Yashica 44 Series
(44, 44A & 44LM – see also “44 Models”)
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(Images Courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
There were three, perhaps four Yashica 44 models: the Yashica-44 characterised by crank wind and Bay 1 filter mounts but without the self-cocking shutter or other sophistication of its Mat big brother; the simpler Yashica 44A, like the Yashica A, with knob wind and plain filter mounts and Yashica 44LM with selenium exposure meter, Bay 1 mounts and a knob wind which had more in common with the crank operation on the Yashica-44 than the knob on the 44A. All were available in numerous colours. There is also the mythical Yashica 44 Auto photograph in Sugiyama's book (based on 44LM but with f/2.8 lens and crank wind).
In September 1957, Franke & Heidecke reintroduced their pre-war 127 film baby 4x4 Rolleiflex as the commonly referred to “Baby Rollei”. Until 1963, it was available only in an instantly recognisable light grey colour (from the Rolleiclub). I’m not sure whether it was a response to the short-lived 127 film “super-slide” boom or in fact was the camera that started it (super-slides use the same size slide mounts, 2” x 2”, and hence projectors, as 35 mm slides but are considerably larger in image area, approx. 38 mm x 38 mm compared to approx. 34 mm x 23 mm).
A number of Japanese companies producing TLRs responded almost immediately. According to Camera-wiki.org, first to be announced in magazines were the Yashica-44 and Primo-Jr (badged and marketed as the Sawyer’s Mark IV in the US) in May 1958 (see Shashin Kōgyō cover) but also according to Camera-wiki.org, as the Primo-Jr was advertised in the same month and the Yashica-44 not until July, the Primo-Jr was first to market. This conclusion contradicts views expressed on some other sites including the Camera-wiki.org entry for the Yashica 44 which claims that it was the first Japanese 4x4.
There is conflicting data about release dates and periods of overlap of the three Yashica 44 Models. A number of sites suggest that the Yashica-44 was released in 1958, the Yashica 44LM in 1959 and the Yashica 44A in 1960. However, Camera-wiki.org (and Camerapedia) suggests that the 44A was released in 1959 followed by the 44LM (no date given). It is quite clear from advertising that both the 44A and 44LM were released by the middle of 1959 (see “Yashica 44 Production Timetable” below).
There is relative consensus that the Yashica-44 was a short-lived model. Apart from the litigation issues noted in the following paragraph, it was also relatively expensive for its rather limited feature set compared to both its bigger siblings and peers from other manufacturers. The end dates for the 44A and 44LM are less certain but I have copies of three separate Yashica ads where both cameras are displayed together with the Yashica E released in 1964 (one of the ads claims to be from 1965).
The original Yashica-44 had a crank wind (but unlike the Baby Rollei knob wind, the crank was not linked to the shutter) and at first, was only available in light grey. The visual similarities to the Baby Rollei were remarkable and Franke & Heidecke and their US distributer, Burleigh and Brooks, decided to take Yashica to court. There are references on several Japanese sites but little detail. According to a 1997 post on the Rollei User Group forum, issue Number 1 of Volume 1 of the trade journal, Camera News of West Germany, noted that after litigation lasting 12 months, Yashica promised to make the camera in colours other than grey. A later, related post claims that prior to settlement of the case, Yashica had marketed the camera as the “Yashica Baby Gray” and afterwards were forced to use its official name, “Yashica 44”.
Whatever the truth of the story, of the 105 Yashica-44s in my database, the first 41 are light grey. Whilst the proportion of different coloured cameras (seven colour combinations were listed in a 1958 ad in Asahi Camera magazine – not sure how that date fits within the litigation timeframe) increases from that point on, light grey ones seemed still to be produced right up to the end of the model run.
Contemplating both my database, and Swedish and Dutch ads which have turned up, I think it is possible to be fairly precise about the production timetables of the three commonly found models (not the 44 Auto which remains a mystery).
The Yashica-44 was released between May (announcement) and July1958 (advertisement). Japanese magazine Shashin Kōgyō (meaning Photographic Industry) No. 91 of November 1959 has the Yashica 44LM as its cover photo (Camera-wiki.org). Based on advertising, production and/or general availability of the Yashica 44A and 44LM ceased in 1965.
My belief is that the 44A was released in early 1959 before the 44LM and that all three coexisted for a brief moment in time. The reason is that Yashica trim changes tended to follow rational patterns across all models at similar times. The two trim item changes that affected all three models were the change to dual scale focus knobs and hood design. Except for the last five Yashica-44s in my database, all have either feet or metre scaled focusing knobs. More than half of the Yashica 44As have feet or metre scales before changing to dual scale. Only about a quarter of the Yashica 44LMs still have feet or metre scales before changing to dual scale. By itself, it means little because we don’t know when in their life most examples of a model were sold and whether my database is representative.
The hoods are another, perhaps better indicator. All the Yashica-44 hoods except for the last four have a leatherette central panel without logo. These four have an enamel panel with blue background logo. More than half of Yashica 44As have the leatherette panel, first with gold logo, then blue, before changing to an enamel panel with blue logo. All the Yashica 44LMs have enamel panels, the first 15 with gold, the rest with blue logos. Also, in the section on individual models, when comparing 44As and 44LMs, it can be seen that there were very few coloured 44LM examples before only grey ones became available. This indicates to me that the 44LM became available later, assuming both followed a similar pattern at a similar time. In development terms, the Yashica 44LM is most different to the other two, in fact even its carcass is quite different which is an unusual approach for Yashica not found with its 66 model development and presumably would have required a little time to implement.
One important proviso to note is that if the focus knob and hood changes occurred across all three models at around the same time, then the Yashica-44 was still in production in mid 1959 when around 50% of the 44As and 25% of 44LMs in my database had already been produced. So when I say the “same time”, I mean that the decision was made at the same time but production reality meant that inventories had to be used up first. There was probably a stockpile of Yashica-44s to be used when the Yashica 44A was introduced and a smaller stockpile of 44As when the 44LM arrived with the new style hood. The dual scale focus knobs arrived just a little later. Also, the popularity of the 127 4x4 format was plummeting by 1960 so that it would not be surprising if the highest production volume was in 1959.
Finally, US ads and catalogues also support this view of the order of releases. I have copies of 1958 and 1959 ads with just the Yashica-44 and a 1959 ad with the Yashica 44A. A Sears catalogue from an unknown year lists both the Yashica-44 and Yashica 44A as does the Popular Photography Equipment Directory 1960 with the Yashica 44LM in neither (lead times have to be allowed for publications). Later ads and catalogues usually have the 44A and 44LM together. The 1961 Sears catalogue refers to the “Baby Yashica 44A” and “new Yashica 44LM”. Below is an extract from a Yashica US brochure which seems to cover most Yashica products including all TLRs on sale in the US in 1959 except for the Yashica 44LM and the Yashica Mat-LM which some sources claim was released in September 1959:
However, whilst European ads don't necessarily contradict the order of events, they at least strongly imply that the changeover from the Yashica-44 to 44A and 44LM models occurred earlier and more quickly than what I had anticipated.
Here is an ad featuring the Yashica-44 from the June 1959 edition of Swedish magazine Foto:
(Document image and dates courtesy of Göran Årelind)
Here is an ad from the July 1959 edition of the same magazine:
(Document image and dates courtesy of Göran Årelind)
These ads confirm that both the Yashica 44A and 44LM were available in the middle of 1959. Together, they suggest that there was a very sudden end to the Yashica-44 model and that perhaps the 44A and 44LM were released at, or near, the same time.
The Dutch ad below is from page 277 of “het tweede fotoboek” by Dick Boer, published also in the northern summer of 1959 by Focus N.V., Haarlem. The text at the bottom of the ad translates to “Yes, your camera's name is Yashica”. It seems that in Holland at least, all three models were available simultaneously, even if only briefly.
(Document image and information courtesy of Norman Beierle)
Note that the Models 44 and 44A are named back to front (type-setting error probably).
Note also the fact that all the hoods are the models' original style, not the new 44LM style with enamel panel. As noted elsewhere, during the 1950s particularly, Yashica often continued to use release photos of its cameras without updating them as trim changes occurred. This is easy to prove. The Yashica-44 in the Dutch ad has the “skinny” focus knob from the first production in 1958. The Yashica-44 in the Swedish ad is a later version but with front-mounted accessory shoe (clearly visible in the full size image), it is not more than 2/3rds into total production (see individual 44 models).
Tom Heckhaus has pointed out that the litigation in the US by Rollei (Franke & Heidecke/ Burleigh & Brooks) over the similarities in appearance and/or marketing approach of the two competing 4x4 cameras could possibly have had an impact on US availability and release dates. He is not saying that it did, but it is something to keep in mind when reviewing old ads etc.
Having said that, a Yashica 44A with serial number 3981xxx has surfaced at auction with its original Yashica US “Certificate of Guarantee” dated 17 December 1959. Its serial number puts it at more than 1/3 of the way into my 44A database so an early 1959 release date is quite plausible.
In all likelihood, however things happened in individual markets, the release of the 44A and 44LM occurred over a very short period of time and it is certain that both were released and marketed well before 1960. In fact the evidence is that both were available by mid-1959 and in the US at least, the 44A may have been available even earlier.