Vivitar serial numbers

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A multi-sourced collection of everything currently known about Viviar serial numbers.

Contents

Introduction

This list should not be considered definitive. It is actively changing in response to ongoing research. Vivitar never published any public documentation of their serial numbering system. The information presented here is the result of individual research by lens collectors. Many variants of this list can be found online, sometimes with unsubstantiated claims the list was provided by Vivitar insiders. The sources used in assembling this list are cited as used but not all should be considered authoritative.

There are many documented exceptions to the numbering system presented here, especially in lenses with very early or unusual badging (e.g. "P&B Vivitar" or "Vivitar Professional") and in lenses sold late in the history of Vivitar. The consensus seems to be that most lenses sold in the 1960s did not use this system. The first lenses that appear to follow this number scheme appear in the late 1960s and by 1970 it appears to be used consistently. There is general agreement among collectors that sometime after 1990, this system fell into disuse or was completely abandoned.

Steevithak is actively researching this topic and frequently updates this page. He is interested in communicating with anyone who worked for Ponder and Best, particularly in a procurement position.

Serial Number System

The most common hypothesis about how the Vivitar serial number system worked involves breaking the serial number down into separate components that represent the manufacturer, year, week, and sequence number. Under this scheme the first two digits of the serial number identify the manufacturer. The third digit represents the last digit of the year of manufacture (e.g. a '4' could mean 1974 or 1984). The fourth and fifth digits represent the week number of manufacture. The remaining digits would be the actual manufacturing sequence number. There are known exceptions to the year/month portion of the formula as well as exceptions to the entire system.

Serial Number Prefix Codes

Prototype Serial Numbers

Prototypes lenses generally used the same serial number scheme as production lenses but will have very low numbers in the portion of the number that reflects the manufacturing sequence. In many cases prototype lenses never made it to production; for example the Vivitar Professional 180mm f/2.8. In other cases the lenses were produced and sold but with slight mechanical or visual differences in the higher numbered production versions. Bill Swinyard describes an example of a prototype lens he owns:

"I still have one of the prototypes that later went into production. Mine is a Vivitar 20mm f/4 with a black alloy mount, while the production version was labelled as an f/3.8 and had a stainless mount. It has a SN of 22970003. The 0003 indicates only that it is a very early model, although there were a dozen or so of such prototypes made. I also remember having given away prototype models of a Vivitar 100mm f/2.8, an 85mm f/1.8, and an 800mm f/8."[4] (photos of Bill Swinyard's prototype can be seen in the article: Vivitar Auto Wide-Angle 20mm f/3.8)

Frequently Asked Questions

How likely is it this list or other alleged Vivitar serial number lists are valid?

No direct evidence to date confirms that Vivitar used the serial number system presented above. But, within certain years, this list may be helpful as one tool among many to help determine who made a given lens. This list has been reviewed by two Ponder and Best employees and has been checked against a wide range of historical information but there are likely still errors and omissions.

Bill Swinyard was the Product Manager from 1969 through 1971 at Ponder and Best. He was involved in new product development, marketing, sales, and dealer communication. He has examined this list and made these comments:

"I don't know that P&B had direct input into designating the serial numbers. That wasn't my department; someone in P&B procurement might have known. In any case, we never used lens serial numbers as any marketing or inventory identifiers. They were only referred to by name; remember this all pre-dates the bar-code SKU systems in use today."[6]

Gordon Lewis, who worked at Vivitar in the 1970s and 1980s, was a Vivitar Product Specialist, handled consumer relations for Olympus OM products, and authored many Vivitar instruction manuals, lends some credence to the use of a serial numbering system:

"I don't know [that serial numbers represented manufacturers] for a fact but I can't imagine them not having manufacturer codes in the product serial numbers. As you know, Vivitar was primarily a marketing and distribution company, so if only for the sake of inventory management and quality assurance it would need to know which manufacturers were supplying which lenses, cameras, flashes, etc. I designed the product codes for Kiron and although in our case there was only one manufacturer (Kino), the numbering was by no means arbitrary."[7]
Where's Olympus? Some Vivitar lists claim 6/06x serial numbers were Olympus-made

Bill Swinyard confirms that Olympus did not make any Vivitar-branded lenses:

"Olympus most certainly did not make any Vivitar-branded lenses. When I was there, Olympus was very protective of its brand and didn't do any distributor-branding at all. It was the most independent of all our suppliers and never listened to us nor sought any of our input about anything. During the last few months of my stay at Vivitar, Olympus had announced that it was going to drop us and go to independent distribution, so I know it didn't happen after I left, either."[4]
Who was Komine? Most Vivitar lists claim 28x serial numbers were made by a company called Komine

Komine is commonly accepted as the name of a Vivitar lens manufacturer but almost nothing is known about the company. There are two commonly made assertions by Vivitar researchers about who Komine was. The first possibility, and the one supported by this document, is that Komine referes to Komine Co., Ltd, an obscure Japanese manufacturer known to have made interchangeable lenses. The second common hypothesis is that Komine was a corruption of Kominar, a brandname used by Japanese lens manufacturer Nittō Kōgaku. No evidence has yet been found to connect Nitto Kogaku with Ponder & Best and one P&B employee has confirmed that the manufacturer was actually called "Komine", not Kominar, so this latter idea seems very unlikely. Attempts to contact Nittō Kōgaku and inquire about their relationship to Ponder & Best or their knowledge of the Komine name have been unsuccessful to date.

One complication that has hindered researchers is that Komine is a common Japanese surname. Many existing and defunct companies in Japan have used variations of the name Komine. Bill Swinyard, who left Ponder & Best in 1971 said Komine was not a manufacturer of any Vivitar lenses during his time at the company but recalls seeing Komine or a similar name associated with sample lenses received from a Japanese company during his last months at P&B.[4] Gordon Lewis, who worked at Vivitar during the late 1970s and early 1980s, offered this comment on Komine:

"I do recall that several popular Vivitar lenses were sourced from a Japanese company called Komine. Who knows what they've morphed into now? Keep in mind that the situation in Japan back then was not much different from the situation in China now: There were a lot of shops cranking out practically identical equipment under a variety of names for a variety of distributors."[8]

The most authoritative reference found to date is in the August 1984 issue of Modern Photography, which states that the full name of the company is "Komine Co., Ltd"[3]. This article was written with the cooperation of Vivitar employees at the time that Komine-made lenses were being manufactured so it's likely to be accurate.

References

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 Vivitar Serial Number List - Matt's Classic Cameras
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Robert's Tech Media - Deciphering Vivitar Serial Numbers
  3. 3.0 3.1 Good grief! Three Series 1 70-210 Vivitar zooms???, Modern Photography, Aug 1984, p35
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 personal correspondence between Bill Swinyard and Steve Rainwater, 21 Feb, 2012
  5. [Bauer trademark filing by Robert Bosch GmbH
  6. personal correspondence between Bill Swinyard and Steve Rainwater, 17 Feb, 2012
  7. personal correspondence between Gordon Lewis and Steve Rainwater, 14 Feb, 2012
  8. personal correspondence between Gordon Lewis and Steve Rainwater, 28 Feb, 2012

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