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The Vixen Group of Companies: History

Overview: Vixen Co., Ltd.

Vixen is a Japanese based manufacturer, distributor and exporter of telescopes, binoculars, microscopes, and accessories geared for a clientele that spans from novice to the advanced amateur. The history of Vixen begins in October 1949 when their present Chairman Mr. Kousuke Tsuchida, started a wholesale business specializing in optical goods. The original company name was established in March 1954 when "Koyu Company, Limited" was formed in Shinjuku, Tokyo but this would be changed to Vixen Co., Ltd. in August 1970.

By July of 1957 Vixen opened a division dedicated to creating a market for their products and distributing the products to overseas. In August 1969, their manufacturing division, Vixen Optical Company, Limited was founded in Itabashi, Tokyo. And in August 1970 the name "Koyu Co., Ltd. was changed to Vixen Company, Limited. Since August 1985 Vixen Co., Ltd. has been located in Tokorozawa, Japan. In January 1992 their subsidiary manufacturing company's name of Atlus Optical Co., Ltd. was changed to Vixen Research & Development Industries Co. Ltd.

The company's most noteworthy areas of expertise include the incorporation of "go to" computer control electronics into a number of their portable German equatorial mounts. Starting with the "SkySensor" introduced in 1984, continuing with the introduction in 2004 of the STAR BOOK and SPHINX SXW and SX Compact series of "Go To" German equatorial mounts, Vixen has developed original products that offer reasonable solutions as a child's first telescope, or a capable instrument for the adult. By the early 1980's Vixen also featured well made achromatic and the then state of the art fluorite doublet apochromatic telescopes (most notably the highly regarded Vixen 102 Fluorite Apo, some Newtonian models, and a variety of binoculars and interesting accessories.

Facilities: Vixen telescopes are designed and manufactured in their facilities in Japan:

Vixen factory in Tokyo Vixen factory in Tokyo
Above: Vixen's factory near Tokyo, Japan front view at left (170,517 bytes),
and rear view at right (187,400 bytes)

The Origin of the Vixen Name

In English Vixen refers to a mature female Fox. However, we are informed the company name derives from the following, which is a part of the ballad composed in 1822 by an American scholar and poet Mr. Clement Clark Moore (1779-1863):

Vixen old Logo
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer!, and Vixen! On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Downer and Blitzen!"

In the ballad, there are eight reindeers drawing a sledge of Santa Claus. Each reindeer is named by him. The name of the fourth reindeer is Vixen. The Vixen company name derives from the fourth reindeer.

Company Seven's Observations

Company Seven has much experience with the Vixen astronomical products since we have offered their better products for more than twenty years. We continue to stock and offer some of their better telescopes, mounts and accessories. Vixen has a history marked by innovation of relatively affordable, good to very high performance products. However, their distribution experience in the U.S.A. has been a mix of success and failure, and the stresses from third world competition and the Japanese recession have taken their toll. A history lesson might be kept in mind if TeleVue is to make this effort successful.

Over the years Vixen products have been distributed by several U.S. companies, most notably by Celestron International of Torrance, California from the 1980's into the 1990's, and from the 1990's into 2002 by Orion a California based mail order oriented telescope manufacturer and retailers. Some people will recall limited distribution agreements including the choice by Astro-Physics to offer the Vixen Super Polaris-DX mount (now replaced by a lighter capacity "Great Polaris DX") for sale with their four inch and 12cm ED telescopes in 1989 and 1990. The SP-DX mount was good Vixen product that was completely overlooked by Celestron the U.S. distributor at the time, who underestimated the U.S. appetite for decent quality products.

Japan had come from the wreckage of World War II to become the butt of 1950's quality control jokes - "made in Japan" was not considered a compliment. But Japan's industries improved, they became innovators and not just copiers, and the Japan of the late 1960's into the 1980's came to dominate the production of small moderate to excellent quality optics. By the early 1980's Vixen featured well made achromatic and the then state of the art fluorite doublet apochromatic telescopes (most notably the highly regarded Vixen 102 Fluorite Apo, some Newtonian models, and a variety of binoculars and interesting accessories. But the insatiable demand in the USA for Japanese products, and the growing US trade deficit caused storm clouds to brew in Washington, D.C. for Japan.

While Celestron was the largest manufacturer of the better consumer telescopes, they relied on imports to meet the demand for lower priced telescopes, and a broad selection of mounts and accessories. Celestron was the sole U.S. distributor of Vixen products through the 1980's as the Vixen products came to be considered the best products in their class, and they could be sold at very attractive prices. It seemed impossible for any U.S. based manufacturer to rival Vixen products innovative designs, good degree of quality control, and performance for similar cost. Vixen became the first to offer an optional "GoTo" system "SkySensor" which could be sold as an add on for their popular "Super Polaris" series mounts. The SkySensor came about just as the public demand for telescopes began to rise in anticipation of the Comet Halley visit of 1984-1985. While by today's standards the first generation SkySensor was slow and in many other ways primitive, it was exciting; keep in mind that at the time the most capable home technology might be a PC with an Intel 286 processor running DOS 3.1 computers, and cell phones were barely on the radar screen. All seemed to be going quite well for Japanese makers of astronomical equipment, and camera gear.

The decline of Japanese dominance in the US market under the administration of President Ronald W. Reagan, high spending in some areas, various exemptions to planned budget cuts and the loss of federal revenue from tax cuts created difficulties in balancing the federal budget. As a result, the government borrowed extensively to pay its bills issuing Bonds and the like. Government debt about tripled from 1980 to 1988. Much of this money came from abroad, especially from Japan. Borrowing money to pay the debt caused the government to spend a greater proportion of its budget on interest payments for loans. The budget deficit kept interest rates so high that the value of the dollar soared in relation to major foreign currencies. Consumer spending for manufactured products grew, but this was mainly spent for inexpensive imports. As a result the United States further increased its foreign debt throughout the 1980s by spending more on imported goods than it earned from exports. The U.S. trade deficit climbed from $24.2 billion in 1980 to $152.7 billion in 1986. By 1986 with James Baker as Treasury Secretary, an effort began to reduce foreign indebtedness, the government devalued the dollar. Devaluation, which lowered the value of the dollar in relation to foreign currency, made American products less expensive and therefore more desirable in foreign markets. During the next few years, the dollar declined in value by over 40% on a trade-weighted basis and encouraged a major revival of US exports. However, devaluation failed to erase the trade deficit.

The devaluation hit at a time when the Dollar to Japanese Yen exchange rates were on the order 238 in 1985. We would see the steady decline in US buying power accelerate so that by 1988 the exchange rates were at about 128 Yen per dollar!

Company Seven observed the price of the highly regarded Japanese made products including those made by Vixen skyrocketing. The more demanding members our community did not suffer much from the loss of many items since more and more of the better products were coming from innovative US companies. However, the more economical to advanced range of refracting telescopes and equatorial mountings in particular became much more expensive commodities with few available substitutes for similar cost in the USA.

Just as Japan had been teased for its mimicking of foreign made innovations, China and Korea were entering the world optics markets. The products that would start to replace them coming from Korea and China would for several years to come be among the shoddiest products bantered to the uninformed US public. By the late 1980's the Chinese and Korean factories developed telescopes and mounts that so closely copied the external appearance (but not the performance) of competing products where the external resemblance is often so exact that only the paint can differentiate them. Vixen suffered greatly as many of their products were copied in appearance if not performance. By 1990 Celestron who had been selling capable telescopes such as the 80mm Alt azimuth Refractor for about $550 was faced by Meade Instruments their prime competitor advertising a poorer quality 90mm achromatic telescope made in Korea selling for much than the Celestron (Vixen) 80. As a warning to our customers Company Seven mentioned in our web site "a very good 80mm telescope will outperform a lesser grade of 90mm telescope in many areas of astronomy". However, the typical consumer when poorly counseled and otherwise ignorant of details will usually choose that which appears to be the "best buy", and so the sales of Celestron imported Vixen telescopes plummeted. Celestron management became convinced that the cheaper, relatively poorly made products would sell better in the U.S.A. than the more costly, better made Japanese products and so Celestron too eventually dropped Vixen telescopes in favor of less costly products. Celestron drew fire from the experienced amateur community for appearing to "sell out". As Company Seven mentioned in our web site article of introduction to that variety of cheap refractors then offered by Celestron:

    "Company Seven has found numerous shortcomings in the Chinese made refractors being marketed en masse by Celestron and its other merchants over the past few years. In spite of poor magazine reviews, and adverse comments from amateurs in the astronomy community Celestron has not made any noteworthy improvements to these telescopes - as long as someone is selling them, then the Tasco minded (and owned) Celestron management is not likely to change course. Celestrons response to poor reviews has been to lower prices. For example the CR-150-HD (6 inch Achromatic refractor on the G-5 German Mount) received embarrassing reviews in the magazine and on amateur astronomy Internet sites; so rather than spend a few bucks more to improve the shortcomings Celestron dropped the selling prices from $1,299 to $799!"

Orion telescopes of California, a well regarded mail order oriented retailer whose owner came to realize that for its success Orion should rely less on companies run by people who probably knew less than he. Orion gradually picked up more and more products marketing these under the "Orion" trademark. Eventually, they designed and commissioned items to be made overseas for sale under their trademark. Orion came to a agreement that made it the distributor of Vixen telescopes in the U.S. Orion too faced the same problem of having a good Japanese made product that was not enjoying the demand that cheaper Chinese made telescopes. And even after the agreement by Vixen in 2002 to appoint a new distributor, Orion continues to distribute some Vixen products including the Vixen Lanthanum eyepieces, and the Vixen "Megaview" binoculars.

Vixen North America
Vixen NA Logo sm
On 14 May 2002 TeleVue Optics, Inc. announced the formation of a new division "Vixen North America". The wholly owned subsidiary of TeleVue signed an agreement with Vixen Co., Ltd. to become the exclusive distributor of Vixen astronomical telescopes and accessories for Canada and the United States.

Right: new Vixen logo on top line is incorporated to form the "Vixen North America" logo (128,424 bytes).
Click on image to see enlarged view (130,383 bytes).

Vixen North America operates from TeleVue's recently enlarged headquarters in Chester, New York with its own staff.

Our Thoughts About the Future

At first glance, one might wonder why would TeleVue be interested in offering a product line that might be viewed as competing with their own. In fact, TeleVue has become more like a BMW - refined and technologically quite advanced, if not actually setting the new top standards for excellence of eyepieces and compact telescopes. While Vixen became more like a Ford or Chevrolet - offering a little bit of everything for most novice and intermediate astronomers.

Similar Top Line Telescopes: TeleVue has developed telescopes that are simply unrivaled by the Vixen line, these include the 101NP and TeleVue 85 telescopes. The closest competitors between TeleVue and Vixen might be the four inch TeleVue 102 f8.6 Apo which is superior in mechanical quality, included features and accessories, and overall performance to the Vixen 102 f9 Fluorite Apo. But the Vixen fluorites and other telescopes could be successful again in the U.S.A if pricing and proper representation are provided. The 102FL sold for $2,200 notably less than the TeleVue 102's $2,695 even after the cost differences of included accessories are adjusted. But Vixen had other new designs for Apos in the works, and these can capture some percentage of market share for those who can not quite afford the premium TeleVue products, yet crave for better performance and mechanics that those coming from China.

It is the mounts! An obvious area of obvious mutual compatibility will be German equatorial mounts. TeleVue never developed this costly accessory for their telescopes. In the past TeleVue offered only a very simple German mount which was followed by the Carton made "RSM" German Mount which has been discontinued by TeleVue for many years. Since then TeleVue has been happy to see third parties including Losmandy and Astro-Physics among others develop suitable mounts. But now TeleVue can offer the innovative Vixen SPHINX SXW and SX Compact German equatorial mounts with their STAR BOOK "Go To" system. These may be the most easy to use, precision "Go To" systems available and will be a good match for any astronomical telescope in the TeleVue lineup. While the proven more conventional Vixen "Great Polaris" series GP and GP-DX German equatorial mounts are welcome offering too; these are well able to manage the TeleVue telescopes. But we think TeleVue will have to persuade Vixen to change the green paint of the GP and GP-DX mounts to something more complimentary for telescopes with the tasteful appearance that the TeleVue are known for.

TeleVue now offers most of the Vixen product line, with TeleVue's good name and credibility adding to the marketing efforts. The Japanese people are astute shoppers, and while they are concerned about price they historically are willing to spend more to buy superior and innovative products. These domestic market pressures cause better products to evolve in Japan, and we have little doubt that innovative Vixen will continue to provide years of pleasant surprises. So after twenty years of having Vixen products in our line up from other sources, Company Seven is now an authorized Vixen North America retailer. We realize this puts a privilege and a responsibility in our hands, and so we and Vixen will continue to work together to insure "purchased at Company Seven" remains positively meaningful.


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