The enigmatic Varicon

Despite many Internet searches using every trick I know, I haven't been able to find a scrap of information to explain the Varicon B.C.C. rebranding of Beauty cameras. My initial assumption was that the Varicon name was adopted in order to exploit a new market ... but I've come to an alternative conclusion.

 

Here's what I know. The Varicon branding was only used on two models produced between 1958 & 1959.

 

Varicon SII

 

The Varicon SII was a rebadged Beauty Super II. Aside from the front of body badge being changed from "Beauty" to "Varicon", and the top-plate engraving from "Super II" to "Varicon SII", the two cameras were otherwise (outwardly) identical, including their "K" prefixed serial numbers. I have found only two examples of this camera on the Web (both with f/2.8 lenses).

 

It can be foolhardy to form an opinion based on a small set of data, but I've placed the entire set of SII, and f/2.8 Super II serial numbers I've been able to observe, in sequence below. The red numbers are Varicons, and the black are Beauties. The data invites the conclusion that the Varicon was made near to, but not at the start of the Super II production run, AND, if examples were confined to the K7 range, there would have been a maximum of 999 models assembled. 

 

K2745 - K4517 - K5008, K5168, K5362, K5517 - (NB: the K6 series seem to have been f/2 models) -  K7031, K7144 - K8136, K8666 - (NB: the K9 series seem to have been f/1.9 models) - K10173, K10266, K10636, K10703 - K11665 - K12219, K12237, K12305, K12375 - K15478 - K16872 - K17933 - K18374, K18430 - K19171 - K20086, K20463, K20503, K20650 - K21063, K21316, K21716, K21750, K21939, K21963 - K22855

The Varicon SII instruction manual is merely a copy of the f/2.8 Super II document, with a revised cover (ironically, the camera pictured within the owner's manual is actually an f/2 Beauty Super II). This minimal adaptation fits the notion that the Super II came first.

The SII booklet is written in American-English, so one can reasonably assume that the target sales area was English speaking, which was not my initial expectation, because the Super II market was also English speakers.

 

One of the SII images I found featured an unexpected accessory; a Varicon branded Sekonic LC-2 clip-on light meter (introduced in 1957). The connection with Sekonic is not a surprise: in addition to its own meters, Sekonic was well know for making rebrands for other companies (such as Prinz and Hanimex), along with those built into various Japanese cameras, like that in the Beauty/Varicon Super L. What I did not expect to learn was that such an accessory existed, since I have no knowledge of a Beauty counterpart. But, maybe this gadget became unnecessary once the Super L had been launched a little later in the year.

 

Varicon Super L & SL

 

The Varicon Super L is probably best explained by starting with the serial numbers. The set that I have been able to find has been reproduced below. The red numbers are Varicons, and the black are Beauties. The data invites the conclusion that the Varicon preceded the Beauty, and the numbering may have been consecutive.

 

80194, 80209, 80378, 80408, 80443, 80457, 80652, 80675, 81823, 81885, 81912, 82057, 82367, 82443, 82468, 82551, 82700, 82741, 82787, 82950, 83171, 83289, 83290, 83407, 83519, 83542, 83575, 83664, 83712, 83831, 83890, 84168, 84201, 84327, 84361, 84482, 84732, 84864, 84906, 84943, 85102, 85118, 85499, 85684, 85867, 86027, 86030, 86229, 86390, 86569, 87301, 87421, 87457, 87716, 87624

 

These numbers suggest that it was the Varicon Super L that was produced first, and then rebranded as the otherwise identical "Beauty Super L". It also implies that there were less than 443 cameras made, which makes the Varicon Super L rare. However, I have found a later version of the Varicon Super L, with a top-plate engraving that reads Varicon SL. I've seen just two examples (but only one with a readable serial number - 81912). I can offer no explanation of this anomaly, but it appears to be even less common than the Super L.

Conclusions

I suspect the launch of the traditional Super II preceded the more modern Super L. For some reason, Beauty attempted to rebrand their 1958 models. For the Super II, the change was made during the early stages of production, but the Super L was Varicon branded from the outset. The target customer was the USA market. However, for some reason, the brand change was aborted, with a reversion to Beauty.

 

A short Varicon production run explains the scarcity of these models, along with the absence of marketing material (which came later when stock was on shop shelves), and nullifies the counter-intuitiveness of producing and marketing identical products under different names to the same target customer. Well, that's my theory.

The f/2.8 Varicon SII.

B.C.C Varicon SII
B.C.C Varicon SII
Varicon clip-on lightmeter

The Varicon branded Sekonic LC-2 clip-on light meter for the Varicon SII.

B.C.C Varicon SII

The Varicon SII with the Varicon clip-on light meter fitted.

B.C.C Varicon Super L
B.C.C Varicon Super L

The Varicon Super L.

B.C.C Varicon SL

* A screen grab from a YouTube video of a Varicon SL with the serial number 81912. To see this, you have to stop the video just at the right moment - when a hand passes over the camera to open the back.