Enlarger lenses and other photographic accessories bearing the AICO brand are common in the UK market. The name has been mistaken for ‘Alco’ (as in Alco-Pop), and confused with both Aico (the ‘European market leader for home safety’ named in 1990 after its founder Ken Ainsworth) and www.aico-lenses.com (the Hangzhou-based purveyor of CCTV and industrial lenses).
AICO lenses are seen with diverse and inconsistent branding and packaging, and have been assumed in discussion forums to be related to the Allied Impex COmpany – American distributor of Soligor-branded products, and (later) owner of the Miranda brand. They are seen in the guise of AICO, AICO Anastigmat, S-AICO and AICO-PSL in silver and black finishes. Enlarger lenses are found in 4, 5 and 10-blade apertures of various vintages and three focal lengths: 50mm, 75mm and 105mm. All are made in Japan. But made – and sold, exactly – by whom has been unclear.
Contrary to forum chatter, there is no connection between Allied Impex in the US and AICO in the UK, despite the fitness of the acronym. Vade Mecum lists AICO (of London) in 1973 as agents, importing and rebranding enlarger lenses and teleconverters.
However, even this isn’t entirely accurate, because sometime between 1955 and 1961 AICO (properly known as the Apparatus & Instrument Company Ltd) relocated from their premises in Sheen Lane, London to AICO House, 36 Grove Road, Hounslow (now a shopping centre). AICO enlarger lenses made in the 1960s were sold in blue boxes featuring AICO’s flagrantly mis-spelled rosette logo ‘Guarranteed and Distributed by Apparatus & Instrument Co. Ltd. / Hounslow / Middlesex’.
The Apparatus & Instrument Company sold a wide range of own-branded, imported photographic accessories to public and the trade. In 1955, it retailed Photina TLR cameras. In June 1961 AICO began importing from Poland the Start-B TLR camera. Other Polish imports included jointly-branded PZO enlarger lenses and for a time AICO was the UK importer for Krokus enlargers. In 1973 it had at least two series of SLR cameras on its books. In July 1979 AICO diversified or reallocated its resources into a UK company whose directors were William Nimmo Pieri (died 2014) and Barry William Read (died 2018) and whose activities were classified as ‘wholesale of household goods’. The company was active at two addresses in Newbury: Unit 4, Ringway House, Kelvin Road, RG14 2DB and Aico House, Faraday Road, London Road Estate, RG14 2AD. However, the photography business continued apace, as indicated by the 1981 review of the AICO Bellows System in Amateur Photographer and, in February of that year, the American trademarking of AICO’s distinctive ‘four cat-eye’ corporate identity, which remained active until April 1989, which appears to mark the endpoint of company trading – in America at least.
Products from early in this period [1975-1980??] were solely branded AICO, and it was around this time they dropped the ‘Anastigmat’ legend from their 1960s’s vintage all-silver enlarger lenses and [possibly] relaunched them in all black with reset serials. Some versions are marked S-AICO – the significance of which is presently unknown. Later [1980-1985?] products were branded AICO-PSL – presumably indicating a new commercial partnership. The balance of power presumably shifted in later years [1985-1990??] as redesigned branding changed to PSL-AICO and the business seems to have concentrated solely on screw-on filters. No enlarger lenses are seen from the PSL-AICO period.
— An advert dated by Grace’s Guide to 1955 shows the Apparatus & Instrument Company of Sheen Lane in London retailing Photina TLR cameras.
— Pictures of logos
Identifying Versions of the 50mm f3.5 – all made in Japan f3.5-f16
Version 1: c1960-1965?. Serials 3xxxx to 5xxxx. Silver body ‘Anastigmat’. Square (4-blade) aperture.
Version 2: c.1965-1967?. Serials 6xxxx to 80150. Silver body ‘Anastigmat’. Circular 10-blade aperture.
Version 3: c.1967-1972. Serials 81493 to 12xxxx. Also some 4-digit serials (ie, 6325). Silver body ‘Anastigmat’. Curved 5-blade aperture. Blue rosette logo and packaging.
Version 4: c.1972-1978. Serials 1xxxx. Black body marked AICO only.
Version 5: No serial. Black body marked AICO only. AICO International boxed logo. Black and yellow packaging.
Version 6: c.1972-1978. Serials 6xxxx. Marked S-AICO. Black body.
Version 7: c.1978-1982. No serials. Marked AICO-PSL. Black body. Black/yellow cat-eye logo packaging.
Identifying Versions of the 70mm f3.5 – all made in Japan. Some versions f3.5-f16; others f3.5-f22
Version 1: c.1960-1967?. Serials 3xxxx to 11xxxx. Silver body ‘Anastigmat’ f16. Circular 10-blade aperture. Blue rosette logo and packaging.
Version 2: c.1967-1972?. Serials 12xxx to 15xxxx. Silver body ‘Anastigmat’ f16. Curved 5-blade aperture.
Version 3. c1972-1978?. Serials 1xxxx. Black body f22 marked AICO only.
Version 4. c.1972-1978? Serials 12xxxx. Black body f16 marked AICO-PSL. Curved 5-blade aperture. Black/yellow cat-eye logo packaging.