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Preserving 150 Years of Photographic Genius
by Bob Brooke


The last 150 years has seen great advancement in photographic technology, from the first camera obscura to the latest digital wonders. The Camera Heritage Museum in Staunton, Virginia, offers visitors a look at the full range of camera and technology throughout the history of photography.

Showcasing over 7,000 cameras, as well as accessories and photographs, the museum is one of the most complete in the country. The camera museum is housed in what was known for 70 years as the Camera and Palette Inc. in Staunton, VA.

None of these photographic advancements would not have been possible without the Industrial Revolution. During this time, many camera manufacturers revealed the creative efforts that went into their cameras. Through museum exhibits, visitors will also see the rise and fall of industrial giants like Eastman Kodak from its startup as a single man's dream to its place as one of the most well known names on the New York stock exchange.

Cameras weren't just the domain of camera companies. Visitors will discover a disc camera developed by the American Safety Razor Company and an amazingly complex miniature camera the size of a pack of playing cards built by Le Coultre, a Swiss watch company. Optical companies, searching for additional uses for their optical expertise, developed many cameras. Zeiss Ikon designed a monocular that acted like a spotting scope by itself but when screwed into the end of a standard 50mm lens it became a 400mm lens.

Part of the museum’s collection also includes an example of 19th century instant photography, the Street Camera, a tin type camera which carried developing equipment and chemicals on board the camera so that the photographer could develop his photos on the street.

An extensive collection of German cameras, as well as examples of George Eastman's first box cameras all the way up to Kodak digital point and shoots. There are also a variety of miniature and "spy" cameras on display. One looks like a man's silver pocket watch, but the winding knob is actually a lens cap.

The museum’s massive collection is the result of acquiring several large collections of cameras and accessories.

One of the most unique was that of Jim McLeod who began his interest in photography as a high school photographer in Grandview, Missouri where he took pictures for the local newspaper and school yearbooks. He started collecting Kodak Brownie Cameras in 1995. He found a book that said there had been some 60 different Kodak Brownie’s built and decided he could collect all of those. During his collecting, he was able to identify approximately 700 different models and collected at least one of every type, which amounted to over 400 different cameras manufactured in 7 different countries, including several rare ones built in Germany during WWII before the US got involved. While collecting Brownies, he also acquired over 1000 pieces of Kodak photographic memorabilia.

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