Like many of his Italian compatriots, Florence-born Antonio Bencini was drafted into World War I. An aeronautical engineer by trade, he was assigned the daunting task of maintaining and repairing old French-made cameras the army scouts relied upon in the field. After the war, Mr. Bencini returned to Florence and opened a carpentry business that specialized in camera building. In 1920, he and a partner founded Fabbrica Italiana Apparecchi Macchine Materiali Accessori (FIAMMA, also known as FLAME). The business grew steadily, and by 1931 had 100 employees and occupied a space of 3,000 square meters. Mr. Bencini, who also served as the company's technical director, recognized the potential of making and manufacturing amateur box cameras. In 1933, he produced the Fiammetta, a compact wooden camera for image sizes 4.5 x 6 cm and 6 x 9 cm on 120 film.
By 1935, Ferrania, one of Italy's oldest and most successful photographic firms, purchased FIAMMA, which prompted Mr. Bencini to relocate to Turin, where he began doing business as Filma, and his focus remained on mass production of amateur box cameras. The first camera to roll off the assembly line was the appropriately named Filma, which took 4.5 x 6 cm images on 127 film, with a fixed f/11 aperture and fitted with a 75 mm meniscus lens. Two years later, the ever-expanding Ferrania obtained Filma, and Mr. Bencini moved to Milan and opened ICAF, which continued the lucrative practice of making and marketing simple and affordable cameras and equipment. In 1939, ICAF introduced the Roby (later renamed Robi), a compact black enamel camera (4.5 x 6 cm) on 127 film with a fixed aperture of f/11, fixed focus meniscus lens, and a reversible viewfinder mirror. The Gabry (later renamed Gabri) box camera soon followed, also small (4 x 6 cm) on 127 film. Mr. Bencini chose these names to honor his son Roberto and daughter Gabriella. Other cameras followed including Argo, Eno, and the Delta (6 x 9 cm) folding camera.
Camera production was halted by the outbreak of World War II, and replaced by aviation and bicycle parts manufacturing. In 1946, the name was changed to CMF - Bencini, which marked an important camera making transitional phase, with cloth bellows typically associated with a folding camera being replaced by a barrel plate fitted with a mounted lens-shutter lock. That same year, the Rolet camera (4 x 6 cm on 127 film), constructed by Roberto Bencini, then an architectural student, was introduced. The junior Bencini began assuming more of his father's leadership responsibilities, and one of his pet projects was designing the Comet camera, a name which reflected his interest in aviation. Released in 1948, the small and simple Comet camera produced 3 x 4 cm negatives on 127 film. It became one of CMF's best-selling cameras, and subsequently led to a series of similar cameras, including the Relex, Koroll (and Koroll 24, Koroll 24 S, and Koroll II), Comet II, and Comet III.
In 1953, there the corporate moniker was further simplified to Bencini, but by the 1960s, this camera-making pioneer had peaked, but the Comet name was resurrected in the 1970s in the form of various types of 35 mm plastic cameras, distinguished by their initials (e.g., K 35, K 36, NK 135, etc.). The Personal 35 and 8 mm Super 8 film cameras were also being produced in the 1970s, but by now Bencini had clearly lost its competitive edge to the Japanese and German markets. By the 1980s, all Bencini production operations ceased, thereby writing the final chapter in the story of one of Italy's most innovative and commercially successful camera makers.
CLICK HERE for a camera listing of Bencini cameras
2013 Antique & Classic Cameras (URL: http://antiquecameras.net/blog87.html).
2004 Antique Trader Cameras and Photographica Price Guide by Kyle Husfloen (Iola, WI: Krause Publications), p. 12.
2015 Bencini Comet Super 8 (URL: http://www.super8data.com/database/cameras_list/cameras_bencini/cameras_bencini.htm).
2011 The Filma Camera (4.5 x 6) (URL: http://www.storiadellafotografia.it/2011/12/29/fotocamera-filma-4-5-x-6/#more-4424).
2015 Fotocamere Bencini (URL: http://bencinistory.altervista.org/31sch_compatte.html).
2011 History of Bencini: Part I (URL: http://www.mistermondo.com/styled-43/styled-45).
2011 History of Bencini: Part II (URL: http://www.mistermondo.com/styled-43/styled-29).
2013 T.Cs. Camera Collection (URL: http://tcs-informatika.hu/camera_collection/taxonomy/term/260?language=en).
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