‘Camera', in collecting terms, covers everything from early box cameras with bellows and photographic plates, to more recent 'still photograph' cameras, on to cine and video equipment, even modern mobile phones with photographic capabilities. They can be large or small, quite modern or antique, some don't even look like cameras.
But be careful: Unlike most collectibles where older usually means more expensive, the same does not always apply to cameras.
Ironically, our throwaway society creates a situation where specific makes and model of modern camera are in limited supply and fetch higher prices than cameras from the 1940s and 1950s, even earlier.
To illustrate, a 15-year old Hasselblad camera in working condition recently made £700 on ebay.co.uk, while a Mahogony and Brass Plate Camera from around 1900 fetched just £113.
Let's look at some of the most popular cameras on eBay and determine exactly what you should be looking for.
Recent eBay Realisations
* A World War II Konishiroku Tokj Aerial Camera fetch $380.99, about £219
* A Girl Scout 1927 Official Kodak Camera In Leather Case Went for $270.50, about £155
* A 1939 New York World's Fair Brownie Kodak Camera fetch $202.50, about £116
* A 1900 7.5" x 9" Mahogony and Brass Plate Camera fetched £113.00
Those are not rare cameras. They are no more valuable or uncommon than many items you'll find selling at auctions and boot sales where they rarely fetch more than a few pounds each. This is especially so at poorly advertised events, like the majority of collectors' fairs and some high street auction rooms, so make a particular point of phoning events organisers every week for details of whatever cameras might be available. Keep contact details of regular sellers at flea markets and boot sales, phone them regularly about new stock. Give these people your contact details, too, so they can contact you for fast sales, often of multiple items.
Factors Affecting Value
Most pricing is 'approximate', especially on eBay where bidding wars are common. Even the experts are surprised sometimes at prices achieved for relatively common cameras, so says the editor of the most authoritative work on camera values, James McKeown (Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras): "The price of an antique camera is entirely dependent on the moods of buyer and seller at the time of the transaction."
Even with a limited study of classic cameras one quickly finds THE names to watch out for among camera makers are Ernst Leitz (maker of Leica models) and Zeiss. Almost without exception even damaged and worn specimens from these makers are still saleable, even without worthwhile restoration.
According to my favourite camera collectors' site, age is largely irrelevant to resale value (www.marriottworld.com/value.htm). Reference the Kodak 2C Brownie, produced between 1917 and 1934, which the webmasters say is worth just a few pounds, primarily because many thousands were made over an extensive period.
Curiosity and Novelty Value
Novelty and curiosity cameras were popular from the late 1900s, looking every bit like James Bond creations and often resembling books, pocket watches, packets of cigarettes, and more. Referred to, unsurprisingly, as 'spy' or 'detective' cameras, they are often incredibly small, but immensely popular, and can fetch very high prices. Minolta were prolific makers of tiny spy cameras frequently masquerading as pens and cigarette lighters and worth about £40 to £100, more for advertising specialities or with unusual pedigree.
Cameras of short term production, (even of inferior quality), can be worth far more than their quality mass produced counterparts. A good example is high quality, rare and limited edition models made just after the war by such as Nikon and Canon which fetch very high prices today.
With few exceptions condition is vitally important to a camera's value. Cameras with their original parts in working order, without rust or signs of ageing, fetch a premium. Original carry cases and product packaging with operating instructions and receipt of purchase have an upward effect on prices.
Common cameras in shabby, non working condition are almost worthless, unlike rarer specimens which may still find eager buyers. Rare cameras, in good working and cosmetic condition attract the highest profits.
It's worth noting that some collectors avoid cameras in non-working or damaged condition, and there's still a good market for low value, poor appearance but fully-functioning cameras, for whatever reason called 'beaters', which you really can pick up for pennies, tidy up a bit, and sell for decent profits.
Collecting themes help determine values for most collectibles; for cameras collectability usually depends on the maker (especially Leitz); type of camera (wet plate, dry plate, motorised movement, etc.); materials used (Bakelite is immensely popular); age (sometimes, especially for low production items); past famous owners, model and mechanism. Enter two or more bidders of widely different collecting themes and amazing profits are possible.
Area of Production
As for many collectibles you'll find people collecting cameras made in specific geographical locations or at particular times. For example, Japanese cameras, mass produced at the end of World War II, introduced a new high in reliability. This has made them among today's most collectible cameras usually bought to be used and not just for decoration or collecting value.
Buying and Selling Tips
* So quickly has the camera collecting interest grown that today even cameras made as recently as ten years ago are fetching high prices on eBay. This is one product for which bidding wars will emerge and high prices result for items that are cheap and relatively plentiful in their country of origin and non-existent elsewhere.
* Keep whatever throwaway cameras come your way; they could increase in value even in the short term, especially if they're unused, unopened and in original box, with till receipt, operating instructions, advertising materials.
* Study cameras carefully before buying. Only the rarest of items will sell in damaged or dirty condition, although much can be done to clean or refurbish quality pieces. Looks for dents and cracks in the bodywork that might mean the camera has been dropped and could be damaged and potentially unworkable. At boot sales and flea markets you may have to take pot luck on cheaper acquisitions. But at auction and for higher priced items ask for time to test the camera before having to pay. Many auction companies have staff their test cameras before selling and sometimes to provide sample photographs and warranties.
* As a seller, bear in mind that some collectors favour working only cameras. It's wise to take some pictures using the camera and add the photographs to your listing. Otherwise sell 'as is' or admit you have no idea whether your camera is working or not. It will reduce bids but will save hassle and claims for refund later. Alternatively, offer a specific period for buyers to test the camera before having to pay.
* Take close up pictures of camera and accessories from all angles; point out damage in photographs and description.
* Learn from the experts, especially those selling cameras on eBay. I found a great guide on eBay showing what to look for when buying a classic camera, which by implication is important for sellers, too. Called 'Buying a Classic Camera - What You Should Know' the guide is available from 9248terry (go to advanced search top right of eBay screen, click through, tick 'Items by Seller' at left. Once accessed, click on 'View My Reviews and Guides'.
* It's very easy to buy dirty cameras, clean them up, and find a precious gem lying beneath.
Some Easy Cleaning Tips
* Be careful and always use gentle, sweeping movements, one way only, to removed surface dust. Too many backward and forward movements, even with delicate cleaning materials, can cause scratching or lead to an uneven over-shiny patina. A camel brush is best.
* Never rub directly onto the lens or other glass areas. Instead blow dust away either manually or with canned air. Remove really heavy dirt with lens cleaning fluid from specialist photographic suppliers. Find them listed in Yellow Pages under 'Photographic Suppliers' or 'Camera Shops'. Drip the fluid onto a smooth fluff-free cloth and use a gentle circular movement over the lens. Do not drop the liquid onto the lens and then apply the cloth or you risk surplus liquid seeping behind the lens and damaging the inside of the camera.
* Don't ever clean the inside of what might be a valuable camera. The workings are extremely delicate, easy to damage and costly to repair. Avoid buying cameras that are really dirty inside, they've probably been poorly handled by past owners and could be broken beyond repair.
* Dirt on the casing can be removed with a soft dry cloth or with a little plain water added to remove encrusted dirt and grime.
McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, published by Centennial Photo Service, ISBN: 0931838134