Collectible Cameras: The Next Big Thing?


by Michael Nguyen /

4 min read
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Collectible Cameras: The Next Big Thing?
In what initially seemed as non-related news, Paul Newman’s iconic Rolex Daytona was put up for auction last week by Phillips in New York and sold for a record-breaking $17.8 million. For context, the previous most-expensive watch ever sold for “only” $11 million late last year. People have spent a mind-boggling amount of money on celebrity swag, some on cool shit (a hand-written letter by William Shakespeare for $36 million), some not so (Michael Jackson’s soiled underwear used as evidence in his court case for $1 million [WTF?!]).

What is it with the obsession of owning celebrities’ discarded knick knacks? Living vicariously? A sense of owning a piece of history? If I can recall high school economics class correctly, supply and demand is at play here and the insane prices would appear to reflect great interest. Which got me wondering, what would prices of historic or celebrity cameras command? With soaring prices the trend, a good business opportunity could be had or two.

Flipping through the latest Tamarkin catalog for their rare camera auction on Nov, 11, 2017, one can see the star headliner being a pristine, never used original Leica MP black enamel, serial NR. 50. Estimated going price: a whopping $250,000-400,000. According to Collectiblend this MP would only rank 20th in most expensive cameras ever sold list. As MPs were great user cameras, as the new ones are now, everyone who owned one used it and thus some believe this is the only unused original MP left in the world.

King Cool’s Rolex Daytona is considered for many the holy grail for watch collectors. What would be the equivalent for cameras?  Not a gambling man but if I were to hit the jackpot, these could be up for some consideration.

Cartier Bresson’s Black Paint Leica M3

Fully original M3 black paint from the second official batch from 1960 (nos. 993501 – 993750) with black paint Summicron 2/5cm no.1587336 (from a batch of 400 black paint lenses nos. 1587201 – 1587600). The camera was used and owned by HCB from 1960 until about 1968 when he gave it to Inge Morath. The inside of the back door has a numbering of the serial number by HCB’s handwriting including the initials “HB” by pencil with the same numbering on the base plate.

According to this auction site, it sold in 2014 for €44,000. It would easily sell for over double now. Not the hugest HCB fanboy, but I do respect him and investment-wise this would be a solid option.

Apollo 15 Hasselblad 500 EL/M

The only camera to go to the moon and back, it belongs to the president of Yodobashi Camera who acquired it for a cool $910,000 USD back in 2014. This wasn’t the first camera to reach the moon but it’s the only one to ever make it back. The ones used by Neil Armstrong in the earlier Apollo missions were left behind but this one, which was used on the Apollo 15 mission in 1971, made the return journey home.

The camera has also become a centerpiece for moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists as it’s existence in the hands of a private citizen is considered suspect; such an artifact would seem to belong somewhere like the Smithsonian and NASA is generally very protective about what comes back from their missions. Nevertheless, the camera sold for over double it’s expected price and one can assume it would easily again if sold.

Stanley Kubrick’s Zeiss f/0.7

Speaking of NASA, in the 1960s they commissioned Carl Zeiss to develop a set of extremely large aperture lenses for use on the the dark side of the moon and created only 10 Carl Zeiss f/0.7 lenses. Six were sold to NASA, one was kept by Herr Zeiss, and three of them were sold to Stan “The Man” Kubrick. He then of course immortalized the lens by using it in the candle-lit scenes of 1975’s Barry Lyndon.

Its legendary status needs no further introduction. A few years ago, Germany-based company P+S Technik announced that they had modified a PS-Cam X35 HD to be able to accept a couple of the lenses and the whole package was up for rental but unfortunately is no longer available. How much would one of these reach in an auction now?

Elliot Erwitt’s Leica M3

More of a personal choice as Erwitt is one of my all-time favorite photographers. That brassing though! Black paint Leicas are one of the rare things in life that looks better with age. This camera just has an aura about it and the amazing images it has taken in the hands of a master is truly awe-inspiring to me. I realize the average person might not bestow a rodent’s posterior about Elliot Erwitt’s camera but what are some celebrity cameras drool-worthy out there for people?

James Dean’s Rolleiflex sold for only $4,189 USD in 2010. Gotta imagine it can go for a bit more now.

Wouldn’t mind having Warhol’s Konica C35 EF or Polaroid SX-70.

One of Mr. Pitt’s Leicas?

For the younger crowd, Frank Ocean’s Contax T3 would command exorbitant prices,

as would Kylie Jenner’s Pentax K1000.

You can put your money into a boring old government bond, or you can invest in Bob Dylan’s Nikon SP; the magical law of contagion applies to cameras too. Excited to see how the Tamarkin auction ends on November 11. What are your thoughts? Would love to hear what everyone thinks and what you consider the holy grail of collector’s cameras.


17 comments on “Collectible Cameras: The Next Big Thing?”

    stanislaw riccadonna zolczynski November 9, 2017 at 6:57 pm / Reply

    Erwitts Leica M3 with 35mm lens? By the way , this summilux with infinity lock, brass, black lacquered is quite expensive stuff. What about Alberto Kordas Leica M2 he took iconic portrait of Che Guevara?. Maos hasselblad, Stalis Zorki, anyone?

    Callum November 9, 2017 at 7:14 pm / Reply

    I’d like to hear more about your favourite photographers such as Erwitt, maybe a feature on their work with some history and techniques? As for the main point of the article, I agree but also think that many of the current owners of such cameras are keeping hold of them for exactly the same reasons.

    Mark Strachan November 9, 2017 at 7:52 pm / Reply

    I own Arnold Newman’s Leica M3 DS w/ 3.5cm f1.8 W-NIKKOR Lens that he used to photograph some of the last portraits of Marilyn Monroe. I have provenance as well as a signed portrait of Marilyn when I met with Arnold in the 1990’s.

    weizenkeim November 9, 2017 at 7:53 pm / Reply

    ” If I can recall high school economics class correctly, supply and demand is at play here and the insane prices would appear to reflect great interest. ”

    What it also means is that there are quite a few people with way to much money.

    Frank Lehnen November 10, 2017 at 12:07 am / Reply

    Prices for such cameras reaching the moon, prices for ‘normal’ cameras on eBay skyrocketing, good technicians able to repair the cameras going out of business and spares becoming rares…..

    Bellamy we are waiting for your compact camera!

    Charles Embrey November 10, 2017 at 6:20 am / Reply

    Photographers may be celebrities to the JCH, but most of the .01% have never heard of them. OTOH they have heard of David (Bowie) Jones, so I’d expect his Leica would sell for much more than any PJ’s Leica.

    One thing Paul Newman has going for him is that you see hs smiling face everytime you go food shopping. Not so with other old/dead moviestars.

    Cheyenne Morrison November 10, 2017 at 7:02 am / Reply

    I own a Polaroid Big Shot used by Andy Warhol, hopefully this article will come true…

    Brent November 10, 2017 at 10:00 pm / Reply

    I own Abraham Lincoln’s Minolta X-700.

    Karim Ghantous November 11, 2017 at 7:15 pm / Reply

    I’d love to own any Leica that has been used on a movie set, particularly if the movies are of interest to me. I would not keep them locked up, though, as I’d be using them. Have a look at these two M4s, sold in 2015 by by Hollywood photographer Ralph Nelson:

    Matt Withers November 24, 2017 at 5:34 am / Reply

    Technical question: how is a Leica M3 made compatible with the Leicavit MP, as per Elliott Erwitt’s setup? Drive shaft modification?

    B November 24, 2017 at 9:42 pm / Reply

    I’m embarrassed for knowing this but that’s Kendall Jenner, not Kylie.

    Rom November 27, 2017 at 6:54 pm / Reply

    spiderman’s yashica electro 35

    klaftern December 3, 2017 at 11:08 am / Reply

    No you don’t. He only had one, and I have it.

    Shun December 21, 2017 at 3:18 pm / Reply

    This article is garbage, just that, plain garbage

      Bellamy December 21, 2017 at 4:15 pm /

      Thank you for the deeply insightful comment. Very valuable feedback. Have you considered a career in writing?

    Alan January 6, 2018 at 3:01 pm / Reply

    The CULT of celebrity has replaced religion.$17.8us for a watch is obscene, & I agree some have WAY too much money.

    John Maddox January 15, 2018 at 7:27 pm / Reply

    But you replaced the lens twice and the body once, right?

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