This page is no longer actively maintained. (Pardon?)
Technical & Optical Equipment (London) Ltd. were the only authorized British importers of Soviet cameras. Founded in 1962, they gained a reputation as responsible sellers, because they took apart every camera in their own repair facilities for calibration and repair before feeding them to the market. TOE wouldn't be such an inspiring company to write about, had they not published a book in 1971 about taking pictures with Soviet cameras, that was so gravied and hyperbolic to make it excellent reading for Soviet camera enthusiasts. Virtually everything I know about TOE comes from that book, and in particular from the paragraph quoted below.
Through the years, TOE has occupied several different locations. The book mentions residencies in Earlham Street, St. Martin's Lane, Praed Street, and Thane Villas. The place in Thane Villas was the most recent when the book was published, and all the pictures on this page are of that location. After 1971, they seem to have moved even more, as a small Internet search came up with the following addresses:
London NW9 6EE
Phone: 01-200 6505
69 Lawrence Road
Tottenham London N15 4DG
Phone: 0208 800 8088
Fax: 0208 809 0556
15/17 Praed Street
A contribution by Peter Evans reveals that the former Zenith House at Thane Villas is now called Regent House, and is occupied by a W. Williams & Son Ltd. Bit of a shame if you ask me, because it would have been nice to find a living, breathing TOE in that Zenit House of theirs, continuing their import/export business, totally oblivious to the changes in the world, with the same certitude and conviction as in their book.
The black-and-white pictures of Zenith House, now called Regent House, date from 2003 and are courtesy of Peter Evans.
For those who care about such things: the Dutch East West Agencies was a TOE puppet. I'm not sure about the whole picture, but the TOE logo appears on the Dutch Zenit-E/EM manual together with EWA's, suggesting a strong connection.
Below is an excerpt from "Discover Rewarding Photography", the book that TOE published in 1971. In the back is rare information about TOE's business and structure.
Technical & Optical Equipment was formed in 1962 with the object of marketing Russian photographic and microscope equipment. Right at the beginning, two major factors were put at the forefront of Company policy. First, the public must be offered a value-for-money product. Second, and equally important, that product must be backed up by the finest and most reliable pre-sales and after-sales service. This became the Company's watchword and consequently, when the Company moved into its first offices in Earlham Street, London, the first department to be fully equipped was the Workshop.
It was necessary to build up a distribution through the established photographic dealers and it is a well-known fact that any product that is to be stocked and promoted successfully by the dealer must be backed by an adequate stock of spares, plus a fast turn-round on Service. The proof of the success of Technical & Optical Equipment's early policy became apparent when, after only two years of trading, it was necessary to move from their original offices to much larger premises in St. Martin's Lane, London.
By this time, a rapidly growing number of dealers were acknowledging the value for money offered by the early reflex and rangefinder cameras, and were stocking these items in greater quantity all the time. The constantly swelling volume of business has necessitated two further moves, one to Praed Street, and now to the impressive new building, Zenith House in London, N.7., designed specifically for Technical & Optical Equipment's function. The internal layout of Zenith House is divided into specific functional sections which embrace Sales and Marketing, Service and Inspection, Accounts, Sales Administration, Stores and Despatch.
The company regularly organises photographic competitions for users of Russian cameras, with prizes and trips arranged for the winners. The huge response in terms of entries is an indication of the enthusiasm of photographers for Russian products. Not only at the amateur level, but among professionals, too, there is appreciation of the high quality of the cameras themselves, the accessory lenses and other equipment, at prices that make them a viable proposition for the self-financing photographer. Similar competitions have been organised for dealers stocking the Company's products, and received with equal enthusiasm.
The Company's motto is, and always has been "Priority Service", and attention is constantly given to this aspect of the Company's affairs. It gives great satisfaction to all levels of staff at Technical & Optical Equipment that "Priority Service" is not only done, but is always seen to be done, by public and dealers alike.
Design improvements have flowed constantly from the drawing boards of designers at the home factories of Russian cameras since the Company began trading, and this has resulted in the Company being able to offer up-to-the-minute equipment. Mechanically, Russian equipment is built to the same functional and hard-wearing requirements that got the Russian space programme off the ground. The lenses themselves have improved constantly, and enjoy an enviable reputation among discerning users. Such items as the catadioptric MTO500A and MTO1000A lenses have a world-wide reputation for superior performance at an economic price.
Both reflex and rangefinder cameras are well known for efficient and reliable functioning over long periods of time, partly due to the rigid inspection given to each item before being put into stock at Zenith House.
Russian microscope equipment, it might be said, established its own reputation in a short space of time in the United Kingdom. Made to the very highest specification, and with superior design factors and finish, these microscopes are aiding medicine, science, industry and research in schools, hospitals, workshops and universities everywhere. The same priority service attaches to these instruments as to Russian cameras, with which they are often used for micro-photography.
It is Technical & Optical's proudest achievement that they offer the finest service in the photographic trade. All apparatus received from Russia is carefully inspected and packed before despatch to ensure that the dealer receives the equipment not only in pristine condition, but in perfect working order ready for sale.
Some dealers make a point in their advertising that all equipment received from importers of even the world's most expensive cameras is checked in their workshop, and that a high percentage of such cameras need adjustment before being passed on to the customer. This is seldom the case with Russian equipment, and the dealer who informs Technical & Optical that an item has reached him in less than perfect order is indeed becoming a rarity.
The confidence thus engendered in dealers, and consequently among the public, is rewarded by the continuously-growing sales of the whole range of Russian photographic and microscope equipment.
East West Agencies was the importer of Soviet-Russian cameras in Holland, and a sister organisation of TOE. According to their camera manuals, their evil lair was at the Binckhorstlaan 340–342 in the Hague, which by some coincidence is close to where I live. In August 2004 I took the plunge and made these pictures. It surprised me how big the building was, and how it was situated right on the main road in a large commercial neighbourhood. I expected it to be much more proletarian. These days it houses a real estate agent and a car rental company.