by Dr Burton Rubin, New York
Some collectable cameras are definitely entrees: Leicas, for example, or Contaxes, or Nikon SLRs. Some are exotic hothouse fruits: Nikon rangefinders, Alpas, or almost anything from Italy. And then, for those with more plebian tastes or more impecunious pockets, there are the hors d’oeuvres and the snacks: Retinas, Karats, Werras, Paxettes; cameras that you can acquire without going off your financial diet; that don’t quite fill you up, that leave you hungry for just one more.
Retinas, of late, have been moving up in price but are still probably the biggest bargains in camera collecting. They fall unquestionably into the snack food section, but are a particularly classic and wholesome variety. The Retina IIa type 016 for example, provides the user with an easily pocketable rangefinder focussed thirty five millimeter camera with lever wind and a choice of excellent lenses, (Schneider Xenon or Rodenstock Heligon) and can often be found for under $100. It makes a wonderful way to enter the world of Retinas. And one of the neatest things about Retinas is that, like eating salted nuts, it’s almost impossible to stop with just one. I know, from personal experience. One of the nice things about the IIa is that, like Janus, it looks in both directions at once. Retinas were produced from 1934 until the end of the sixties. The Type 016 was in production from 1951 until 1954. It makes a great way to start, and then often leads to snacking on either newer or older varieties, as your appetite dictates.
In any bowl of mixed nuts, there are usually masses of peanuts and lesser amounts of the more expensive, scarcer varieties: cashews, brazils, or macadamia. They’re harder to find, but are usually worth doing a little surreptitious groping around the bowl. Retinas are kind of the same way. Most of the ones that seem to turn up are the ubiquitous Type 010’s, and most of those are pretty common. Of course, the first 1200 or so 010’s, produced right after the war, the ones with uncoated 5cm f3.5 Xenar’s in plain old Compur shutters, distinguished by the lack of
a depth of field guide on the bottom, are scarce, worth substantially more, and definitely worth a grope or two.
‘In any bowl of mixed nuts, there are usually masses of peanuts and lesser amounts of the more expensive, scarcer varieties …’
Likewise, the Retina Ia, Type 015 is not an uncommon camera. But you have to wade through masses of them with 2.8 and 3.5 Xenar lenses in Synchro-Compur shutters before you find an early version with a Compur-Rapid shutter and the neat beveled top of the 013. And then even that leaves you still fishing around in the bowl for the most elusive variety, the one with the 3.5 Ektar in Compur-Rapid.
Then there are the early black varieties that are, (to my eye) absolutely beautiful. There’s something about an early black thirty-five, whether it’s a Contax I, Leica II or III, or Retina 117, 118, 119, or 143 that makes my heart beat faster, and of these the Retinas are, by far, the most affordable. They make a nice series to collect, and are nicely complemented by the early black Retinettes, the 147’s and the 160’s. And you can’t really stop with just one of each, either, can you? The only thing nicer than having a 117 in beautiful condition is to have two, one with Compur shutter, and the other with a Compur-Rapid.
The thing however, that really sets the cat among the pigeons (or, more properly, the cashews amongst the peanuts) is the presence of Tessar lenses on many of the models. They have an electrifying effect on collectors, usually translated into electrifying effects on their bank balances. Tessar lensed varieties have been going for multiples of the more usual prices, and I see no reason why that should change quickly.
There are still a number of rare wonders to be found in the Retina bowl, but they might not qualify as snack foods after all. Some of the most highly sort-after types are really more meat and potatoes than anything else. And those of course, to end in a flourish of mixed metaphors, are grist for another mill. At another time. Later. When I finish going through this catalog.