Great British Cameras:
|The Purma Plus is the third (not the final, but that is another
story!) camera that Purma Cameras Ltd made. The design of the body, the
lens and the shutter mechanism are a development of the Purma Speed (1935-6)
and the Purma Special (1937-51) the most well-known characteristic being
that the shutter speed is determined by the way the camera is held.
The Plus is unique amongst the Speed, Special and Plus, in that it has a serial number stamped inside the camera. This is the key to research, in that it is possible to use the serial number as the basis for determining how many cameras were made, and with a little planning in terms of asking the right questions, to chart how the camera developed over time.
The earliest advertisement I can find for the Plus is in November 1951 in Odham's 'Illustrated'. From the wording used "Here is Purma's latest" we can assume this marks the launch of the camera. The key features of the camera are highlighted: a bloomed lens and a high speed focal plane shutter (top speed 1/500th sec) in an easy to use and inexpensive camera. I can find no other camera at this time for £12 12s that has such a high shutter speed and this was clearly a great selling point and a tribute to the designer's (AC Mayo) forethought in recognising the value of such an action-stopping speed in an amateur camera when he first designed the shutter for the Purma Special.
From the outset the Plus was marketed as the simplest of what became to be called a 'system camera', in that there were, from the outset, a range of accessories made specifically for the camera to enhance it's flexibility. There was a flashgun, filters, close-up lenses, cases, a lens hood and a cable-release all marked with the Purma logo. This not only gave the owner an assurance that these accessories would work properly with the camera, but also gave significant additional income to the company. [photo of back of "Photography without fuss" leaflet showing full range of accessories].
The camera evolved through three variants. The first model is the plain grey camera with the name Purma Plus engraved in the front of the top plate. The second variant adds a technical refinement in the form of a pin in the lens mount (patent number GB701,368 full specification published Dec 23 1953) which is pushed in when the lens cap is screwed on and which, through an internal link to the shutter firing mechanism, prevents the shutter being fired until the lens cap is removed. I could imagine that this development resulted from complaints from customers who having fired the shutter inadvertently whilst putting the camera in their pocket, realised that a shot had been lost since the film could not be re-wound. With a maximum of 16 exposures on the film, every shot lost was a family holiday picture that could not be taken. It is interesting to note that the opportunity was taken at the time of introducing version 2 of the Plus to stamp the patent numbers for the shutter design on the base of the shutter mechanism. The patent for the pin is not listed, presumably because it had not yet been formally granted before the feature was put into production.
The third version of the camera is without doubt the smartest. It is the one often seen at camera fairs with the red badges on the front for the name, on the top for the I/T setting and on the back around the viewfinder to indicate which way up the camera should be held for slow, medium or fast shutter speed. Apart from the badges this camera is identical to version 2. A further cosmetic improvement was made to version 3 of the camera, in that from about serial number 13335 the paint finish changes from a lacquered grey paint to a glossy mottled grey finish, very like 'Hammerite'. It seems reasonable to assume that the badges, and the glossy paint finish, were introduced to make the camera more appealing, perhaps because in the late 1950s as import restrictions were lifted, the bulk, fixed aperture and choice of only three shutter speeds made the Plus a less attractive option than the competition.
No official records have been found to indicate the volume or dates of production. The nearest we have to firm evidence are documents in the family papers of the company founder, AC Mayo. Here there is an order for 26,000 body castings dated 1949 and a company document dated 17 May 1960, states that "camera production ceased some 2 years ago".
From my research (thanks to Ebay and PCCGB club members, I have data on 185 cameras) I estimate a total production of approximately 18,500, with serial numbers in the range from 95 to 18495 having been found. Recent conversations with those who worked at the factory confirm that camera assembly did stop before 1960, and that there were a large number of part-finished cameras, lenses and spare parts lying around in the factory long after camera production had stopped in favour of more lucrative light engineering work (indicated by the change in the company name from Purma Cameras Ltd to Purma Precision Engineers c1962).
Although production had stopped, an ex-employee of the company, who had assembled both the Purma Special and the Purma Plus, told me that cameras were still being issued from the factory and repairs were being undertaken well into the 1960s. The latter as a result of the 3-year guarantee which was issued as standard with the Purma Plus (beat that all you Leica and Nikon fans!).