly made by Riken itself.[40] It is probable that no other lens was made for the camera. The diaphragm is controlled by a ring around the front element, and the aperture scale goes from 3.5 to 18. The front rim is engraved NEUTAR 1:3.5 F=50mm, sometimes with two dots around the NEUTAR name.[41] No lens number is visible. Variations are known in the size and shape of the focusing tab: it is either small with a striated tip, or large with a smooth tip (reminiscent of the focusing tab visible on the pictures of the Riken No.1).[42]

One isolated example of the Neutar 50mm f/3.5 lens is known in genuine Leica screw mount.[43] It is equipped with an oblique coupling cam at the rear, made to fit a rangefinder camera, perhaps the hypothetical Ricohl II. It differs from the above lenses by the slightly larger fairing for the focusing helix, and by an infinity lock replacing the stopping screw. It has the small focus tab and the two dots around the NEUTAR name.

Case Edit

Two models of ever-ready case are known for the Ricohl. One is hinged to the back and is embossed Riken at the front and the other is hinged at the bottom and is embossed Ricohl.[44]

Notes Edit

  1. "Senzen no rikō kamera — hoi", p.21 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
  2. Arimura, p.6 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, says this of the Gokoku, and this surely applies to the Ricohl as well.
  3. Article in Asahi Shinbun 28 August 1938, mentioned in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.343.
  4. Advertisement in Shashin Salon October 1938, reproduced in Awano, p.4 of Camera Collectors' News no.39; advertisement in Asahi Camera October 1938 (exactly identical to that in Shashin Salon), reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.102 and in Awano, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14; column in Asahi Camera October 1938, reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.39. An advertisement in Ars Camera October 1938 is also listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.343.
  5. The column in Asahi Camera October 1938 says 20, 40, 60, 100, 200, 500, B. The absence of 1/30 is perhaps a mistake.
  6. The Leica thread mount mentioned in Pont / Princelle, p.198, is unconfirmed. The bayonet mount mentioned as a variant in the same source is implausible.
  7. Column in Asahi Camera October 1938, reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.39: 旭光学に於て、理研の名を冠して発表した最初の製品である.
  8. These problems are mentioned for the Gokoku in Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.39, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  9. Gyōkai san-jū-nen no ashiato (Feb. 1939), p.13 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin July 20, 1967, reproduced on p.231 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku: 予告発売をして製品が完成せず申込金返済と言う醜態を演じた理研光学.
  10. Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.39 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  11. Awano, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.40, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  12. Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.39, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  13. Advertisement for the Riken camera range published in the 26 February 1939 issue of Sunday Mainichi, reproduced in the Gochamaze website.
  14. Advertisement reproduced in Tanaka, p.9 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
  15. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.336.
  16. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 5, section 1.
  17. Comparative pictures are shown in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.39.
  18. Example pictured in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.39, p.23 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, and in Sugiyama, item 3022.
  19. Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.39, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, p.123 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  20. Picture in Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.39 and p.23 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14. Nothing is said in the main text.
  21. Page about the Gokoku and Ricohl at the Ricoh official website.
  22. Awano, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.40, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.58 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  23. Awano, p.11 of Camera Collectors' News no.40 and pp.58–9 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37..
  24. F/22 minimum aperture: advertisement in Shashin Bunka February 1941 reproduced in Awano, p.13 of Camera Collectors' News no.40.
  25. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 5, section 1.
  26. Advertisement in Shashin Bunka February 1941, reproduced in Awano, p.13 of Camera Collectors' News no.40 and p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14; advertisement in Shashin Bunka March 1941, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.103; advertisement in Shashin Bunka October 1941, reproduced in Tanaka, p.10 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
  27. Column in Asahi Camera April 1941, reproduced in Awano, p.13 of Camera Collectors' News no.40.
  28. The transition occurred between body no.2750 and 3309.
  29. Examples pictured in this page of the AJCC and in this page of the Ricoh official website.
  30. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 5, section 2.
  31. Advertisement reproduced in Nostalgic Camera by Toshio Inamura.
  32. Specifications of the lens mount: Awano, p.25 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.59 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
  33. The example pictured in Awano, p.23 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.59 of {KKS}} no.37, and in Sugiyama, item 3048, has body no.4419.
  34. Advertisement in Shashin Bunka February 1942, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.103, in Awano, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14; the same advertisement is visible in this page of Xylocopal's photolog, apparently from Asahi Camera February 1942. See also this advertisement and this other advertisement reproduced in Nostalgic Camera by Toshio Inamura.
  35. Price set in March 1943 according to Awano, p.12 of Camera Collectors' News no.40. An advertisement showing the Ricohl IIB at that price is reproduced in Awano, p.14 of the same magazine, where it is mistakenly said to be dated June 1941.
  36. The last advertisement listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.343, is dated August 1943.
  37. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 160.
  38. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), shutter item F-4.
  39. Advertisement in Shashin Bunka February 1942, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.103 and in Awano, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, and advertisement reproduced in Awano, p.14 of Camera Collectors' News no.40.
  40. The Neutar lens is described as the result of research by Riken Kōgaku in the advertisement in Shashin Bunka February 1942, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.103 and in Awano, p.24 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
  41. Two dots: example in Ricohl mount pictured in Awano, p.25 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, example in Leica mount pictured in Awano, p.124 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32, and incomplete example sold as lot no.675 of Westlicht Photographica Auction no.5. No dots: example in Ricohl mount pictured in Awano, p.23 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.59 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, and in Sugiyama, item 3048.
  42. Small tab: example pictured on body no.4419 in Awano, p.23 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14 and p.59 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37, and in Sugiyama, item 3048. Large tab: examples pictured in Awano, p.25 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, in Hayashi, p.85 of the same magazine, and incomplete example sold as lot no.675 of Westlicht Photographica Auction no.5.
  43. Lens pictured and described in Awano, p.124 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.32.
  44. The two case models are pictured in Awano, p.25 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.

Bibliography Edit

Original documents Edit

  • "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku" (国産写真機の公定価格, Set prices of the Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of October 25, 1940 and setting the retail prices from December 10, 1940. Published in Asahi Camera January 1941 and reproduced in 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. Pp.108—9. Type 5, sections 1 and 2.
  • Shinkō Graph (新光グラフ) August 1938. "Orinpikku kamera nyūsu" (オリンピックカメラニュース, Olympic camera news). P.37.

Recent sources Edit

Links Edit

General links Edit

In English:

In Japanese:

In French :


Original documents Edit


Asahi Bussan and Riken prewar and wartime cameras (edit)
rigid or collapsible
Vest Adler | Gokoku | Semi Kinsi | Letix | Olympic | New Olympic | Regal Olympic | Semi Olympic | Super Olympic | Vest Olympic | Riken No.1 | Ricohl | Roico | Seica | Zessan
folders pseudo TLR TLR
Semi Adler | Adler III | Adler A | Adler B | Adler C | Adler Four | Adler Six | Gaica | Heil | Kinsi Chukon Ref Ricohflex | Ricohflex B

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