Behold a Beautiful Archive of 10,000 Vintage Cameras at Collection Appareils


Dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy has bestowed many gifts, and some few hor­rors: self­ies, nat­u­ral­ly, as well as even less dig­ni­fied self-por­traits, of the sort cer­tain politi­cians send out; mass sur­veil­lance, as well as the abil­i­ty of aver­age cit­i­zens to pro­duce impor­tant pieces of evi­dence and to doc­u­ment his­to­ry; hard times for pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers, as well as the full democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the medi­um. What it has almost ren­dered obso­lete is the mech­a­nism that enabled pho­to­graph­ic images in the first place. In place of cam­eras, we have smart­phones, the hat­ed Glass… maybe some­time in the future no exter­nal device at all. Giv­en this tra­jec­to­ry, it’s entire­ly under­stand­able that all sorts of people—steampunks, anti­quar­i­ans, Lud­dites, ana­log fetishists, mid­dle-age hip­sters, etc.—would grow nos­tal­gic not only for the cracked, stri­at­ed mono­chrome pati­na of vin­tage pho­tographs, but also for the boxes—large and small, sim­ple and high­ly complicated—that pro­duced them.

Argus A

And what won­der­ful box­es they were! Before the onslaught of iden­ti­cal, cheap con­sumer point-and-shoots and (gasp!) dis­pos­ables, or the util­i­tar­i­an bricks of pro­fes­sion­al gear, the cam­era was very often a work of art in its own right. Today, we bring you a sam­pling of these objets—ele­gant, intri­cate, stream­lined, and down­right adorable. These are but a tiny frac­tion of the vin­tage cam­era trea­sures you’ll find rep­re­sent­ed at Col­lec­tion Appareils, an online ref­er­ence of 10,000 ana­log cam­eras run by Syl­vain Hal­gand, a French­man sore­ly afflict­ed with the “insid­i­ous dis­ease” of col­lect­ing.

Wit­ness at the top the Pho­to­s­phere No. 1, man­u­fac­tured by the Com­pag­nie Fran­caise de Pho­togra­phie in 1899—a tru­ly beau­ti­ful arti­fact. No less styl­ish, but far more cam­era-like to our eyes, see the Argus A above. Made in the U.S. between 1936 and 1941, this may have been the most pop­u­lar 35mm of all time. Though not as well known as the Leica A, “it’s a safe bet that Argus sold more cam­eras in their first twen­ty years than Leica has sold in their first 70 years.”

Gap Box

Above, we have the first “point and shoot,” the Gap Box 6x9, a curi­ous­ly attrac­tive device made in France in 1950. This cam­era “played a very impor­tant role by mak­ing pho­tog­ra­phy acces­si­ble to the gen­er­al pub­lic,” allow­ing “any­one to take pic­tures at the low­est price and in the most sim­ple way.”

The Compass

Then there are the styl­ized and the stream­lined. Just above, see a very fine machine called The Com­pass, man­u­fac­tured by Swiss watch­mak­er Le Coul­tre between 1937 and 1940. And below, gaze upon the grace­ful Haneel Tri-Vision, made in Los Ange­les in 1946.


Almost equal­ly appeal­ing in their design sim­plic­i­ty are the irre­sistibly cute minia­ture cam­eras, such as the “Mick­ey Mouse” below. Man­u­fac­tured in Ger­many in 1958, these tiny things—despite the “copy­right” notice on the lens—may have dis­ap­peared quick­ly “due to them not actu­al­ly being sanc­tioned by the Dis­ney Cor­po­ra­tion.” They were, how­ev­er, sold with a “large card­board Mick­ey Mouse that ‘held’ the cam­era.”

Mickey Mouse

See also the Coro­net Midget. Made in Eng­land in 1934, this 5‑shilling cam­era “must be one of the most pop­u­lar of all small cam­eras to col­lect.” The com­pa­ny mar­ket­ed its own 6‑exposure film for the Midget, which came in a choice of five col­ors.

Coronet Midget

Coronet Midget 2

From the cou­ture to the high-tech to the quirky and inven­tive (like the Lark “Sar­dine Can” below), the French vin­tage cam­era archive makes avail­able a visu­al his­to­ry of the cam­era that may exist nowhere else. It is the his­to­ry of an object that defined the 20th cen­tu­ry, and that may ful­ly dis­ap­pear some­time soon in the 21st. And while we can spend sev­er­al hours a day mar­veling over the prod­ucts of these fine devices, it’s a rare treat to see the things them­selves in such an aston­ish­ing vari­ety of shapes, sizes, col­ors, and degrees of design inge­nu­ity. Take some time to get acquaint­ed with the evo­lu­tion of the hand­held cam­era before dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy final­ly ren­ders it extinct.

Lark Sardine

Via Laugh­ing Squid/ Messy Nessy Chic/PetaPix­el

Images cour­tesy of Col­lec­tion Appareils.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Yale Launch­es an Archive of 170,000 Pho­tographs Doc­u­ment­ing the Great Depres­sion

Design­ers Charles & Ray Eames Cre­ate a Pro­mo­tion­al Film for the Ground­break­ing Polaroid SX-70 Instant Cam­era (1972)

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye, a Reveal­ing Look at “The Father of Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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