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API seals [Author: Dario Bonazza]
Articoli/a14f01.jpg Several types of seals made Pentax cameras in Italy a bit different from others worldwide.
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Duties and taxes on imported goods have always been very high in Italy, so that contraband has always been rampant in this country. Several gray market importers also came and went over the years, thus eating away sizeable market share for official camera importers.

For that reason, many Italian camera importers stuck different kinds of small badges on officially imported cameras, in order to help distinguish them in the market jungle.

During the golden age of the screw mount SLRs, the Spotmatics were absolute best sellers and some Italian photo dealers which were already in business during that era told me that the Asahi Pentax cameras were by far the most contraband ones. Apparently, something alike happened with the M-series cameras in the Seventies. API was the exclusive Pentax importer for Italy from 1959 to 1998 and, as you can guess, they also stuck seals on their cameras.

Some foreign collectors don’t like Italian seals on cameras, because they ‘violate’ the integrity of their beloved cameras, while others like them because of the interesting story they tell, while also giving birth to other camera variations to look for. Whichever your opinion, it can be worth discussing this topic, making Italian cameras a bit different from others sold worldwide.

Three generations of API seals
I believe it all began in 1963 or 1964, just before the introduction of the Spotmatic and its TTLTTL
acronym of "Through The Lens"
metering on Italian market. API staff probably realized that such a revolutionary camera could greatly boost their sales. Moreover, they could gain more on each single camera by keeping its price high because there was little if any competition for this exclusive camera. At that time the only competitor in the TTL arena was Topcon, which never had good distribution in Italy.

Articoli/a14f03t.jpgclick to enlarge

 Among the earliest evidence of API seals, I noticed a 1966 advert on Italian photo magazines, where all shown Asahi Pentax cameras (SP, SV and S1a) sported the then new round badge. The 11mm diameter API seal of first type (type 1A) was struck of heavy metal (probably bronze) and sported the early API diamond logo surrounded by ‘garanzia di regolare importazione’ lettering (meaning ‘guarantee of import by law’).

Then, in 1967, another advert was fully devoted to the Spotmatic. It stressed that only the API warranty seal distinguished a ‘safe’ Asahi Pentax camera, that could take advantage of an efficient service center. Also, customers buying API imported cameras during November and December 1967 period would have received a free Asahi Pentax gadget bag. The seal is placed where you usually see it, on the right side (looking at the camera), close to the meter switch.

In late 1972, API advertised the ES, still showing the old style seal. That picture shows an oddly placed seal, on the upper left corner of the frontal leatherette. I never saw a marketed Asahi Pentax camera having the seal in that position. A 1974 ad for the SPF was showing the seal in its standard position. The API seal was not reserved for 35mm cameras only. As you can see in the picture, the 6x7 also bore that round badge.       Articoli/a14f04.jpg

In 1974 the seal look was modified with the new API logo surrounded by ‘garanzia API’ lettering (API warranty). This late variation still retains the 11mm diameter and the heavy, medal-like construction, so that I name it type 1B. You can see it stuck on late screw mount cameras and on early K-bayonet cameras up to 1977 as well.

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click to enlarge

Between 1977 and 1978, another variation of the API seal saw light. In order to better match the tiny M-series cameras, it also shrank. It was of cheaper manufacturing, being made by black silkscreen printing on a small (9.5mm) punched aluminum disc. In order to make this seal as little trouble as possible for photographer’s fingers, API personnel punched a round hole in leatherette, so that that the thin seal could almost stay within its thickness. This newer seal is quite delicate, since the black ink of the logo can be quickly removed either by fingertip sweat or alcohol when cleaning the camera. Seeing ME, ME Super or MX cameras with partially or totally blank seal is quite common. Again, this seal was stuck on equipment of all formats and you can see it on all 67, 645 and Auto 110 cameras sold in Italy by API.

Articoli/a14f06.jpg                          Articoli/a14f07.jpg                           Articoli/a14f08.jpg
 Seal type 1A                        Seal type 1B                         Seal type 2   

In the mid-eighties, P-series cameras introduced the third generation API seal printed directly on the camera body. Black finished cameras bore a white logo (type 3A), while the chrome K1000 got a black seal (type 3B). This late variation of the API seal was also used on autofocus SLRSLR
Acronym of "Single Lens Reflex". See also "Reflex"
’s up to Z-series, while pro cameras of the same period still wore the type 2 seal.

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A special seal
In 1994 API announced the K1000 Anniversary, a special edition camera (only 300pcs) manufactured for celebrating 35 years of API-Pentax partnership (yes, I know that 35 years are quite an odd anniversary, but this is the way things are). That special edition camera was adorned with a special numbered seal. The K1000 Anniversary #1 was donated by API to Asahi Opt. Co. and is on display at Pentax Museum in Mashiko, Japan. In order to remark that the importers was established and still had their premises in Florence, the special presentation box also included a reproduction of a silver florin, a coin that was in circulation in Florence back in year 1252.

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Registered numbers
Seal type 1A was put on the SV (registered numbers from 639425 to 888133) SP model 231 (1164150 to 1173983), SP model 23102 (1210942 to 3791493), SPII (5000776 to 5298270), SPF (4512953 to 4614889), ES (6503732 to 6556913) and ESII (6630423 to 6642744). I have no registered numbers for SP500 wearing API seal, since this model is quite scarce in Italy. From these registered numbers I guess it was used from 1963 to 1973.

Seal type 1B can be traced on SPF (4718782 to 4924008 and then 6036193 to 6150354), SP1000 (5622492 to 5817180), ESII (6683958 to 6732483), ESII MD (6746548), K2 (7025664 to 7138656), K2 DMD (7163375 to 7171556), KX (8297312) KM (8164111 to 8285577), K1000 (7614251 to 7885879), MX (9178859 to 9294563) and ME (9708215 to 9725498). From these registered numbers I guess that seal type 1B was used from 1974 to 1977.

Strange enough, type 1B was also seen on ES #6504226, that should bear type 1A. Maybe it was the result of mixing parts between two different cameras.

I registered seal type 2 on K1000 (6811630 to 7745504), ME (1275786), MX (9433517 to 9443376 and then 4122810 to 4436332), ME Super (1856762 to 3970060), LX (5241358), Super A (1008576 to 1630261) and P30 (3315459). It is my understanding that seal type 2 was used from 1977 to 1985 on 35mm SLR’s and from 1977 to 1998 on medium format cameras.

Registered numbers for cameras showing seal type 3 are very few: P30 (4208012), P30n (4292044) and SFXn (4366789). No registered numbers at all for other camera models. It was used by API from 1985 to 1998.

Registered numbers for K1000 Anniversary are 6131728 for No.36 and 6131955 for No.112. Yes, I also noticed that the difference is 76 in special number and 227 in their serial number. What does it mean? Somebody supposed that more than 300pcs were made. I just believe that API simply took 300pcs of K1000 they had in stock and turned them into special edition, without care or concern for their original serial numbers.

I always welcome further information on published topics, so should you have more registered numbers for Italian Pentax cameras bearing the API seals, please let me know their model, serial number and seal type.


The original article was published on SPOTMATIC magazine #31, January 2002.





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