The Camera Site

Ferdinand Merkel, Tharandt, Germany



Megor Type 2 (1932)

(Camera identification and text by Mickey and PeterW)

Strut- folding rollfilm camera for 3x4cm exposures made by Merkel in Tharand, Germany. A good identification feature is four embossed 'corners' on the lensboard. Megor has a 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, and T Vario shutter and a Ludvig, Dresden, 5cm f/ 4,5 Victar lens.

Camera-Werke Merkel was founded in Tharandt by Ferdinand Merkel in 1904 and made some very nice wooden plate cameras. It weathered the disastrous economic collapse of the Weimar Republic in the early 1920s, but by 1929 Ferdinand Merkel was struggling and filed for bancruptcy.

The company was taken over in 1930 by C. Richter and renamed Kamera Werke C. Richter. So who was this C. Richter who pulled the Merkel irons out of the fire? No-one seems to have heard of the name in connection with cameras before then.

C. Richter was a woman, Charlotte Richter, and there can't be many, if any, other examples of a camera factory in the 1930s being run by a woman. She had two business partners, her husband Fritz and a Friedrich Schmittchen, but I haven't been able to find out anything about Herr Schmittchen. Was he perhaps a 'sleeping' partner who provided the finance?

Through the 1930s Charlotte and Fritz seem to have been quite successful with a workforce of about 150 carrying on with cameras designed by Ferdinand Merkel. As an example a very basic twin-lens reflex the Reflecta.

During WWII camera production stopped and the factory switched to making armaments. In 1945, Tharandt found itself in the Eastern Zone controlled by Russia and, as they did with a number of other armaments factories, the Russians stripped out all the production facilities and left just the bare factory shell.
The Richter family seems to have had quite close ties with those of Waurich and Weber who ran Welta Kamera-Werke in Freital, and Welta took over production of the Reflecta but renamed it Reflekta (with a k). Nothing more seems to have been heard of the little Merkel, so it may have died in 1939.
The Richters moved to West Germany and set up another camera factory in Barntrup, Lipca-Lippische Camerafabrik, Richter and Fischer GmbH, in 1948. Little seems to be known about Fischer - maybe again he provided the finance? The business seems to have been run by Charlotte.
They turned out a quite successful line of medium to low-price TLRs: the Flexo, Flexora, Optimet and Rollop, the last one slightly better quality than the others, but about 1959 or 1960 the company seems to have stopped production. I wonder if the Richters, who by then were quite likely in or close to their 60s, decided to retire? Maybe they saw the writing on the wall for the German camera industry?

The Victar was made by Ludwig in Dresden for quite a few years as a budget-priced lens and was used by a number of camera makers, including indeed Ihagee who offered it for a time on a sort of 'budget introductory model' of both the pre-war 127 and Kine Exakta, though it’s not mentioned in my copy of McKeown’s, but few people seem to have bought it - or if they did most soon changed to a better lens. I’ve never actually seen an Exakta with a Victar. It was made in a number of different focal lengths and apertures, but the 50mm f/4.5 seems to have been the best of the bunch with a reputation of producing some quite crisp pictures if it was closed down a couple of stops. It seems to have died away about 1938-39 at around serial number 600,000+ to be replaced by the Meritar.

The Vario was, of course, a very popular budget shutter from Gauthier which was, together with Compur, by this time controlled by Zeiss Ikon.

I am sorry if I bored anyone but I, at any rate, find the often intertwined German camera industry over this period completely fascinating. What adds to my interest is that large numbers of German cameras of all qualities found their way to the UK, and there are quite a few still about. Far more, I suspect, than in the US - at least, compared to the sizes of the two countries.

©2007 Reijo Lauro