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Antique Spotlight: Cameras

For some, collecting old photographs is a favorite pastime ñ for others, it’s collecting the cameras that actually snapped those photos. Antique cameras can be valuable and quite stunning, so read below to learn more about these innovative devices!

Antique Spotlight: Cameras
Photo credit: JVM Design

How old are they? The camera as we know it ñ well, sort of — made its debut in 1839, when NicÈphore NiÈpce and Louis Daguerre presented the first daguerreotype to the public, according to Antique & 19th Century Cameras and Collectors Weekly. Throughout the 19th century, different inventors made tweaks to this original camera so that it was lighter, smaller, and took photographs more quickly — and the innovation continued through the 20th century (and continues today with digital cameras).

Why did they become popular? Actually having a still image of how someone or something looks was pretty wild in its time ñ until then, people relied on paintings and drawings to see a likeness of themselves. To have an exact likeness was quite an invention, and the cameras themselves eventually became affordable to most households in the 20th century.

Antique Spotlight: Cameras

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Are they tough to find? It depends on the camera ñ as eHow explains, popular brands often produced high quantities of certain cameras, so it might be tougher to find morelimited quantity or older cameras. Finding working cameras is another challenge ñ the better it works, the more valuable it will be.

How much do they cost? Cameras can range in price, from $50 to the high hundreds ñ sometimes creeping into the thousands ñ based on how easy they are to find and whether they are functional. A quick browsing of eBay showed that several were going for ìbuy it nowî prices of $50 or less, so the price range is wide there.

Antique Spotlight: Cameras
Photo credit: eBay

What are some identifying features?

  • Brand and model: As eHow explains, some cameras are way more valuable than others ñ so you’ll need to figure out the brand and model. The brand should be clearly displayed on the camera, and ideally you can also easily discover the model on the actual camera as well. Sites like Antique & 19th Century Cameras and Cameras & Co offer helpful images so you can help identify the brand/model if necessary.

    Some popular brands you’ll come across are Leica, Kodak, Minolta, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Polaroid, and Zeiss Ikon, according to eBay ñ though those are certainly not the only brands that you’ll come across. Many collectors suggest purchasing McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique & Classic Camerasas a great guide for price ranges, historical info, and identifying cameras ñ well worth the price!

  • Dials and buttons: When you find an antique camera, check and see what still works and what doesn’t. Investigating the mechanics will help you find out whether the camera needs some repairs ñ an extra cost to you ñ or is already in working order. This is especially important if you want to actually try to use the camera ñ it might be a lower priorityif you want to display the camera but not use it.
  • Rust and mold: These are both common finds when it comes to antique cameras, and they can definitely drop the value. Fungus can creep onto and grow on glass, so you want to watch out for mold on the lens ñ which can be tough to remove ñ and other visible signs of wear and tear.
  • Style and size: You can guess a camera’s age based on its design ñ folding, box, and 35mm cameras all speak to a different era, as does the size (the smaller it is, the likely more modern it is).

With McKeown’s at your side and a bit of an idea about what 19th century vs. 20th century cameras look like, you’ll be ready to hunt for antique cameras.

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