Tower 51  –  Vintage Camera

Tower 51 (three quarters)

Tower 51 (three quarters)

Tower 51 (three quarters)

Tower 51 (three quarters)

Tower 51 (front view)

Tower 51 (front view)

Tower 51 (rear view)

Tower 51 (rear view)

Tower 51 (top view)

Tower 51 (top view)

Tower 51 (bottom view)

Tower 51 (bottom view)

Tower 51 (with 35mm cassette for scale)

Tower 51 (with 35mm cassette for scale)

Tower 51 (three quarters)Tower 51 (three quarters)Tower 51 (front view)Tower 51 (rear view)Tower 51 (top view)Tower 51 (bottom view)Tower 51 (with 35mm cassette for scale)

Tower 51 Specifications

Manufacturer: Iloca Kamera-Werk for
  Sears, Roebuck and Co.
   
Origin: USA
   
Made in: Hamburg, West Germany
  (modern day Germany)
   
Introduced: 1955
   
Type: Rangefinder
   
Format: 135 Film
   
Dimensions: 12.5 x 8.3 x 6.8 cm

Tower 51 Review

The Tower 51 is a conventional fixed lens rangefinder produced by Iloca Kamera-Werk in Hamburg, Germany as a direct variant of the Iloca Rapid-B and sold by Chicago-based department store and mail order giant Sears, Roebuck and Co. under their Tower brand. Over the years, Sears sold a wide variety of rebranded cameras produced by different manufacturers such as the Tower 39 Automatic (made by Mamiya) and the 2.8 / Easi-Load (produced by Ricoh).

The camera’s controls an features are fairly straightforward. The ring at the base of the Steinheil 50mm f/2.8 Cassar S lens controls the focus, the next ring up sets the aperture, a flash sync post and and sync mode selector are above that, and the last ring changes the shutter speed. The top of the camera features a film rewind knob on the user’s left hand side, a cold shoe, then a threaded shutter button with a frame advance lever with integrated film counter on the right. The bottom plate of the camera features a rewind release button, tripod socket, and a brief set of exposure guides for sunny days and flash photography.

There are several variations of the Tower 51 rangefinder and this particular model was released in 1957 with the only major difference being a film advance lever instead of a knob. The following year, an unusual variant was introduced with left-handed frame advance lever. Confusingly, Sears also released another camera with the same exact name only this one was a medium format folding camera made by the United States Camera Corporation.

I bought this Tower 51 at a thrift store for 99 cents. It had been over a year since my last thrift store find so it was nice to find another dusty gem on the shelf. The camera shows average wear for its age (scratches, scuffs, peeling leatherette, etc) but the optics appear to be in good condition. It took a little bit of finessing in the beginning but the shutter and film advance also seem to work fine.

References:

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), 299, 601-602.

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