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Kovel's Guide to Selling Your Antiques and Collectibles
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In this handy guide, the Kovels offer advice on selling a variety of antiques and collectibles in 75 categories, all arranged in alphabetical order. They discuss everything from where’s the market to appraisals to the proper procedures for a house sale and dealing with auction houses.                More Books

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COLLECTORS SNAP UP OLD CAMERAS
by Bob Brooke

 

An early Kodak box camera.Ever since Gemma Frisius, an astronomer, took the first photograph in 1545, people have been fascinated with recording the world around them. Thousands of cameras have been made between 1839–the year in which Louis Daguerre marketed the first daguerreotype–and today. And collectors seek out the rare and not-so-rare to fill their shelves at relatively reasonable prices.

Plate cameras were the first photographic devices. The photographer, most often a professional, took the image on a metal or glass plate and each was one of a kind. There was no negative. The period between 1839 and the middle of the 19th Century saw the development of several kinds of plate cameras. However, by 1880 only the tintype camera survived. Street and itinerant photographers continued to use it as late as the 1930s. These cameras had wood frames, with leather bellows-like bodies that could be moved back and forth on a track to focus the picture.

An early wooden roll-film camera.Many collectors focus on paper-film cameras. George Eastman made the first one in 1887. His invention revolutionized photography. Before Eastman’s invention, photography was primarily a field for professionals. Eastman changed that by designing a simple, inexpensive device that anyone could use. By 1901, his Kodak Brownie sold for 25 cents. His slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest," said it all. The novice photographer bought the film and camera, loaded it, took the pictures, and sent the exposed film to the Kodak factory. It came back fully developed. While this may seem ordinary to today’s photographers, it was revolutionary back then.

Eastman Kodak dominated the camera field for generations and produced dozens of different cameras. Most clearly associated with his name, though, is the box camera, a square or rectangular camera made of wood, metal, leather, or, after 1930, plastic. Beginning collectors usually buy these first, among the most popular of these are the Brownie, as well as the Senior and Junior Pocket Kodaks.

In 1890, Eastman marketed a folding Kodak. Folding cameras had been around for some time. Camera manufacturers developed them in response to the need for a compact, easily transported photographic camera. But Eastman's was the first efficient, inexpensive model. Among the many Eastman folding cameras, collectors seek out two in particular–the Autographics, which produced postcard-sized shots at a time when postcards were extremely popular, and the Art Deco-style Bantam of the 1930s.

An Art Deco folding camera from the 1920s.Such American models notwithstanding, many collectors also seek out the many fine European cameras. Among these, Leicas are the favorites. The development of the 35mm camera is associated with this firm. Following the organization of the movie industry in the early 1900s, large quantities of 35mm movie film became available. It wasn’t long before still-camera manufacturers decided to take advantage of this situation. Oaskar Barnade, an employee at the Leitz Optical Works in Wetzler, Germany, designed a metal-cased 35mm camera in 1912, and by 1925, the company sold it commercially. Though other companies patented four other 35mm cameras between 1912 and 1915, including the American-made Simplex and Tourist models, Leica dominated the field.

There are many attractive American 35mm cameras, including types produced both in the 1930s and after the conclusion of the Second World War. Among the more attractive of these collector's items are the Memo, made by the Ansco Company of Binghamton, New York, and the Agfa Speedex, which dates to the 1940s.

A Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex camera.Most often collected by men, cameras have been around for a long time and are a surpassingly large antique category, considering there’s not much written about them. Antique Leitz, Eastman Kodak, Zeiss, Leica Hassleblad and Nikon cameras often sell for up to $10,000. Only specialist collectors know names such as Newman and Guardia, Voigtlander Bijou, Stegemann-Berlin, and W. Kunik.

While some collectors specialize with a given type of camera or concentrate on a single manufacturer, such as Eastman Kodak or Leica, most seek a broad range of products. The bulk of the acquisitions of such collectors fall within one of three categories: box, folding, or 35mm. In each of these divisions the majority of the machines found are either studio models, used by professionals, or the more common hobby or general purpose devices sold to the general public. There are, however, a limited number of other cameras that served unusual purposes–detective cameras, often designed to look like books or handbags; miniature cameras, such as the famous Minox; panoramic cameras for photographing landscapes or large crowds; and the stereo cameras used to produce the stereoscopic cards that were so popular between 1880 to 1910.

Camera collecting is one category that’s easy to get into and fun. Even older children and young adults can easily find old cameras that cost between $10 and $20 at yard sales and flea markets. For the serious collector, the range is quite broad, so specializing in one particular brand or type is not only possible but desirable.

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CARING FOR YOUR COLLECTIONS
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