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McKeown Guide Can Help in Pricing Cameras

March 10, 1990|ROBERT LACHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The price of an antique camera is entirely dependent upon the moods of the buyer and seller at the time of the transaction. --McKeown's Law

"McKeown's Price Guide to Antique & Classic Cameras," edited by James and Joan McKeown, is considered the camera collector's bible.

It has more than 7,000 camera listings and prices--a must for anyone interested in collecting, selling or putting an accurate price tag on old cameras that do little more than collect dust around the house.

"It's taken over 20 years to put this book together," James McKeown said. "It has grown from one edition to the next.

"I don't determine the prices. I record the prices that are determined by dealers buying and selling cameras all over the world.

"We then catalogue camera sales from dealers' lists and watch auction prices. We also attend camera shows all over the world."

The current pricing information is based on a database of about 250,000 new camera transactions with previous sales used as a base of reference.

New collectors should know the current values, says McKeown, to avoid paying too much for a camera or missing an opportunity to buy a rare one.

People collect cameras for fun and profit, he says. "Hopefully they go into it for the fun of it because there are too many people trying to do it for the profit, making it a tough route to go," he said. There are a lot easier ways to make money, but not a lot of better ways to have fun."

McKeown started collecting cameras as a boy. He saw a camera in a store in Minneapolis while on a school field trip. After going home to St. Paul, he took a bus back to the store and purchased the camera for $2.

He then made an enlarger out of a Crisco can, a magnifying glass and a light bulb. It wasn't long before he started buying and collecting cameras at Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, although he was still in elementary school at the time.

"I always had an interest in cameras as machines," McKeown said. "I was intrigued by the wide variety of cameras, the different shapes, materials and shutters."

In the early years of collecting, according to McKeown, pricing wasn't a problem because there were no established values and most people considered old cameras worthless.

The need for a pricing guide didn't develop until camera collecting clubs started forming, around 1969. With more cameras changing hands among collectors and a few trade papers running advertisements on cameras for sale, McKeown started keeping track of the camera prices on 3- by 5-inch cards.

In 1974, after amassing 10,000 cards, he compiled his first book, printed 2,000 copies, set the price at $8.95, and hoped they would sell out in a few weeks. It took several years.

The book didn't turn a profit for the first 17 years, until income from sales was more than the cost of printing, distributing and advertising the book.

"We printed 20,000 on the current edition. The first 10,000 sold the first month, the next 10,000 will take about two years to sell," McKeown said.

"Now it's turning a profit, but not the kind of profit you could live on," he said.

McKeown works as an audio engineer, yet still spends about 40 hours a week at home in Grantsburg, Wis., preparing editions.

"Using a computer has made it easier. The 3- by 5-inch cards got cumbersome once we got to the point of having a couple hundred thousand cards around," he said.

He is constantly updating the prices in his database.

For more information about the book, contact McKeown at Centennial Photo Service, Box 1125, Grantsburg, Wis. 54840, or call (715) 689-2153.

The photography column, which runs every other Saturday in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter.

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