Determining the age of most Hasselblads is generally a more interesting process than with most camera brands. Where most cameras have a sequential serial number which usually has no special built-in meaning, and which requires a table associating ranges of serial numbers with manufacturing dates, Hasselblads have a built-in code for easily identifying its age.
For Hasselblad camera bodies and most film backs, a serial number is stamped on the inner face of the body and the film back. The identifier begins with two letters, followed by a series of numbers. It looks fairly dull and pedestrian, but it is not. What Victor Hasselblad did is devise a code (based on a system he had learned at Eastman Kodak) that identified the year the camera or film back was made based on a mapping to a code word: VHPICTURES (“Victor Hasselblad Pictures”). Each letter in this code word represents a number between zero and nine.
V H P I C T U R E S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
To determine the year of manufacture, you map the first two letters to the numbers. If the number is greater than 50 then add “19” at the front. If the number is less than 50, add “20” to the front. For example, if the first two letters are “UR” we find that it maps to “78;” stick “19” on front and you have “1978.” Voila, you’ve got your birth year!
For some models of Hasselblads, a third letter was appended for specific purposes, and was used to identify the body type. When there are three letters, the manufacture year is always indicated by the first two. Following are some of the third-letter variations:
In 1977 a "C" was added on model 500 C/M
In 1977 an "F" was added to the code on model 2000 FC
Prior to 1978 an "E" was added to models EL and EL/M
Prior to 1979 a "W" was added to models SWC and SWC/M
Starting in 1990, a numerical prefix was added to the code, which indicated the type of camera body. Unfortunately for all the code-breakers out there, the number has no useful inherit information embedded in it.
A similar process is followed with the Zeiss lenses manufactured before 1980. Another code and formula. If you remove the lens and look inside the back mount near the rear glass you may see a three or four digit number stamped in red ink. The last two digits of the code represent the month of manufacture. The remaining digit(s) are added to 1957 to come up with the birth year of the lens. For example, if the identifier read “1306.” Then 06 is June, leaving us with 13, which, added to 1957 equals 1970. The lens was made in June, 1970.
For lenses made after 1980, there will be a code made up of two digits and a letter. To determine the year, reverse the first two digits. To get the month, map the letter to the month, i.e. A=January. So, if the code is G38 then we know it was made in July 1983. Some owners have noted an extra “A” or “B” on the end of the code
This interesting method of concocting serial number in the earlier Hasselblads adds somewhat of a personal touch to each camera.