|Tripod adapter||Cellophane containers
|1939-OCT||£20 4SH 3D||
|£8 5SH ||£1 7SH 6D||
Janis Vitols (VEF Aircraft Co. Ltd)
Philip de Walden Avery (Director & General Manager Minox Ltd)
John Morgan Barwick (Director Minox Ltd.)
1937 - Before the Minox
In 1937 VEF
was already busy re-designing the Ur-Minox for serial production. It is also
the year were the lives of Janis Vitols, and Philip deWalden Avery intersect.
Janis was the nephew of the VEF
director Teodors Vitols and he was the representative of the VEF
aircraft in London. His representation was at 24 Queesnborough Terrace
London W2 near Hyde Park. First he showeded of the VEF Irbitis-11 (I-11) and later the VEF I-12.
In August 1937, Janis raced the brand new VEF I-12 at Ramsgate (see
photo below; race start)
was also in aviation. He was a keen hobby avaitor flying different
aircraft like a Gypsy moth in 1931, a Comper CLA7 Swift in 1932
(G-AAZD, G-ACML) and the prototype Comper Streal (see picture below) in
1935. He was not only a hobby aviator he also worked in the industry.
He was a sales rep for the Rollason Aircraft Services. The company was
started by Captain W.A. Rollason in 1914 and later taken over by
British Continental Airways in 1936. Rollason was an agent for the
deHavilland which might explain why Philip was able to fly the
prototype Comper stream aircraft.
In that race at Ramsgate in 1937 Janis
managed to earn 6th place. Just before him on 5th place was Philip
Avery flying and old WW-1 AVro 504. While Janis was beaten by a less
capable aircraft, Janis took the price for the smartest turn-out. Later
Janis lent his VEF I-12 to Bandinidieks Karlis who promptly won second
place and 25 pounds in the Cinque Ports Wakefield Cup.
1938 - VEF announces the Minox
After the Minox and its technical features is annouced in the latvian
press in April 1938 it takes only two month to appear in the famours Britsh
Journal of Photography. (Maybe Janis forwarded the journal a report,
who may know). At the same time the third person enters the scence, John Morgan Barwick (later Co-director of Minox Ltd). He too was a keen aviator and in 1938 entered his first race (Kings Cup)
flying a Hawk Trainer. Philip on the otherhand was flying Janis VEF I-12 and set new flying records.
- xx.06.1938 Minox annoucement (Britsh Journal of Photography Vol 85)
- 23.06.1938 Philip flies Janis VEF I-12 non-stop from London to Riga in record time
In October 1938, the problems with the serial production of the VEF Minox were overcome and serial production began
- 02.11.1938 The first factory-produced VEF Minox (No.01001) is handed to the latvian president.
John Moore-Brabazon obtains one of the first Minox (?) before they go
on sale in Latvia (?), connection to Janis as John is also an aviator?
1939 - Minox Ltd takes shape
1939, The Minox went officially on sale in Latvia. The numbers of
cameras were still limited but the first Minox cameras soon
appear in the UK.
The trio of Janis
Vitols, Philip Avery and John Barwick entered several races including
the London to Isle of Man race.
Philip raced in Janis VEF I-12 aircraft and John Barwick in a Miles
Magister. During the race, Philip had petrol feed
problems and almost ran out of over the channel. He still managed 9th
while John came 13th. Winner was Geoffrey Raoul deHavilland in the
deHavilland TK2 (see below).
Sir William Leveson-Gower (Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, Vice
Admiral & 4th Earl Granville) then presented to Mr. de Havilland
the Trophy, £100, and a Minox camera (presented for the first British machine to arrive
by the Latvian V.E.F. Aircraft Co).
Geoffrey Raoul deHavilland in his TK2 after winning the Isle of Man race
Probably all three men
were aleady in the middle of planning, promoting and setting up Minox
Ltd. During the race they
already took several
photogarphs with the Minox which were later used in the advertisements.
Similarly the first camera magazine recieved a Minox for testing.
- 29.05.1939 A Minox
was presented by VEF Aircraft Co. to Geoffrey Raoul deHavilland. First promotional minox pictures are taken
- 30.06.1939 Journalists of
the first english camera magazine (Miniature Camera World) are testing
the camera (Briva Zeme Newspaper No.143)
One month later, on the 31st of July 1939, Minox Ltd is incorporated (Reg.No. 355,550). The company had a captial of £105 in 100
and 4 1/2 percent noncumulative preference shares of £1 as well as 100 ordinary shares of 1/- . The registered directors were John Morgan
Barwick (Firby Hall, Bedale, Yorkshire) and Philip de Walden Avery (1 Halkin Street, Grosvenor Place SW1). Solicitors were Warren Murton and Co. (45 Blumsburry Square WC1). As Janis does not
feature in any management position, he likely already had
the plan to go to the USA to set up Minox Inc. He transferred his VEF
aircraft sales representation to Rollason and left for New York.
The first headquaters of Minox Ltd were located in the heart of London's City, at 29 King William Street EC4. 1 month later the first Minox camera parcel leaves Riga for London
- 31.07.1939 Minox Ltd is registered as private company
- 29.08.1939 A Minox parcel of 25kg (ca.150-175 cameras?)
departed Riga by plane to London via Stockholm (Rits
No.29 is the second building on the left next to Edwards (view away from London bridge towards Monument Station)
sale start in the UK may thus have been early or mid September 1939. Days earlier
the Hitler-Stalin Pact was signed (23.08.1939) and on the 4th of September the UK finally declare war with Germany. Airports like Croydon were now closed for cicil aviation.
- xx.09.1939 Miniature Camera World publishes the test report
- xx.10.1939 Miniature Camera Magazine publishes a comprehensive test report (already on the market; prices known)
- xx.12.1939 Flight & Aircraft Engineer 1 page review advertisement
In Latvia, the dark clouds appear. After the Hitler-Stalin pact Latvia had to
give in to Sowjet demands & alignes itself with the USSR and signed a treaty on the 05.10.1939. By the
end of 1939, with many reviews published and ad campaings, the
promotion of the Minox camera in the UK was in full swing.
1940 - Minox Ltd in full swing & desaster
first half of 1940 must have been relatively peaceful and maybe exiting
for the business. Minox Ltd. harnessed the pubicity and created the
promotional "Test Report" which included the comprevensive MCM review
from October 1939. The prices on the back and the displayed camera (ca
No.04500 range) indicate that the Test report was printed at the
beginning of 1940.
Minox Ltd test report teaturing several pictures and a re-print of the
MCM October 1939 article (see marketing for full scans)
However in the summer 1940 more cracks appear. The russians now annex and completely
occupy Latvia. The country now offcicially joins the USSR as a new sowjet republic. While the
production of minox
cameras continues, export cameras featuring the imperial distance dial
are not longer manufactured.There is one exeption (see batch #3) which
remains a mystery. It
is possible that VEF in
Riga continued to export to the UK (e.g. already made cameras,
asseccoires, and films) as both nations were allies. However not much
- 15.06.1940 Russian troops invade Latvia (the beginning of russian occupation)
ca. 1 month later on the 7th September 1940, the germans start their
bombing raids on London which continued for 57 consecutive days (known
Blitz). Already on the 3rd day, the King William Street is hit.
- 09.09.1940 One of the first heavy high explosive bombs lands
202ft away from the Monument on King William Street. The Minox
headquaters are completely destroyed.
09.09.1940.The firehose points directly at 29 King William Street.The building is compelety destroyed.(view towards London bridge)
Philip Averys son recounts: "My
mother was in Scotland at that time while my father was in London,
still going to the office at 29 King William Street while looking
for war work, and writing her lots of letters which have
survived. He writes in the one dated 9.9.40. 'I came on by train
from Weybridge. Finally arrived at the office and could not locate it.
It unfortunately had taken a direct hit from an h. e. bomb, and there is nothing left. All very tiresome, especially as the
entire stock of Minox films were liquidated, and I don't quite know how
I am going to get any more. The cameras fortunately are safe elsewhere,
at least I think so.' The next day he wrote, 'The only thing anyone has
managed to salvage from Minox so far is one booklet saturated with
After the bombing of its offices at 29 King William Street, Minox Ltd
re-located to 5 Victoria Street SW1 near Victoria Station.
From then on the history
of the Minox Ltd becomes blurry. The existing Minox stock was wiped
out, Latvia was now completely under russian control and germany
cutting of supply routes. In addition export
cameras were not even assembled anymore. Minox Ltd may
still have been able to import some cameras and supplies from Latvia or
Switzerland (maybe) but in his letters Philip Avery already indicates
that he doesnt know how to get hold of anymore stocks. With the war in full swing, we know that Philip Avery left Minox Ltd. Maybe the end of the Minox success was already there or inevitable. Philip Avery
wanted to be an RAF pilot but his eyesight wasn't good enough, so he
eventually found war work with the Air Transport Auxiliary, mainly
flying planes from factories to airfields. He was a Second Officer..
- 19.09.1940 Minox ad in the BBC Listener features the new address
1941 - Almost the end
Ca. 6 month
after the bombing of the original Minox Ltd headquater, Latvias fate turned for the
worst. In spring 1941 the germans invaded Latvia.
With Germany and England at war, Germany dominating the trade routes,
Minox Ltd must have completely lost its supply & foundation for
Maybe they were still able to locate and import some cameras and parts
from Switzerland (as rumors indicate), and maybe even assembled them
(as Walter Zapp indicated in one of his interviews) but it was the end
of the Minox success story.
- xx.04.1941 German invasion of Latvia
- xx.06.1941 Minox Ltd appointed distributors for P.A.C. photographic chemicals and supplies (The photographic Journal June 1941)
- xx.11.1941 The last Minox is assembled (according to german stats).
Minox Ltd remained in business and traded through the rest of the war as a general photographic
supplier. It sold mainly P.A.C. (Photographic
Accessories and Chemicals, Ltd. London) products such as
light sensitive emulsions and the "Wettol" wetting agent.