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1914 Simplex  

 Historic 1st Production 24x36 Full Frame 35mm Camera

Simplex1.jpg (515211 bytes)

Oddly enough, the world's first production full frame  24x36mm format 35mm still camera may be the illustrious and amazingly not-so-famous 1914 Multi-Exposure Simplex produced by Multi-Speed of New York (that's right, American made!).

1923 Leica O Series Prototype Replica and the American made Regular Production 1914 Simplex Model B

The Simplex is an American made 35mm camera, made in Long Island New York by the Multi-Speed Shutter Co, a manufacturer of movie house 35mm projectors.   All versions gave 400 full frame exposures, while the Simplex Special could also take up to 800 half frame exposures.  The Special sold for $65 in 1914 with case (about $1479 2012 dollars), while the B sold for $25 in 1914 without case (about $569 2012 dollars).

Most camera collectors know the story of Oskar Barnack and his invention of his legendary 1913 Leica UR prototype, which culminated in the first production Leicas being offered for public sale in 1925.   Although Oskar's Leica is sometimes referred to as the first 35mm camera, it ain't so, even though Leica was far and away the most successful early 35 and most responsible for 35's success.    While Oskar was working on his Leica prototypes, an American full frame 35mm still frame camera was already on sale ... in New York City. 

Super collector Jack Naylor wrote in Shutterbug in 1984 "The rarest pre-Leica and the most valuable today is the Simplex Multi-Exposure 35mm camera....Where are they now ?  Five, possibly six are known."     Kalton Lahue wrote in The American 35 that "To the authors knowledge, there is no Multi-Exposure in any public or private collection."  Of course there are a   few, but his quote serves to illustrate their rarity.  Burton Rubin wrote in Shutterbug in 1984 that examination of four cameras showed a serial number range of only 27.   The production was very limited.   Today they are extraordinarily rare, and historically important in the history of 35mm cameras.

Contrary to some sources, there seem to be at least four different models: the original Simplex with a collapsible finder, a variation of the original Simplex with a non collapsible finder, the Simplex Special with dual full frame and half frame capability (the only Simplex to have this), and the economy Simplex Model B with simpler shutter and a wire frame finder.  

After much research, so far I've been able to find pics of the first 3 types of Simplex described above in various articles, but no picture of the Model B shown here.   Interestingly, Jason Schneider even doubted that the Model B was actually  produced when he wrote his Simplex article for Modern Photography.

I've contacted Eastman House,  as well as the Photography Museum at the University of Riverside in California.  Neither has any information on this camera, much less an example in their collection.

The model B Simplex above was discovered at a California camera show.  

Please email me if you know the whereabouts of a Simplex,  or can provide information. I need pics of the other three Simplex models for the article.    Many Thanks.


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Revised: October 20, 2013.    Copyright 2012-13  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.   Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.