Allow me to begin by admitting that I'm not a camera guy. To me, they're just something to point and shoot. Nevertheless, I found this book about cameras surprisingly interesting.
Argus Camera is an American business saga - with clever inventiveness, creative marketing schemes, financial cliff hangers, soap-opera ownership changes, etc. It is a story well-told by Henry J. Gambino, a prolific author and camera buff. Dr. Gambino brings drama to the repeated rises and falls of Argus, yet he never neglects facts and statistics for the person who wants a deeper look.
As I read Argus' story, I was reminded often of the Lionel trains saga. Both companies made other products before finding their chosen fields. Both sold selected accessories for their primary product, leaving room for other companies to develop their own accessories for the brand.
Both firms used celebrities in advertising - Marilyn Monroe did a print ad for Argus; Joe DiMaggio promoted Lionel trains. Both companies became successful by focusing on small independent retailers. Both were hurt after being acquired by shady characters. Both fell victim to the rise of chain discount stores and changing tastes.
Both began by offering products more affordable than foreign competitors, yet both were driven to the brink later by other imports. Changing formats (110 film and HO trains) adversely affected both companies. Lionel and Argus still have a limited but precarious presence in today's market. One can only speculate whether either will be around ten years hence.
Too many single-subject hobby books focus so much on the product that the story is lost. Or the book is authored by a non-buff writer who does yeoman service on the narrative but is light on the minutiae craved by true aficionados of the book's subject. Or sprinkles the text with factual errors, infuriating dedicated hobbyists - who spend winter evenings memorizing product codes, learning color variations and enthusiastically reading about non-released prototypes. "I can tell from the serial number that it was made in 1951," is the cry of the trivia-obsessed collector, whether the item is a car, figurine, sewing machine, military tank, table radio or locomotive. Or camera.
'Argomania' has an ample portion of the book dedicated to the various Argus products - enough to satisfy the most anal-retentive collector. (It has plenty of product photos, too.) But the book never wanders so deeply into the obscure that the casual reader gets lost. This artful balance makes it stand far above other books of its kind.
Camera buff or not, you should buy this book. It's a very good read. (posted 9/9/05)