England (UK)

DateCamera (+Purse)Camera
EnlargerDev. TankThermometer
Tripod adapterCellophane containers
1939-OCT20 4SH 3D

8 5SH 1 7SH 6D

3SH 3D
1939 (?)
20 10SH
18 7SH

1939-DEC20 10SH


91 10SH

3SH 6D
1940 (?) 25

1 10SH 5SH 6D
3SH 6D

People involved:

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)

Philip Avery 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.

Flight 4 AUG 1938.JPG

In October 1938, the problems with the serial production of the VEF Minox were overcome and serial production began

1939 - Minox Ltd takes shape

In Februray 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.
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

No.29 is the second building on the left next to Edwards (view away from London bridge towards Monument Station)

The speculative official 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.

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

The 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.

The 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 is known.
Then ca. 1 month later on the 7th September 1940, the germans start their bombing raids on London which continued for 57 consecutive days (known as the Blitz). Already on the 3rd day, the King William Street is hit.

.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 water.'

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..

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 business. 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.
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.