From the first unwieldy wet-plate models of the 19th century to the dawn of digital technology, the changing face of cameras can make for a fascinating collection.
Photographer John Wade
has been a collector for 40 years and has around 600 cameras from
1892 to the late 1960s. He has written a number of books on
cameras, with his latest being Daguerre to Digital: 150 Years
of Classic Cameras.
His collection has some rarities including
the Compass, one of the most unusual and complex cameras ever
made... rather like its designer Noel Pemberton Billing MP,
inventor and entrepreneur, notorious during the First World War for
his homophobic conspiracy theories, which included the idea that
the Germans planned to exterminate "the manhood of Britain by
luring men into homosexual acts".
The Compass, built by the Swiss firm Le
Coultre, was tiny, at 2½in (6.5cm) diameter, but into this small
frame was crammed filters, a collapsible lens, special heads for
panoramic and stereo and many other features.
It went on sale in 1936 but was too complex
and difficult to use and never made another appearance after the
war. This is today a much sought-after collectors' item, says John,
and he values it at around £1000.
Another rarity is the Petal, made in
occupied Japan and recognised as the smallest production camera
ever made at just 1in (3cm) in diameter with the circular-shaped
film in a metal container being dropped into the back of the
And the camera that John would never part
with? That's the Wrayflex pre-production prototype, the
English-made 35mm SLR, first produced in 1951, with John's prize
being made in 1950 for display at exhibitions in London and
Daguerre to Digital: 150 Years of
Classic Cameras is published by Schiffer, distributed in
the UK by Bushwood Books at £49.50 (ISBN 978O76434026O)
The Camera Market
Peter Loy has been dealing
in classic and collectable cameras for 27 years from his shop near
the British Museum and he feels the current market is pretty
"It is very strong at the moment for
higher-value collectable cameras (£500 and up) and, as always,
quality items in top condition are much easier to sell," he
"The market for certain older lenses is
extremely buoyant, with some prices increasing dramatically in the
last few years. I would advise anybody starting to collect to go
for the best possible quality in the best possible condition."
Peter added: "Wood and brass cameras are
relatively cheap and many were made in very small quantities, so
it's often possible to find something interesting and unusual. They
are also more interesting because there is little written
information available about wooden cameras, whereas there are many
books available for the classic camera makes such as Leica,
Rolleiflex, Nikon etc."
• The daddy of the camera fairs in the UK is
the annual Photographica Fair, organised by the
Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain, and run
by Wally Morley for nearly 30 years. He
said: "The 135 dealers standing at this fair offer thousands of
collectable cameras, from wood and brass to modern classics and
early digital. You can find anything you want here related to
The next Photographica is
on Sunday, May 19, at the Royal Horticultural Society, Vincent
Square, Victoria, London SWl.
Tel: Wally Horley on 01684 594526 or
• Patrick Archer has
run his South London Photographic Fairs for 26
years, held five times a year at the Kemnal Technicology College in
Sidcup with the next on April 21. Prices range from £2 to £2000 for
cameras, books and accessories on offer from 30 dealers.
Tel: 01322 224964. www.mppusers.com/camerafair/
• One of the three venues
for Peter Levinson's specialist camera fairs
is in Guildford, where he and his standholders see a number of
students from the university's photographic courses who come to buy
and ask advice from the dealers standing at the fairs, most of whom
have been passionate dealers or collectors for many years.
Peter's next fair is in Guildford at St
Peter's Catholic School, Horseshoe Lane, Merrow, on Sunday, March
Tel: 020 8205 1518.
• Russell Friend
and Paul Wrede run camera fairs with some
40-50 standholders at two racecourses: Wolverhampton and Brighton.
Five are held at Wolverhampton, which has been going for 30 years,
with the event last October the biggest and busiest for a long
Russell will be returning to Brighton
Racecourse for the first of two annual fairs at the course on
Sunday, March 10.
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