My Latest Vintage Obsession: Midcentury Cameras

Early to midcentury cameras are popular now, both among practitioners of old-fashioned film photography and vintage collectors looking to create attractive displays. Many come with matching leather cases and straps and other accessories that add to their vintage appeal. I’ve picked up a few these cameras at estate sales lately and have been learning a bit about their history and features in order to list them in my Etsy shop.

Although I dabble in photography, I am by no means experienced in using old cameras or well-versed on their technical features. However, I did start my journalism career back in the days when young reporters often took their own photos with actual film. I never set out on an assignment without a fully stocked camera bag, which came to seem like my de facto purse. I wish I still had the Pentax 35mm I carried back then but alas I seem to have given it away during one of our many moves, not anticipating that they would come back into fashion.

Anyway, here are a few of my favorite camera finds of late. I absolutely love the worn-in leather of the cases and straps!

Genos Rapid. The Genos Rapid is a German box camera introduced in 1950 that was made of Bakelite. Box cameras did not have all the bells and whistles of more technologically sophisticated cameras but their simplicity was a big part of their appeal for the general public and inspired many people to try their hand at photography. The earliest box cameras were made of wood or metal and allowed no control over focus, aperture, or shutter speed. The Genos Rapid offered a few more frills, such as a shutter button, a flash sync socket, and switches that allow you to choose aperture settings. For these reasons, the Genos is still popular among serious collectors who actually use the cameras they buy. However, it’s boxy appearance also gives it a very appealing vintage look. This one also came with its original leather case and sold quite quickly. I’m now on the lookout for more!

vintage camera
Vintage 1950s Genos Rapid Camera, with and without its leather case.

 

 

Argus C3. This lovely looking camera was introduced in 1957 and was nicknamed the “brick” for its boxy shape and solid construction. Rick Schuster, who writes about photography at Shot on Film, says the Argus C3 is “beautiful in its weirdness,” with strange design features involving dials, knobs, and lens stuck to the outside. However, it was a best-selling camera in its day and all the exterior gadgets were sometimes a selling point, making it seem more legit from a technical standpoint. It was also reasonably priced compared with other 35mm cameras. I love this one that I found at an estate sale because it was obviously so well cared for by its owner, who–judging by all the framed photographs and art books on display throughout the home–was an avid and skilled photographer. It also came with a very nice case in near-mind condition, as you can see in the photos below.

vintage camera
An Argus C3 Standard Rangefinder camera with original brown leather case and strap.

Voigtlander Vitomatic I. This model was made in Germany from 1957-60 by Voigtlander, a very old and established company that was founded in 1756. The first generation of Vitomatics were viewfinders as opposed to the rangefinder models that followed later. Made entirely of metal and glass, this camera is quite compact and extremely sturdy. A cool feature noted on the photography site, Lomography: the Vitomatic I never needs a battery because the selenium meter absorbs power from the light in front if it.  As for the technical details, this camera has a Prontor-SLK shutter and a color Skopar lens 2.8/50. It comes in it’s original leather case, although the strap is missing and there are a few scuffs on the leather–but I really like the worn-in look.

vintage camera
The Vitomatic I, a viewfinder camera produced in Germany in the late 1950s.
vintage camera
A few scuffs on the case gives it a vintage look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voigtlander Prominent. Voigtlander is a stalwart in the camera world and the company was known for its quality construction and technological innovations. It was the first to introduce a zoom lens and built-in flash units for 35mm cameras. The Prominent, a 35mm rangefinder, is among it’s top achievements but was probably been ahead of it’s time, according to CameraPedia, which notes that it wasn’t as popular as some of it’s competitors, such as Leica and Contax, when it came out in 1950. The Prominent was the most “intelligent” of the top German cameras but it’s quirky design made it less attractive to casual photographers. “The public was not ready for such a product,” says CameraPedia, “It needed some knowledge of optics. Today we can state that its basic design is still ahead of general top products.” Desirable features of this model include its Synchro-Compur shutter and Ultron 1:2/50 lens. This particular camera, which I purchased from the estate of an avid photographer, also includes a vintage metal film canister and cylindrical leather case. The case attaches to the leather strap, giving the photographer easy access to film while out on a shoot. Plus, it looks really cool!

vintage camera
The Voigtlander Prominent was technologically advanced for its time and quite collectible today.
vintage film canister
I love the metal film canister and case that came with this camera!
vintage camera
The Prominent has a Synchro-Compur shutter and Ultron 1:2/50 lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agfa Super Solina. This 35mm rangefinder camera by Agfa was made in Germany in the early 1960s. The Super Solina, also sold as the Super Silette, is part of Agfa’s Silette series that started in 1955. It has a flat top plate, a recessed rewind knob flush with the top, a top flash attachment plate, and a Prontor-SVS shutter. This camera comes with a nice weathered leather case that is missing it’s strap. Agfa is another well-known name in photography. The company’s roots extend back to mid-19th century Germany, when it produced it’s first box camera in 1930 and its first 35mm in 1937. The Silette series introduced more modern design elements, including  an autoexposure button and capability for 126mm film. It produced it’s last film cameras in the early 1980s and gave up production in 1983.

vintage camera
The Agfa Super Solina was part of the company’s Silette series.
vintage agfa camera
Comes with a leather case (sans strap).

Fun Ideas for Creating Vintage Shelf Displays

I love seeing how people use antiques to create cool vintage displays in their homes. Possessions that have outlived their original purpose or been replaced by modern materials and sleeker designs–such as wooden printer trays or midcentury suitcases–are being repurposed as vintage decor to wonderful effect. Nostalgic items like vintage cameras and old kitchen utensils are being called back into service as art. I love the idea of upcycling these treasures, which might otherwise be relegated to a dusty storage space or thrown away.

The wooden printer tray is something that I’ve used in my own home. We found one at my mother-in-law’s house years ago and she gave it to my youngest son–a toddler at the time–to use in his room. Over the years, he’s filled up the odd-shaped compartments with tiny art objects found during family trips or at flea markets. Now 17, he still displays it on his wall and it’s like a snapshot of experiences and interests that he’s had over the years. Maybe someday he’ll pass it along to his own children.

vintage decor
A few of the tiny collectibles in my son’s printer’s tray display.

 

vintage shelf display
Another vintage display created with an old printer’s tray, featured on the blog Building 25.

Other Display Ideas

Vintage cameras have become very collectible in recent years. Some are used as working cameras by photography enthusiasts while others are purchased solely for display. A variety of attractive mid-century models can be had for between $25-$50 on Etsy, although they can range up to several hundred dollars depending on the style, manufacturer, and condition. Some come with weathered leather cases which really adds to their vintage appeal.

Vintage cameras can be integrated into an eclectic display or arranged as a collection of various makers and styles.

vintage cameras
Vintage Kodak and Agfa cameras listed recently in my Etsy shop.

 

Vintage camera display
A display of vintage cameras, found on Pinterest.
Vintage camera display
Great idea for organizing a vintage camera collection. Found on PetaPixel.

Old suitcases are also highly desirable as decor these days. Stack them or turn them into makeshift side tables or be really creative and use them as shelves, as one Etsy shop owner demonstrates below. Other ideas for cool vintage shelf displays include:

  • Classic hardcover books. You can pick these up cheaply at your local library’s used book sale (and support your library and the same time).
  • Antique mirrors and picture frames.
  • Old kitchen utensils, such as cutting boards, standalone graters, wooden spoons, pitchers, and food scales.
  • Vintage pottery pieces
  • Antique or colored glassware
  • Vintage Jewelry
  • Old black and white photos

Below are some fun ideas that I found around the web. Hope they provide some inspiration for your own vintage decorating!

vintage suitcases
Vintage suitcases made into shelves. Sold by Vintage Baubles n Bits on Etsy.
Antique dresser mirrors are perfect for displaying vintage jewelry collections.
Some vintage watches from my Etsy shop.
vintage shelf display
A vintage shelf display featuring antique scales, cutting boards and other kitchen tools. Found on Remodelalcoholic.
A pretty jewelry display created with vintage glass bottles, from the blog Something Created Everyday.

How to Clean Vintage Pyrex

Vintage Pyrex
These classic patterns retained their vibrant colors, but be careful with cleansers containing harsh chemicals.

It’s a testament to the durability of classic Corning Ware /Pyrex dishes that you can still find relatively undamaged pieces purchased more than 50 years ago. Just as impressive is their resistance to permanent stains. While chips or cracks can’t be undone, dark stains from baking or scratches from silverware often can be removed with a little effort. I’ve purchased many pieces that looked pretty beat up on the shelf but that cleaned up nicely after I brought them home.

Vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware dishes are consistent best sellers in my vintage Etsy shop. Customers often tell me that classic patterns from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s remind them of their childhoods and baking in their mother’s kitchens. The classic Cornflower Blue casserole dish, for example, was once chiefly valued by the home cook for its durable construction and versatility. While we still value its practicality, we also love its midcentury style. Collectors of vintage Pyrex now proudly display their latest acquisitions and seek out rare sizes and patterns to round out their collection.

Vintage Pyrex cornflower blue
Corning Ware Petite Pans in the classic Cornflower Blue pattern.

Below are some of the cleaning methods I’ve used and found to be effective. Before you try any of these suggestions, first wash your Pyrex in warm soapy water using a mild dish detergent. I use Palmolive, which is inexpensive and very good at cutting grease. After a gentle washing, dry the piece and examine it for marks to see if you need to take tougher measures. If so, try one or several of the following:

 1. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. I have come to find these little white sponges indispensable. They don’t last as long as regular sponges but you can buy them in bulk at Costco for a fairly reasonable price. The manufacturer attributes their power to a mix of chemicals that act as microscrubbers when activated by water. I’ve found them to be very effective for removing dark spots and silverware marks. However, use these with caution on your patterned dishes as too much scrubbing could cause colors to fade.
Pyrex grab it bowls
Vintage Grab-It bowls usually fly off the shelves as soon as I list them. It’s hard to find them with lids but it occasionally happens. These cleaned up nicely.

2. Barkeeper’s Friend. I started using this product after reading about it on Pyrex Love, a wonderful resource for researching vintage Pyrex patterns and related topics. I started with the liquid form but now prefer the powdered variety that comes in a can similar to the one used for Comet. It’s inexpensive and can be purchased on Amazon. As noted by Pyrex Love, this product is particularly good for removing metal marks. Personally, I have found this to be true. It’s helped me to remove seemingly intractable dark metal marks that wouldn’t even fade using regular dish detergent or the magic eraser. Pyrex Love cautions not to use BF on the colored or gold leaf portions of Pyrex patterns. It’s probably wise to use caution; however I’ve tried it on all types of Pyrex pieces without any problem. Just use common sense and don’t scrub too hard or soak too long. All of these products have chemicals that could possibly affect the color or finish of your piece if overused.

Pyrex cinderella bowl
A Pyrex Cinderella Bowl in the Spring Blossom pattern introduced in the 1970s.
Vintage pyrex bowl
A Pyrex Cinderella bowl with the Americana pattern from the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Baking Soda. This is an old standby when it comes to removing any type of stain. When stuck as to how to get rid of a stain, I often try a little baking soda mixed with a little water (about 3 parts soda to 1 part water). I usually pat a little of the solution on the stained area and wait a minute or so, then gently rub it off and rinse. I’m not sure why, but it sometimes works when other methods fail.

Petite Pans from the 1970s in the Spice of Life pattern.

In addition to the above, I’ve also used toothpicks or tiny straight pins to get baked-in food out of crevices. Of course, you have to be gentle and very careful not to leave scratches.

There are also a few things you SHOULD NOT try. Harsh cleansers such as Comet contain bleach which can lead to fading over time. Similarly, do not regularly put your Pyrex into the dishwasher if you want the colors to remain vibrant. Pyrex Love also cautions against heating a Pyrex dish on the stovetop before cleaning it, as some sites apparently have recommended. Although the strategy has worked for some, you risk shattering the glass.

I hope you find these tips useful as you add to your Pyrex collection!

Vintage Corning Ware
Corning Ware made its Centura casserole line briefly in the 1960s-70s.
Vintage Pyrex
A Pyrex dish in the Shenandoah pattern from the 1980s.

Unique Vintage Gift Ideas for Hipsters

Did you know that the term “hipster” goes all the way back to the 1930s? I didn’t either until I looked it up recently in Dictionary.com, which notes that the name derives from “hepcat,” used to describe jazz  aficionados in the ’30s and ’40s (think Sammy Davis Jr, the coolest hepcat of the Rat Pack). … Read more