Vintage Japanese binoculars

Swift Tourist binoculars 7x35, 1962
Swift Tourist binoculars 7x35, 1962 Image by Joe Haupt licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A licence was granted for the import of binoculars from Japan in 1961. Prior to that date binouclars sold in the the UK had been British, French or from within the British Commonwealth.

America had opened its doors to Japanese products much earlier. The well known brand Bushnell was selling Japanese binoculars in the USA in the 1950s. In 1954 America was the destination for 70% of Japanese exports of binoculars totalling $3.9m. The following year the market was worth $5.9m. [1]

UK firms were not worried about the extra competition. They had already been beating off competition from cheap, but good quality, military surplus binoculars since the end of the Second World War.

Germany was known as the home of quality optics. West Germany opened its market to Japanese binoculars in the 1960s. By 1963 82% of all binoculars sold in West Germany were Japanese.[2]

Britain did not give Japanese firms an entirely free hand and controlled imports by tariffs and quotas. Nevertheless the Japanese transformed the market for binoculars in the UK.

In the 1950s the cheap end of the binocular market was a choice between military surplus or imports from France or Hong Kong. British firms took the mid and upper markets. They competed with quality German brands, Zeiss and Steinhill, at the top end.

Britain was becoming more affluent and British consumers were looking for better quality products. Binoculars appealed to tourists visiting foreign countries for the first time. There were also horse racing fans and amateur astronomers.

Binocular sales grew rapidly in the 1960s. Much of the increse was due to good quality, but reasonabley priced, Japanese binoculars.

Pyser-Britex marketed Swift binoculars in Europe in the 1960s. They saw sales increase from a few hundred pounds in 1961 to £500m by 1967[3].

Another importer was Charles Frank, based in Glasgow. They did a deal with Japanse maker Nipole to sell binoculars in the UK. They were branded 'Frank-Nipole'. Their Frank-Nipole 8 x 30 sold for £10 19s 6d in 1968. Zeiss binoculars started at £40 and Ross £20.

Ultimately consumer choice prevailed and the Japanese firms prospered.


[1] Hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on Ways and Means (House of Representatives), published Government Printing Office Washington 1956, pages 1986 to 1987.

[2] Foreign competition hits Germany, published in the Guardian, 10 July 1964, page 18

[3] Binoculars break through the price barrier, published in the Times, March 1967

Add your comments

To prevent automated Bots from spamming, please enter the text you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.
Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectables

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ 20th Century History ★ Antiques & Collectables ★