BA for camera collecting



Open and shut case

One of things to remember about the articles that you collect is, tamper with them at your peril. A case in point are Leica cameras issued to the armed forces during the war. The cameras were stamped with the swastikas and military marking of the Third Reich. After the war officers who were issued with them thought that they should rid the objects of their Nazi markings and went to great lengths to remove the markings. The effect was to reduce the value of the series IIIc cameras to £300, while those that had not been touch soared in value to £1,500.

In the photographic world Leica cameras are not to be bettered. The German company was formed in 1925 and since then its products have been highly valued. The older models are prized by collectors, and ten years ago the price of vintage cameras began to increase.

So what should one buy for investment and pleasure? Go for quality and buy rare models. Older models attract higher prices at auctions, but you have to be selective. Not everything that is old will attract interest and subsequently a high price at auction. What happened in the British market place can act as an illustration for the Leica M3 which could have been bought for a few hundred pounds in 1987 then soared to just under a thousand pound last year, but is now only fetching about seven hundred pounds. It’s buyer beware if you are collecting for investment and not pleasurable interest. Selling between countries has an effect on prices so the various interest rates must be watched and taken into account when putting items into sales. For instance when the yen drops 20% it will have the same effect on the resale price of the item being sold.

Now let’s look at where the camera has come from. The Daguerrotype was the first commercial camera, now found only found in museums, very few come to the auction room and their value can only be guessed at.

Early Ross and Fellows mahogany and brass wet plate cameras made in the period around 1850 to 1870 sometimes appear in sale catalogues and fetch about £3,500.

The first mass produced camera was made by George Eastman and called the Brownie Kodak. It consisted of a cloth covered box with a lens and a shutter and was so cheap that everyone could take their own pictures. Today these cameras can be found for between £5 and £10 and are photographic history.

It was 1925 when the first 35mm cameras appeared that have become today’s standard format, although these may be on their way into history with the new digital computer technology in ascendance. Those who have been collecting these, as many have, may now see their investment in history start to pay off.

What is interesting about cameras is the variety. Everyone has seen a folding camera, but few, I suspect, have seen the twin lens reflex models. In fact some people are turning back to these older cameras to take today's pictures. Computer technology has taken the thinking out of cameras.

One of the most expensive cameras bought at auction was a very rare Lumiere 8 x 38cm which was made in Paris and sold at Christie’s in 1990 for £11,000. Its full description was a Periphote panoramic camera with polished nickel and aluminium body with Jarret, Paris anastigmat lens.

So, whatever your reason for wanting to buy a vintage camera, where do you go? Christie’s, the auctioneers, hold nine photographic equipment sales a year and in 1996 sold 4,000 cameras worth a total of £2.7 million pounds. Not far away across the road from the British Museum in London’s Bloomsbury are three shops which are the centre of the British photographic world and are located in Pied Bull Yard off Great Russell Street. One is the Classic Collection, another the The Rear Camera Company and the third is Jessop Classic Photographica, the only one that will buy equipment, but all three will sell cameras on a 20% commission. All three shops are filled with vintage cameras, lenses and books.

German made Voigtlanders are a present under valued, with prices ranging from £250 for a Vitessa I to £60 for a Bessa 66 folding camera, a make that will almost certainly rise in value through the years.

Cameras built just before the second world war, such as the Leica IIIs, are selling for upwards of £250 in mint condition and in their original box they can fetch £600.

Anther side of the market you may like to look at is cine cameras which have now been superseded by the video camera. The cameras have been thrown out and and can be picked up cheaply and will in time rise in value, but the same rules apply, be selective and read all you can about this side of photography.

A 35mm mahogany cased, hand cranked, cinematographic camera with brass binding strips and two internal mahogany W. K. Co Ltd (Williamson Kinematograph Co Ltd) film magazines fetched £825 at Christie’s in 1990.

As with all collecting and investing, do your homework before you buy for the final decision is yours. Good hunting.

Age turns articles into antiques.

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