Tom Purvis, a renowned artist, and Alfred C. Mayo founded Purma Cameras Ltd. in 1935. David Brock of Brock Fireworks gave financial help to launch the company in London. Their office was at Brock House, Langham St, London W1. (Tom Purvis is perhaps better known as a commercial artist who was responsible for many of the great LNER Railway posters of the 1930s.)
The cameras made by Purma are 127 roll film viewfinder cameras with innovative gravity-controlled shutters, based on the company’s patents of 1935 and 1936, designed by founder A.C. Mayo. Purma cameras and accessories were sold by R. F. Hunter of London.
The most common, the Purma Special was made almost entirely of Bakelite, apart from the glass lens, plastic viewfinder optics and shutter & spring mechanisms. Styling was apparently due to Raymond Loewy’s London Office.
All Purma cameras have several interesting features;
The focal plane is curved, with a solid metal, curved focal-plane shutter with three speeds, controlled by a weight, which varied the slit-width.
The shutter is cocked using a pear-shaped lever on the top edge, above the lens; the slit width/shutter speed depends on which way up the camera is held. Horizontal gives medium speed, vertical with winding knob down gives slow, and vertical, knob up, fast.
The lens is sprung to telescope out of the body and is held closed with a screw-on lens cap. Capping (and so collapsing) the lens locks the shutter release – which, unusually, is on the photographer’s left.
The ever-ready case opens upwards from underneath the lens, unlike most cases, which open forward from the back.
The Purma is said to be the first camera to have plastic optics, although this is in the viewfinder only.
Three models were sold by Purma:
Purma Speed, introduced 1936; enamelled metal/chrome body
Purma Special, introduced 1937; all Bakelite body
Purma Plus, introduced 1951, costing £12 and lasting until ~1959; aluminium body
Another model, the SAMA, stayed in prototype status despite Purma’s 1952 patent on it.
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