Utility MFG Co. / Spartus Corp, 711-715 W. Lake Street, Chicago, IL [West Loop]
The Falcon Minette was, in theory, just another of the many cheap bakelite camera brands produced out of Jack Galter’s Lake Street factory during the late 1930s and early 1940s. You can get the full crazy story of this photo industry phenomenon on our main Spartus Camera history page.
As for this model, it’s maybe the most mysterious of those in the so-called “Chicago Cluster,” considering that Falcon Cameras were a noted brand of the Utility MFG Co., a manufacturer based in New York City. As you can see on our Falcon, Utility is still the manufacturer name, but they’re now listed as a “Chicago U.S.A.” company.
[A 1941 ad for the Falcon Minette reveals a different mold and a New York name plate]
To make matters worse, there are advertisements from the early 1940s that still show the Falcon Minette with a New York name plate—along with a slightly different body design plucked from the pile of randomly used and re-used molds familiar to Jack Galter and the Chicago Cluster.
Interestingly, Galter had actually accused Utility MFG of unfair trade practices in 1939, when the New Yorkers tried to sell their version of his identical mini-cams on Illinois turf. Did he sue them into submission and buy them out, moving their manufacturing to Chicago? Had Utility’s cameras been made in Chicago all along anyway? Had the two companies given up their feud and worked out a mutually beneficial distribution deal? Or did Jack Galter simply start stealing the Falcon and Utility names outright, out of spite?
Nobody knows, which is why the dozens of brand names and manufacturer names tied to the Spartus Camera Corp. have created one of the great head-scratching labyrinths among camera collectors.
One thing we do know is that the “Falcon Minette” worked pretty much like all its cousins of the period—simple and affordable enough for a child to cut his teeth on. The camera could take 16 point-and-click pictures with Kodak 127 film, and would cost you just a buck—about $16 in today’s cash.
An ad for a slightly higher-end Falcon—without the familiar Spartus mold type—is included below.
The Falcon is one of many “Chicago Cluster” cameras in our museum collection: