Vintage Cameras, Photos Click With Collectors

By Anne Gilbert  

New technology creates new objects to collect. Even before the digital camera replaced conventional means of taking photos, collectors began looking at cameras from the 1900s to the 1960s, as well as photos from the early 20th Century. Even then, old box Kodaks were trashed or sold for a couple of dollars at garage sales. While the photos of Native Americans by photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis were purchased and framed, many were later relegated to attics and forgotten. Now, both early 20th Century cameras and photos by Curtis and others of the era are being seriously sought and collected.

Prices these days, depending on the camera, age and condition can range from $70 to several thousand. In the Kovel’s Price Guide, a Mickey Mouse Brownie Target box camera #5 can be priced at $2,970. As a crossover collectible, it would appeal to Disneyana collectors as well as camera collectors.

The lucky collectors who began early were usually photographers. Who else would know a plate from a panoramic camera? Doubtless, it all began when collectors began snapping up daguerreotypes and other early forms of photography. Some collectors try to specialize in one type of camera and then gather all of the interesting photos or plates that have been made by it. Other collectors want cameras of all types.

When you consider that the Ernamox camera, made around 1920, can sell for more than $1,700, you may wonder why. It was the first camera used for candid Vintage Cameras, Photos Click With Collectors photos. Especially important to collectors was its use to photograph the first meeting of The League of Nations. This marked the end of flash powder photography.

One of the early collectors of photos and photo memorabilia was Chicagoan Mickey Pallas. In 1973, he contributed to and founded The Center for Photographic Arts in Chicago.

Photographer Edward Curtis (1868- 1952) is recognized as the “…the most accomplished photographer of the American Indian in the United States,” according to the Toomey Gallery in Oak Park, Illinois, where many of his photographs are auctioned. There, they bring as much as $47,000, as did the orotone photo of Medicine Crow. Curtis pioneered this process that created a gold- hued image.

CLUES: Collectors should visit the many photographic centers around the country before they go hunting and collecting. Joining a local camera collectors’ club is a good beginning. There are many other works by early 20th Century photographers worth collecting, such as Margaret Bourke-White and Carleton E. Watkins. Historic scenes and views of American scenes and events are important. Look for that gold tone or sepia finish, and if the price is right, take it home and research the photographer. 



Medicine Crow. (Photo, Treadway Galleries, Oak Park, Ill.)


Curtis camera. (Photo, Julia Galleries, Fairfield, Me.)




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