Champion Miniature Bakelite Camera by The Camera Man, c. 1946

Champion Camera

The Camera Man / Lee Industries / Spartus Corp., 711-15 W. Lake St., Chicago, IL

The Made-In-Chicago Museum has collected, so far, 17 bakelite minicams, all produced by the same Chicago manufacturer in the 1940s, but sold under roughly forty-two gazillion different brand AND manufacturer names. You can read the entire, quite fascinating story of Jack Galter and his budget goods empire on our main Spartus Camera Corp. page.

This particular “candid type camera” (they had to say “type” because it wasn’t legally classifiable as a real candid camera) was called the Champion, and while our artifact labels the manufacturer as “The Camera Man,” the same camera was also produced under the banner of Lee Industries. In fact, another one of the cameras in the museum collection, the Leecrest by Lee Industries, featured the exact same mold as the Champion. All of these names were loosely, if not directly, tied in with the Spartus Camera Corp. and its tangled web of cheap wartime cameras.

The ad below is for a New York camera dealer and features the Champion with no attribution of a manufacturer at all. Par for the course, friends. Nobody has ever totally figured this stuff out.

 

The Champion is one of many “Chicago Cluster” cameras in our museum collection:

 

Archived Reader Comments:

“While the Champion is obviously tied in to the Spartus web, “The Camera Man” was actually one Henry J. Handelsman Jr. I have confirmed this via my own “Chicago Cluster” collection, with documentation listing 14 West Lake Street as being “The Camera Man Building”, and 139 North Clark Street as being “Handelsman Inc.”. Additionally, the there was a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Mr. Handelsman (quite lengthy) which asserts that claims of fast lenses, quality workmanship, etc etc were false (complaint 1945, decision 1951). Finally, to add more craziness, I have a photo of a shipping box, sent from The Camera Man in 1942, which contained a Dick Tracy camera! I can provide links/photos if you like.” —John Kratz, 2018

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