When we are asked about the value of a camera we
often make reference to McKeown's
Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, a book so useful we
have a copy at home and another in our shop. It is only a guide however
- as the author himself expresses it, McKeown's Law states that "The
price of an antique camera is entirely dependent upon the moods of
the buyer and seller at the time of the transaction". Having said
that, there are some rough guidelines which may help to produce an
approximate price, especially if taken in conjunction with advice
from price guides like McKeown's and from dealers like ourselves.
The age of a camera has no bearing upon its value
whatsoever. There is no correlation between a camera being old and
a camera being valuable. Thus, the Kodak 2C Brownie may date from
somewhere between 1917 and 1934 but it is worth very little - a few
pounds in the UK, a few dollars in the US. After all, with production
running for about seventeen years, there are a lot of these cameras
about, and it is the number of cameras about that has an influence
on value, not the age of the camera.
The Olympus Pen W, the wide-angle lens model, was
only available for a short time and is therefore scarce. Despite dating
from the mid-sixties, some thirty years later than the last 2C Brownie
Box camera, it is worth considerably more than the 2C; McKeowns lists
it at between $100 and $150, but says prices have gone as high as
Another prime determinant of value is the amount
of interest there is in a camera. The high value of the Pen W reflects
the interest both in half-frame cameras and in Olympus cameras, and
this drives the price up.
The interest generated may not be entirely photographic
either - the Canon Dial is a highly collected camera (sold in the
US under the name Honeywell) for several reasons. First of all, there
is collecting interest in the products of Canon. Secondly, it is a
half-frame camera. Thirdly, it has spring motor wind - some people
collect cameras with certain design features and motor wind is very
popular. Fourthly, it has unusual and attractive styling. Finally,
it was used as a prop in the popular cult TV series, The Prisoner,
and so is sought out by fans of the show. Fortunately it sold well
when it was new so prices are still under the hundred pound mark (McKeown's
lists it at $65 to $100 dollars, but The Prisoner is not such a cult
programme in the US).
Another important influence on value is condition.
This is both the cosmetic condition and the working condition. Even
when a collector is going to put a camera in a glass case and never
use it, the camera must still be in fully working order if it is to
get a premium price. Cosmetic condition is also important - a camera
should have no rust or other problems and show only light signs of
use. A box or an original case is also helpful, as is a copy of the
A camera in poor condition, especially if it is not
working as well as in poor cosmetic condition, will be worth considerably
less than a camera in lightly used and fully working condition. Common
cameras in poor condition are likely to have no value at all while
even fairly unusual and desirable cameras may be worth less than a
tenth of the value for a good specimen.
What Makes a Camera Desirable
There is no doubt that some cameras are more popular
than others. Most collectors have to restrict their collecting in
some way, usually by choosing a theme for their collection.
Some cameras are highly collectible because of the
camera make - Leitz is perhaps the best example of this. Personally
I am not a Leica fan but those who are will obsessively collect every
35 mm. camera and accessory they can simply because they were made
by Leitz. Other popular makes include Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Zeiss
Ikon and Voigtlander. Agfa, Kodak, Polaroid and Minolta also attract
Bakelite cameras are keenly collected, both by camera
collectors and by early plastics enthusiasts.
Some collectors restrict themselves to cameras made
for one purpose or format, for example panoramic cameras, stereo cameras,
half-frame cameras or Agfa Rapid loading cameras.
Some collectors prefer to collect cameras which can
be used. They do not buy cameras which take film that is no longer
available, for example 828 roll-film, and they prefer cameras with
a rangefinder and/or built-in exposure meter.
Some collectors like unusual cameras, like the Canon
Dial or the Agimatic, which has the wind-on mechanism incororated
into the shutter release so that one smooth action performs both functions.
There is no direct relationship between the original
price of a camera and that camera's value now. However, a camera which
was expensive will normally have sold in smaller numbers than a cheaper
one so the original price can be a guide to how many cameras may have
For example, in 1971 the Rollei 126 Reflex cost over
£100 so it is not surprising that there are so few about now
(McKeown's lists it at $120 to $180).
The original price is not an absolute guide however.
For example, the Minolta 110 Mk 2 Zoom single-lens reflex camera (McKeown's
lists it at $150 to $225) was originally over £100 yet I bought
my example for £70 new in the early 1980s when the unsold stock
was being sold off cheaply.
Cameras produced by the major camera manufacturers
are collected all over the world but those produced by smaller concerns,
like for example Kershaw, tend to be more collected in their own country.
We get a lot of enquiries about Univex and Revere cameras but only
from the US; interest in these cameras in the UK is almost nonexistent.
For this reason, it is always best to seek advice from someone local
when trying to determine a value for your camera.
While the above is all true of cine as well, cine
equipment is a special case as there seems to be very little collecting
interest in it at present. Even the most dedicated Leitz collectors
tend to concentrate on the Leica 35 mm. cameras and ignore the Leicina
The cameras which attract the highest prices are
the more modern, high-specification models which are required for
use. Sound cameras are falling in value now that sound film is no
longer available. They offer a good, low-cost way for someone to get
a well specified camera for silent film use, but not all sound cameras
will work properly with the smaller silent Super-8 cassette.
I sometimes think I am the only person in the world
who collects cine projectors and splicers and even I only keep a few
Other Photographic Items
We have not encountered any significant collecting
interest in darkroom equipment .
There is a lot of interest in images but we are not
knowledgeable in this area and cannot advise on anything except Viewmaster.
Similarly, there is a lot of interest in films and
film memorabilia but we have no expertise in this area.
has a search facility which allows access to recent finished auctions.
This can be very helpful in determining a price for items. These instructions
apply to ebay.co.uk but I would expect other Ebay sites to be similar.
Select "search" frm the navigation tabs at the top of the
screen. Then click on "Advanced Search". This allows the
selection of "Completed Items Only" Key in your search terms
and click the "Completed Items Only" box. Remember that
the search looks at the descriptions given by sellers, and they can
be mis-spelled so do not give up if you don't get results from your
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