Recently, on a slow message day in the online Internet Directory of Camera Collectors' forum,
(IDCC http://lists.kjsl.com/mailman/listinfo/idcc ) someone asked, "What ten cameras would you
choose to take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?"
I followed the thread without responding, all the while trying to make a list in my head of the
cameras I would like to have with me as I waited for rescue. Other members took to the question
with obvious gusto, and the lists of ten cameras started pouring into the forum.
Island View courtesy of McKieGarden.com
The first thing I noticed was that the lists were somewhat predictable. The Nikon collector chose
Nikon cameras. The Kodak collector chose Kodak cameras. Some respondents chose cameras which were
already in their collections, others picked from a fantasy "wish list" of rare and valuable cameras.
Of course all the lists reflected very personal choices. A lively debate turned on the question of
justifying this or that camera on one’s list.
Try as I might, I could not put together ten cameras in my head, either from the meager selection on
display here at home, or from picking and sorting through imaginary lists of cameras gleaned from
the many books I have in my reference library.
It suddenly came to me. I could not chose ten cameras to take with me, but I could easily imagine
taking ten books! The choice of which ten books would not be simple. I have always loved books,
even books which have nothing to do with cameras or photography. I could close my eyes and see
myself under a palm tree, pinacolada in hand, book opened on my knees. No interruptions, no noise,
nothing louder than the breeze stirring the palm fronds over my head. Yes, I could choose ten books......
After much soul searching, and more than a few hours looking through the shelves of the library here
in the office, I have come up with my "Dream list." Please note that I have limited myself to the
books which I actually have on hand. Here are my choices, and my reasons why. They appear as a
numbered list, but in no particular order.
1. "Antique and Classic Cameras"
by Harry L. Gross, Amphoto, New York, New York, USA, 1965 Original
price, $10. Now valued at anywhere from $35 to $100 depending on the seller’s attitude.
Often cited as the first book published concerning camera collecting, "Antique and Classic Cameras"
has become somewhat of an icon for knowledgeable collectors. I enjoy this book as I enjoy an old camera.
Not for the contents, but rather for what it represents, the first attempt at publishing a descriptive
catalogue of the equipment associated with the history and prehistory of photography. The black and
white illustrations are rarely seen in other, later camera collecting books, and represent examples
Antique and Classic Cameras
from Harry Gross’ personal collection. It is all the more endearing for having been written in the
first person. Gross’ passion for cameras and the history of photography is tangible in the writing.
The personal vignettes are sometimes humorous, and might appear naive to today’s collector. The
information, while sometimes sparse, and occasionally erroneous, (For example, the caption for
"Historique et Description des Procedes du Daguerreotype et du Diorama" on page 14 indicates that the
image is from the first edition of Daguerre’s famous booklet. In French it is clearly printed "Nouvelle
Edition, corrigee et augmente du portrait du l’Auteur." Simply translated, this means "New edition,
corrected and with the addition of a portrait of the author.") The errors, to my mind, are like the
defects in the optics of an early camera lens. "Antique and Classic Cameras" was the best that was
available at the time, and served its purpose until something newer, bigger, better and more accurate
Antique and Classic Cameras
came along. Just as no one in their right mind would use an original Giroux Daguerreotype camera to
try to make a portrait today, Gross’ book serves a purpose other than that for which it was conceived.
It has become something else, something more than a book.
My favorite quote is found on page 177 "A...suggestion that I would make is that you take careful
stock of present day cameras and determine the ones which will assume increasing value in the future.
First model Polaroid cameras are available today. Will they be so easily obtained 15 years hence?
What will their value be?" This historic book represents the roots of camera collecting to me. It
goes into the bag for the trip to the island.....
2. "A History of the Photographic Lens"
by Rudolf Kingslake, Academic Press Inc., San Diego, California, USA, 1989
I met Dr. Kingslake in Rochester, New York back in the early 1980’s. He enchanted me with stories
of rooms of white coated mathematicians working on lens formulae with slide rules and logarithms
for weeks on end, in the days before calculators and computers. He immediately convinced me that
lens design was one part math and two parts black magic.
A History of the
Most every camera in my collection has a lens! Kingslake’s book treats this integral part of the
camera as a hungry man treats meat and potatoes. His enthusiasm and passion is infectious. Opening
the book at any page brings a dazzling display of lens descriptions, drawings, charts and formulae.
At first, the reader might be put off by the obvious technical knowledge required to decipher some
of these cryptic images. But soon, the text and drawings start to make a kind of magical sense. The
obvious questions of why and how are answered for those who wish to ask them, and who can understand
the answers. However, a simple leap of faith allows the average reader to enjoy the progression of
important lens design features, and even learn snips of photographic history which might not be easy
to find elsewhere. One example of Kingslake’s lucid writing style comes immediately to my mind. The
simple sentence ""He realized that symmetry automatically removes distortion" quoted from the single
paragraph biography of Thomas Sutton, speaks volumes, and is something I have never forgotten.
Short biographies of lens designers from Abbe to Zschokke fill one third of the book.
Many of the names, though essential actors in camera history, are not easily recognized even by
experienced camera collectors. Who designed the first zoom lens for a still camera, in 1958? Who
patented the iris lens diaphragm in 1861, still used in automatic aperture lenses today? (Frank G.
Back for the former, Charles C. Harrison for the latter) Add this book to the pile, for late night
reading by firelight on the white sand beach of my island.
3. "George Eastman, a Biography"
by Elizabeth Brayer, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 1996
In recent years I have grown to think of George Eastman as the Bill Gates of his time. A
marketing genius who had few practical ideas of his own, he was an expert at recognizing the
value of work produced by others, and in using their talents to make a personal fortune. His
impact on popular photography and the lasting effect of his business skills are easily seen
and felt in many parts of the world today. Yellow and red "Kodak" signs dot neon lit cityscapes
from Hong Kong to Vilnius. Unlit, but for a blazing tropical sun, these same signs sprout in
the Australian outback and the South African Transvaal. His economic and social vision has, to
a large extent, made the city of Rochester New York what it is today. Eastman was a shark in
business, but he was also "...the largest contributor to the education of African Americans
in the 1920’s and the Tuskeegee Institute’s most important benefactor." The Eastman School of
A History of
Music was another of his very public projects. Walk into the Museum of Natural History in New
York City, and you will find his donation of stuffed african wildlife still on exhibit today.
(I’m tempted to quietly slip his "Chronicles of an African Trip" into a number 11 spot on this
list.) This hefty biography, more than 600 pages not counting the index, tells the life story
of the King of Kodak. From his humble beginnings as a bank clerk, to his death in March 1932
by his own hand with a pistol shot to his heart while in bed, Eastman’s life story unfolds
like a strange twisted fairy tale. Never married, his Mother’s best friend, so tight that he
traded Kodak stock for a painting rather than spend the cash, George Eastman still remains
somewhat of an enigma to me. As I reread sections, I understand more about the man, but I also
end up asking more questions. Was he homosexual? Did he really coin the "Kodak" name? Where
is the Luger he used to commit suicide? Though I consider the book thoroughly biased (after
all, Elizabeth Brayer was at the time of writing this book the Eastman Historian at George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film) If there is one biography to take
to a desert island for this camera collector, "George Eastman, a Biography" is the one. It
also taught me the word "hagiographer."
the Photographic Lens
4. "History of the Kodak,
Unrolling the Roll-film"
by Mina Fisher Hammer, House of Little Books, New York, New York, USA, 1940
I love the underdog, and David Henderson Houston fits that definition to very large degree.
In less than sixty pages of text, Mina Fisher Hammer, Houston’s niece makes the case that
George Eastman was not the inventor of the "Kodak" name, used unseemly business practices to
acquire her uncle’s patents, and that the Kodak empire in general is an omnipotent behemoth,
worthy of wholesale damnation to the fires of Hell. If this book didn’t exist, I would find
History of the Kodak,
it hard to believe that anyone would invent it as fiction. It adds to the mystery and "Bill
Gateness" of Eastman. I often wonder if Mr. Microsoft has read it. Though not a serious
historical reference, except for the pages of patent documentation, it does shed another
light on the Eastman empire that is known as Kodak. I keep it on the shelf next to the Eastman
biography, and delight at the visual impression the two make. More than 600 slick small printed
pages for Eastman, less than 100 cheap yellowing pages for Houston.
Unrolling the Roll-film
5. "The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras, Made in USSR"
by Jean Loup Princelle, Hove Photo Book, Channel Islands, 1995
I would take the English translation of Princelle’s book with me. The French edition reads
smoother, and is more elegant in linguistic range, however, the English version, which
contains all the same facts and figures, is more entertaining. Princelle is always sure to
leave a few frenchisms in the text, just so the reader is aware of his origins. Part of the
The Authentic Guide to Russian
charm of this book is the fact that it is the very first to address the production of cameras
in the Soviet Union in a thorough and systematic way. The photography, for the most part,
shows Princelle’s love of a well composed image. If the promised new edition comes out before
this Island trip, I’d take that. Princelle has indicated that he will address more specialized
cameras such as the military use cameras, and "spy" cameras in the new edition.
and Soviet Cameras, Made in USSR
6. "Nagel und Kodak Kameras"
by Karl Otto Kemmler, Gisela Kemmler Verlag, Germany, 1983
One of the most useful and shopworn of my reference books. There is no entertaining text to
speak of, only data, and verbal explanations of minute differences in German Kodak products.
Nagel und Kodak Kameras
Lens and shutter combinations are listed, and original prices in RM are given. The photographic
reproduction is not good, as a matter of fact it is very awful. Obviously the work of a
photocopy machine which had seen better days. This book, or "Katalogue für Sammler" is it lists
itself, has never failed me when trying to identify a Retina or other Nagel Werk product.
7. "The History of Photography as seen through the Spira Collection"
S.F. Spira with Eaton S. Lothrop Jr. and Jonathan Spira, Aperture, USA, 2000
What a love story this book is. It delights the eye, and tickles the imagination, all
the while educating and provoking thought. There are mythical cameras presented on
almost every page. Cameras, images and period advertising are superbly displayed. Take
the Sutton Panoramic Camera for instance, with its curved plate holders (Where did they
Nagel und Kodak Kameras
get the curved glass plates?) curved focussing screen, rich patina on the camera’s
wooden body, imposing hemispherical wide angle lens. The full color images spread across
almost two pages. Still, urbane but important landmarks such as the Argus C3 and Kodak
Instamatic are not forgotten. The book ends with a look at non-film cameras. I could imagine
that by the time I was rescued there might only be non-film cameras.
8. "McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras"
by James and Joan McKeown, Centennial Photo, USA, 2001
What camera collector could think of life on an island without the "bible" of camera collecting. Not
only does it give me a chance to read what McKeown thinks a camera is worth, it offers me reading
material for those long Winter nights when the bugs stop biting, and the campfire burns brightly. The
McKeown’s Price Guide
2001-2002 edition has lots of photos, "over 6000" the cover announces. I have not counted them, but
they are superbly printed given the rough quality paper chosen, and I appreciate the standardized
angle of view used. I hope the next edition comes out before my ship wrecks.
9. "The Collector’s Guide to Japanese Cameras, The Rosetta Stone to Japanese Cameras"
by Koichi Sugiyama, Japan, 1984
Page after page after page of black and white photos of the finest and worst Japan had to offer
the photographic world. Two rows to a page, 4 or 5 cameras to a row. Basic information in a very
simplified format, clearly marked and displayed helps me identify a camera at a glance. This
book has not been reissued, and may never be available in print again. It has become a "must
The Collector’s Guide
have" for any collector interested in Japanese cameras. Because of this, its price on the second
hand market has shot up in the last three years. I figure if I were ever rescued, I could sell the
book and use the money to buy a house in Florida. If only it had been made with a vertical
orientation, I could fit it onto my bookshelf easier.
to Japanese Cameras
10. "Leica Copies"
by HPR, Germany, Classic Collections, UK, 1994
This book is number ten on my list, but close to number one in my heart. I know this book from
cover to cover. I helped HPR with translations from the original German when he was working on it.
I provided information and some of the cameras for the section concerning Chinese Leica Copies. I
slept on HPR’s living room floor for more than once during the time he worked on this book. The text,
in both German and very good English is clear and interesting. Technical information about the
cameras is comprehensive though not exhaustive. The excellent original photography is reproduced with
care and attention to detail, helped by the choice of good paper stock. It is also the only photo
reference book I own which has an actual "tipped in" photograph. I’d take this book with me because
it is a precious possession, a kind of collecting amulet in my mind. It would be the last book which
I would sell. I might even ask to be buried with it!
About the author:
Douglas St. Denny grew up in Western Pennsylvania . He went into the Army
straight from high school in 1968 and received training in French and
German at the Defense Language Institute, in Monterey, California.
His interest in cameras dates back to 1977, when he bought his first
collectible camera at a flea market in New Jersey. His interest grew when
he discovered that other people actually liked old cameras too.
Before leaving the USA for the People's Republic of China in 1985, he was
president of the American Photographic Historical Society, in New York
City. Fours years in China were followed by two years in Slovenia, three
years in Kenya, and seven years in Hong Kong. He now lives in BOrdeaux
France with his wife and three daughters.
In addition to his books "Cameras of China" and "Spy Cameras", he edited
three editions of the "International Blue Book" camera price guide. His
articles have appeared in Chinese, American, Australian and German
Douglas is the creator of Camprice.com, the Online Camera Price Guide. A
two year subscription to Camprice costs US$29.95. Visit Camprice at
© Copyright 2004, Douglas St. Denny