Ten Books For The Island

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Ten Books For The Island
By Douglas St. Denny

 

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


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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

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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.


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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


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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."

 

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


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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.

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


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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.

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. <


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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


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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


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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


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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.

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,


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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 photographic revues.

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 http://www.camprice.com.

© Copyright 2004, Douglas St. Denny

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