In the mid-1940s, optical products maker Nippon Kogako KK decided to make a camera of its own. Though designed and prototyped in 1946, the 35 mm interchangeable lens rangefinder didn't go into production until early 1948. The release signaled a new direction for the company, and introduced a new name – Nikon. Next month, what's billed as the earliest known surviving production Nikon in the world will go for auction in Europe.

From 1917 to just after World War II, Tokyo-based Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Kabushikigaisha manufactured a vast catalog of optical products, including microscopes, telescopes, survey equipment and photographic lenses. During WW2, the company focused on optics for the Japanese military, but a post-war company reorganization resulted in a severe downsizing and a return to the manufacture of fine civilian optical products. In September 1946, the design for the firm's first camera was approved.

Now known as the Nikon One, the rangefinder was inspired by German cameras of the day. The camera didn't have a flash sync and came with either a 50 mm F3.5 or F2.0 Nikkor lens. It used a 24 x 32 mm frame size pioneered by Chiyoda Kogaku's 1947 Minolta 35 camera. The so-called Nippon format allowed for more exposures per standard length of photographic film, and was more inline with most used photo paper sizes.

The model being offered for sale is reported to be the third camera off the Nikon production line, with serial number 60924. From the Tad Sato collection, it's said to be in excellent condition and comes with its original shutter, original Nikkor-H 2/5cm interchangeable lens, and double strap case. "Made In Occupied Japan" is engraved in large capital letters on the baseplate.

The Nikon One is due to go under the hammer on November 19 for a starting price of €90,000 (about US$98,000), with an estimated sale price of €160,000 to €180,000.

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