Collector's Corner: Polaroid
By Michele Alice
Polaroid's announcement last week that it would no longer manufacture instant film signaled the close of an important chapter in the history of photography. Founded in 1937 by Harvard dropout Edwin Land, Polaroid Corp introduced its first instant camera, the Land Model 95, in November 1948. It offered the public immediate gratification long before the rise of digital technologies, and it was an instant success.
Over the next five decades Polaroid developed scores of other models like the Spectra, the 600, and the SX-70. All you had to do was point, shoot, and in sixty seconds (more or less) you had a glossy photographic print in your hand. Often, just watching a print magically develop right before your eyes was more interesting than the picture itself.
In its heyday, Polaroid was considered one of the most innovative companies in the world, but the rise of digital photography forced Polaroid into bankruptcy in 2001. The company discontinued the manufacture of commercial and personal cameras in 2006 and 2007 and estimates that there may be enough film stock available to satisfy demand until 2009.
But all may not be lost for the millions around the globe who still use their Polaroid cameras. Fuji already produces some compatible films, and Polaroid hopes to sell or license its patents to other manufacturers.
So, what does all this mean to collectors?
If you want a Polaroid for your camera collection, buy as near mint-in-mint-box as possible. Many of the models are still so plentiful that average specimens are worth little. For example, there are so many Model 20 Swingers at present that even the best examples are generally selling for less than $25.
Less common Polaroid models can fetch up to several hundred dollars each. Special and limited edition SX-70's are presently selling for up to $500, while a 195 NPC Rangefinder recently sold at an online auction for $567, and a 600 SE press camera fetched $621. Again, condition is a major determinant of price.
As for film, prices have moved up as people have begun to hoard. However, unlike regular film, which can be kept frozen or in cold storage for up to 20 years with little degradation, the chemicals in instant film begin to dry out or break down in as little as a year or two, even under optimal storage conditions. So purchasing large quantities of Polaroid film with a view to reselling later is somewhat problematic.
Because Polaroid exited the instant photo market so recently, the secondary market for its products is in a state of flux. And while no one can accurately foretell the future value of a collectible, the more familiar you are with the subject, the greater your odds of being right. To that end, the following resources are recommended.
"The Collector's Guide to Classic Cameras 1945-1985," by John Wade
"Comprehensive Guide for Camera Collectors," by David Williamson
"The Hove International Blue Book (14th Edition)," by John Wade
"Insisting On the Impossible : The Life of Edwin Land," by Victor K. McElheny
"Land's Polaroid: A Company and the Man Who Invented It," by Peter C. Wensberg
AP: Polaroid Closing Instant Film Factories
Boston Globe article on Edwin Land's collection of personal papers, prototypes, memorabilia donated to Harvard Business School's Baker Library.
George's Polaroid SX-70 Pages
Aka "The Hacker's Guide to the SX-70." Lists, guides, FAQ's, links, more!
Jim's Polaroid Camera Collection
Check out the pics, charts, how-to guide, more!
The Land List
Comprehensive site offers camera, accessory, film, and battery lists. Also has Ad Archives, lots of How-To's, Timeline, links, more!
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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