To the untrained eye, there is just one Riga Minox model. But there are really many.
When it comes to interesting histories, the Minox Riga is the clear winner. No other camera has been through war, espionage and intrigue -- and survived. Minox cameras are still made today, truly the long-distance runner in submini history. The Riga was the original production model. The camera was produced to the design of Walter Zapp by Valsts Electro-Techniska Fabrika, in Riga, Latvia, from 1938 until 1940. Zapp wanted a camera that anyone could take everywhere. And that's what he accomplished. And talk about tiny, only 80 x 27 x 16 mm. The film was originally designed from splitting unperforated 35mm film into four strips -- only 8.73mm wide. The push-pull, fold-up design makes the camera tiny and adds protection. The stainless steel body holds up well to prolonged use and many of these have survived in excellent condition. At least 20,000 of these cameras were produced, and many of these have survived, serving to keep their worth somewhat below what might otherwise be expected. Not all of these cameras were the same, however. Variations in camera-body engraving and internal details such as the rare '12-claw' version (of which only nine are reputed to exist) make the collecting of the Riga Minox a world unto itself. Then war complicated matters even more.
(1940-1941? 1945-1946?) In a backroom deal with Hitler, Stalin occupied Latvia in early 1940. During this time (and/or possibly after the Soviet re-occupation in late 1944), about 5,000 Minox Riga cameras were produced identical in all regards to the earlier Riga except that they are engraved 'Made in USSR'. These cameras are rare, as not many have survived, and have a certain collector's appeal of their own. Size: 80 x 27 x 16 mm
(1941 - 1944?) Much to Stalin's surprise, his backroom buddy -- Hitler -- decided to break their non-aggresion pact and attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Along the way, the German army occupied Latvia from mid-1941 until late 1944. During this time, some Minox cameras were produced under German supervision. At least some of these (perhaps all) were marked with a swastika (probably for military use) and other military markings, but were apparently not otherwise different. How many were made during this occupation will probably never be known. Size: 80 x 27 x 16 mm
After the War, Zapp and "company" got out of Latvia (an interesting story in itself) and moved to West Germany. In some ways it's surprising that the Soviets did not copy the Minox Riga and start production on their own (although they probably made several cameras post-war from left over parts). They did this with many other cameras, including some 35mm Minox models. The Minox Riga cases are also collectible; the zippered one in blue, brown, or black and marked 'Riga' is the most common. The original Minox lens is not as sharp near the edges of the frame as later lenses; that and the price leave this camera less useful as a shooter than later models. For more information on Minox History, check out the LIBRARY section of the SUBCLUB.
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