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Tuesday, November 27

What price George Harrison's Pentax?

Just spotted this on Bonhams' Knightsbridge auction site. George Harrison's Pentax S1A from the early 1960s with an estimated price of £5000-£6000. It looks like the same camera he was playing with on board a 1960s flight with Ringo sitting next to him. The camera, which looks in pretty good condition, goes under the hammer on December 12.

The auction blurb says the camera has a serial number of 614127 and comes complete with clip on meter and an f3.5 35mm Super Takumar.  The camera was given by George to his dad and, after his father's death, it was passed to George's brother, Harry. Apparently, the camera has been in quite regular use until recently.

The S1A was a budget version of the SV and was released in 1962. If you've never handled one of these early Pentaxes before you're missing a treat. They're beautifully made - with a feel that's not a million miles away from a Leica M3, and that's high praise indeed.

As you might have guessed judging by the amount of camera equipment I've amassed over the last five years, I've got an SV with a few lenses including the classic 35mm that's on George's camera. I can't even remember how it came into my possession. Coincidentally, it's sitting right in front of me on my desk. A rivet on a catch that keeps the back shut popped off and I had to carry out a running repair with some glue. I'm amazed it's still holding together but I haven't put a film through it since the "riveting" incident as I half expect that the back will fly open at some point. I'll need to get a broken SV, S1A, S! or similar and swap backs.

I've started to sell off a lot of my surplus gear and it's a bit sad seeing it disappearing. However, I've consoled myself with the thought that I'll get myself a camera from 1961 - the year I was born - as compensation. The SV is from 1963 which is close but a miss is as good as a mile as they say. I'm on the lookout for an S1 and a black one would be great. I'd love a 1961 Nikon F with the plain prism but they go for about ten times the price of the Pentax.

It's interesting to think that George plumped for a Pentax when he could have had a more glamorous Nikon F or M3. Maybe he just held a Pentax and was hooked...


Bokeh said...

Not to be impolite, but Mr. Harrison might have bought it at random. Each camera of that era has its own history, taking into consideration there wasn't many new designed cameras as it is now the case. So the selection was probably much smaller.

I have never hold such a camera but the feel must be great. On the other hand, I have a Spotmatic F that had just been CLA'd and I enjoy it quite a lot. That serie (mid 60s) is a little yougner than the SV.

BTW, I just acquired an ES II on e-Bay for 50$. Another screw body camera to hold the marvellous Super-Takumar lenses, I suppose.



Hi Bokeh,

I think the early 1960s Pentax series was built a little better than the later Spotmatics but there's not a huge amount in it and the Spotmatics are still beautiful - and very reasonably priced - picture-taking machines. David Baily used an SV in the 60s before moving on to an ES and he wasn't bad, was he?

Sometimes, when I see the low prices that SVs, S1As and spotmatics go for on Ebay, I keep asking why they're not more sought after. Is the low price just down to the great numbers that were produced?

Bokeh said...

Hi Bruce,

The great numbers of Spotmatics might partly explain their low prices.

But the fact they use mercury batteries might have an influence on a potential buyer.

Personnally, I managed to get my Spot F battery chamber set to accept alkaline batteries (with the help of the technician Erik Hendrickson). Anyhow, there are a lot to say about the mercury body meter and ways to use them thru some technical twists...

Keep going with your blog. A joy to read.

jason gold said...

Truth be told,the Spotmatic was built to highest quality. The S1,S1a and Sv were not that well built. Certainly not for heavy pro usage. Me!
I was told in a letter,from Modern Photography magazine's famous editor, Herbert Keppler, to hang onto my Pentax Takumar lenses and add the Spotmatic.I was close to quitting with broken bodies. My one Spotmatic now resides at my daughter. I don't think it's used anymore..


Hi Jason,

I think we're maybe conflating build quality with reliability.The build quality of the earlier cameras is lovely and very refined. I think they feel better in the hand than Spotmatics. However I totally bow to your experience regarding reliability. I suppose any weaknesses would have been ironed out over time making the Spotmatics more reliable. Either way, they're all great!