The collector: John Kratz, Burlington NJ, USA.
The collection: Cameras. Mostly still cameras, but I have a few old movie cameras as well.
The story behind your collection...
I've always loved the fact that's it's actually possible to permanently preserve something, or someone, in the form of a photograph. When you look at old pictures you took, it's like traveling back in time. You're there again, seeing things as they actually were, as opposed to how you remember them, which may be distorted. You can also be reminded of things you'd forgotten, like that old green phone on the wall or those salt & pepper shakers in the background.
In the case of pictures you didn't take, you can actually be taken somewhere you've never been, and even see yourself from another's point of view. It's really magical.
So naturally, I've always enjoyed taking pictures, though I was never a "serious" photographer. In 2006, I decided I'd post some photos online, and found Flickr. I discovered a group there, where people post photos shot through the viewfinders of vintage cameras, and once I saw some of those cameras, I was in love. Of course I had seen movies with old-time photographers, but I had no idea of the mind-boggling variety of cameras that existed.
Brenda Starr Cub Reporter
I don't know exactly how I decided to collect cameras, or even if it was really a conscious decision. For some reason I suppose it wasn't enough to just look at a picture of a camera I liked - I wanted it. And while there are many cameras I can't afford, I was quite pleased to discover, once I began looking for them, that a lot of the ones I wanted were actually very affordable.
I think what I like about cameras is that each one is a window to the time it was produced. Not only did the technology advance over time, but the designs evolved as well. So you have these devices, all built for the same purpose, that range from a wooden box with a hole in it, to a machined steel case filled with intricate mechanisms. Among those, you've got everything from ornate brass fittings, to art-deco-styled Bakelite, to colorful plastic space-age designs. And then there are cameras made to look like other objects, which are fun to add to the collection.
Now, you could say all that about other things one might collect, such as radios, but there's something special about cameras. They can capture a visual record of a moment in time.
I've been collecting since 2007. I currently have about 200, and I suspect it'll stay right around there as I eliminate some of the more common ones and try to acquire more unusual ones.
Coca-Cola Brownie Starflash
I'd love to tell you I've got them beautifully displayed, but the sad truth is that the vast majority of them are in boxes. I do have a dozen or so borrowing some space on a bookshelf, but that's really only because I haven't gotten around to putting those in a box as well. However, I have had my eye out for a suitable display case for them. I'd like something that could hold at least most of them, and it would have to have glass doors to keep dust at a minimum. I haven't found "the one" yet though.
Through my camera collecting, I've acquired quite a few related items and ephemera as well, so once I have the cameras displayed, some of those things will be interspersed among them.
I have several favorite cameras, but there are a few that stand out in my mind. One early acquisition that I love is the Silver King. It's really just a cheap plastic camera, but it's unique in its glorious art-deco styling, and seldom seen. I was lucky enough to find one in excellent condition, with its original box. I have yet to see another Silver King box, so that was a great find.
Another fortunate discovery was the Coca-Cola Brownie Starflash. It's worth $200-300 according to my price guide, but it was in a box of cameras I bought for under $10. Averaged out, I paid less than $1 for it!
One last camera that's certainly among my favorites is the wood & brass Ansco Memo. It's quite rare, having been made for only a month or two, around December 1926 - January 1927. After that, they chose to cover the wood with black leather and nickel-plate the brass fittings, and that's the version most often found today. I got lucky as the photo in the online listing was rather dark and blurry, making it look like a common black one. I suspect that's what kept it from getting many bids, but the description told the real story of its construction. As it turned out, I paid a fraction of its $500 value, and the deal became even sweeter when I received it to find it in like-new condition!
Kodak No. 2 Hawkette & Ansco Memo
There are a lot of cameras still missing from my collection. It mainly comes down to the fact that I can't afford them. The oldest cameras in my collection are from the early 1890s, but I would love to have something older - the older the better! Some of those really early cameras are just fantastic, with beautifully-finished, dovetailed wooden bodies, and big brass lens barrels. Donations happily accepted!
Further information and camera descriptions: John Kratz.
All images used © John Kratz and used with his kind permission.