UNIVERSAL MERCURY II – Eric Budworth

Universal Mercury Picture1

JAA—A bit of an Interesting story.  Tony (a New Zealander) was given this camera by his father who claimed to have got it from a German Soldier in North Africa during the second world war.  We discovered two names written over each other in pencil inside the leather case.  One looks like Alan J Hansen.  The other is less clear, perhaps Henry J. Powell Jr. No idea as to who these people are and neither sounds German.  The Universal Camera company was based in New York and this model was manufactured in 1945, a few years after the North Africa campaign was over.

EB—I have one of these cameras they are quite interesting and as you say the bulbous top is to accommodate the large rotating shutter. They are of half-frame design giving a negative size of 12mm x 18mm.

Universal Mercury

Hi James I’ve cobbled together the following for you.

Mercury cameras were manufactured by the Universal Camera Corp. in New York City. They were made in three models:- Mercury CC 1938-1942; Mercury CC1500. 1939 -1940. & Mercury II model CX 1942 – 1952. Production of this model was curtailed during the war years while the company manufactured binoculars and optical equipment for the United States government.

Mercury model cameras were quite unique at the time although rather ugly I think. They were half-frame cameras which used standard 35mm cassettes and gave 65 exposures per standard roll of 36 full frame exposure film, should have been 72 frames but due to winding sequence and spacing only 65 frames were possible.

The quadrant on the top of the camera was to allow room for the large rotary shutter which was installed in the camera. This consisted of a rather large revolving metal disk! The shutter speeds were rated as 20th sec to 1000th sec. I think the top speed was rather optimistic!

Universal Mercury Rear View

If you look at the photo of the rear of the camera you can see that quick fire shooting wasn’t the name of the game……by the time you had worked out all the different scenarios i.e. seasons; weather: time of day etc., etc., it would be time to get back home! As the camera gave a vertical view in the normal hand held position you would have to turn it sideways to obtain a landscape view.

Universal Camera Corp., also made some accessories for the Mercury camera, these included: – a flash unit; exposure meter; rangefinder and a rapid winder, the latter requiring some modification to the camera to get it to operate. The post-war Mercury II was shunned by the public due to the price being triple that of the pre-war Mercury price. The Universal Camera Corp., will be remembered for its originality and quirky cameras. The company went bankrupt in April 1952.

I hope this is satisfactory James. I’ve included some other camera pictures which you might be able to use.

I realised afterwards that you might also add to my comments the following:- The two large knobs on the front of the Mercury II were for adjusting the shutter speed and the one on the left (as viewed from the front) was for advancing the film and cocking the shutter. May seem strange by the later standard lever wind which became standard for almost all 35mm cameras.

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