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.