19 Sept 1941 - 10 July 2013
World class Restorer, Researcher, Editor, Writer & Collector
Once in a Lifetime:
The True Story of
The Plumbe Daguerreotypes
by Mike Kessler
In the summer of 1971, a remarkable collection of daguerreotypes, including the earliest known images of the U.S. Capitol and White House, appeared in a drive-in theatre swap meet on Alameda Island, just south of Oakland, California. A couple of years later, most of them ended up at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. How they came full circle, from their origins in a much younger U.S. Capitol to their present location, is a complicated tale that has never been properly committed to print. Over the years the story has often been exaggerated and improperly reported, especially regarding the money involved. Since it's largely my experience, I feel that an "official" telling is long overdue.
When this all began, I was working as Art Director for Jones-Bause, an exhibit design house in Southern California. Four years earlier, I had been thoroughly bitten by the camera collecting bug when I laid out $1.75 for a rather seedy 3-A Folding Pocket Kodak. Collecting came easily to me, a natural progression of a lifetime spent collecting the usual stamps and coins, and the not-so-usual crystalized minerals and, of all things, ice skates. My interest in photography came from a night course I took to enable me to copy old railroad photos, another of my all-consuming pastimes.
By the summer of 1971, I had amassed a pretty fair collection of early cameras and had fallen into a well established routine. Every other weekend or so, as soon as I got off work, I would hop into my V.W. "Bug", stuffed the previous evening with several large cases of "trading stock", and head for San Francisco. Six hours later I would park in front of the Alameda Drive-In, lock myself in and sleep until the dealers started to set up. After walking the grounds for three or four hours (in those days this was the only antique "game" in town), I would head for a phone and begin setting up my schedule of collectors' appointments. A visit to three or four friends over the afternoon usually resulted in my picking up several new pieces for the collection.
That evening I would repeat my camp-out at the drive-in, walk the Sunday swap meet, see a few more collectors and then head for home. I'd get a couple of hours sleep and show up for work Monday morning.
One weekend, however, I changed my routine. My aunt and uncle were clothing buyers and on the road a lot between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They kept an apartment in Fremont, halfway between San Jose and Oakland, and this time I had a key. I threw my sleeping bag on the couch and dreamed of great treasures. The next morning I flipped a mental coin; heads I would drive to Alameda, tails I would try the San Jose swap meet, a monster aggregation of car parts, stereo tapes and humanity, with a poor reputation for producing antiques.
San Jose was a big bust, so, mumbling to myself, I casually drove the 50 or so miles to Alameda. Getting to a swap meet late is an absolute guarantee of finding nothing but table scraps.
It was well after 10 o'clock as I worked my way through the undulating, crowded aisles. Still upset with myself at my earlier choice of swap meets, I turned, squinted into the morning sun and beheld the unsmiling face of my Bay area nemesis, Larry Shirer. From his expression it was clear that "rustlers" from down south were clearly unwelcome.
We both pasted on our best "Hey buddy, long time no see, whacha been up to" faces and exchanged a couple of minutes worth of semi-sincere pleasantries.
"So, what've you come up with this morning?" I asked. Larry's smile broadened as he reached into a paper sack and retrieved an uncased half-plate daguerreotype, quickly followed by two more. Holy shit, I thought as I then silently cursed whoever founded the entire City of San Jose. I managed a feeble "Really...nice, Larry". He stood there, proudly holding his prize catch.
"So...what are they of? I queried. Larry returned my quizzical look with one of his own. All three were buildings, some with classical-looking columns. They were somewhat tarnished around the edges but full of detail. The sky tones were the whitest I had ever seen. None were in cases but they were framed in grey paper mats with diagonal corners and pink and grey pinstripping ."How...how much did you PAY for them? I was hoping at least that Larry might have "bruised' his bank account.
"Not tooooo much ." He replied; then he leaned forward and gave me a stage whisper; "$3.50 apiece!" The knot in my stomach was growing by the second.
We shook hands and started to move in opposite directions. I hadn't completed the second step when I heard a woman's voice from my left.
"You know, I have several more of those pictures if you're interested."
Hot damn! Un-Bee-Leevable! All this time we were standing in front of the very booth where Larry had bought the dags! In a split second we were standing nose-to-nose with a rather startled lady.
"Look Larry, I said, "This is obviously your find, but if there are any you don't want, I'd love to own one. "Sure, no problem ."Larry offered generously as we both strained forward to see what else might appear from beneath the bric-a-brac-laden table.
Monument in Baltimore MD to Battle of No Pt, 9012-1814 dag by John Plumbe Jr.
The lady produced four more dags, all but one of them, buildings similar to the first three. The odd one seemed to be a monument of some kind. Three were half-plates, uncased, but the fourth was a quarterplate in half a leather case.
One daguerreotype stood out from all the rest. It was a magnificent view of a church, seen from a second story or high ladder vantage point, with a path leading from the photographer's location to the front door and nicely framed by several trees. The details were so sharp and the overall quality so overwhelming that it gave me the impression of having been photographed in full color.
"I'll take this one." Larry said. ''You can have the rest." I could hardly take my eyes from that magnificent image of the church, but then I realized that I had just been given the opportunity to buy three outdoor-scene
daguerreotypes. The day just might turn out better than first thought.
The lady, no fools in HER family, instantly realized hat, with TWO buyers, the old price of $3.50 just flew out the window. These four, she insisted would cost us $7.00 apiece. ''You know..."she said as she tucked the bills into her wallet. "If I hadn't sold those here today I as going to throw the pictures away and put some of my relatives in the frames". I still get chills when I remember her words.
Larry and I went our separate ways. I didn't even look at the dags again as I finished the swap meet in a sort of haze. I knew this wasn't over yet and I was already beginning to scheme.
That evening I parked in front of Larry's house in Sunnyvale. When Larry answered the bell he seemed genuinely surprised to see me. "Hi! I was in the neighborhood and I just thought I'd drop by." I blurted out cheerfully, choking a little on the obvious lie, "I've got a carload of cameras. Want to see some?"
Now, here you have to stop and realize something. Larry and I were camera collectors and nothing more.
Neither of us knew squat about daguerreotypes. This was all before clubs and organized collecting or big money auctions. There was only one book on collecting cameras and nothing on daguerreotypes. I had heard somewhere, however, that outdoor scenes were worth more than portraits, and there was just something about this group of dags that drew me to them. I knew that in the end I was going to own all of them.
I quickly told Larry that, earlier kidding aside, my real purpose in the visit was to see if there was any chance I could trade some of my good, red-bellows cameras for the other four daguerreotypes. Surprisingly, Larry was open to the idea. I spread my stuff all over the living room floor and pretty soon I owned three more dags. Try as I might, though, I couldn't get the fourth one, that magnificent view of the church. The more I offered, the more Larry held on. When I found myself offering more for that one dag than I had traded for the other three, the mood became tense. I quickly brought things to a halt.
"Larry", I said as we shook hands at the door. "If you ever want to sell or trade that last daguerreotype, please give me a call. They all came together and it would be a shame to separate them now." 'That's a promise" he
said as we parted. "I'll let you know first."
That night I curled up in the cramped front seat of the VW but I slept on a fleecy white cloud. I knew I had won. But...won what? What the heck were those structures? Could they be government buildings in San Francisco? That might explain it. I'd check it out tomorrow. As I drifted off I was thinking of one building in particular. It seemed to have a flock of large birds roosting on the chimneys. Storks? Scandanavia? Who knows?
My first collector call the next morning was with Dan Gruber. A long-time resident of Alameda Island, Dan had systematically vacuumed the place, amassing a pretty fair camera collection in the process. Foregoing
usual camera-chatter, I told him of the previous day's adventures and spread out my "booty."
"My problem, Dan", I said, "is that I just haven't got a CLUE to what these dags are about."
After carefully inspecting the images, Dan got up and walked slowly into the kitchen. A minute later he returned with a coffee can. There, in all its glory on the side of the can, was the building in one of my dags. It was a can of "White House" coffee. I couldn't believe that I hadn't recognized it before. It was so obvious I was actually embarrassed. It was great news, but I still couldn't figure out the other images.
Daguerreotype of U.S. White House
by John Plumbe Jr.
I returned home and resumed my work routine. I showed my dags to several friends and relatives, none of which could help me identify the buildings. The next weekend I called on a recent acquaintance, Ray Philips. He was an insurance broker in the San Fernando Valley and a serious collector of phonographs and Thomas Edison material.
Ray's real fame, at least to me, though, stemmed from his putting together, years before, a magnificent collection of daguerreotype and wet-plate cameras, plus some of the finest daguerreotype images you'd ever want to see. Unfortunately (for me), long before I met Ray, he had sold everything to an Oregon collector, Harry Gross. Later, Harry incorporated much of the material into his book "Antique and Classic Cameras", the first ever published
on the subject.
Ray was clearly impressed by the dags. Then, after concentrating on one image in particular, he stated, in his typical reserved manner: "I've seen this one before...just a minute." He walked into the next room. I stood up when he returned with an open book.
'This is my copy of "Photography and the American Scene" by Taft." As he handed it to me I saw it was opened to a page showing an engraving. There, on page 51, was another of my buildings; the Capitol of
the United States. I fell back onto the sofa in both mock and real amazement. It was labeled a "Plumbeotype" and dated 1846, Even the shadows matched. Apparently the well-known daguerreotypist, John Plumbe, Jr., produced and sold a series of lithographs of famous buildings in Washington D.C., taken from his original daguerreotypes.
1846 Half-plate daguerreotype of U.S. Capitol building by John Plumbe Jr.
"Looks like you did all right." Ray said with a grin. "Looks like I did!" My grin beat his by a mile. Okay, Kessler, I thought. What's the next step? I knew that I had daguerreotypes of the Capitol and White House, but I was no closer to identifying the other photos than before. I needed help and I thought I knew where to get it.
I reasoned that the Smithsonian Institution might be a good place to start, but no...they seem to specialize in "stuff', physical objects. It had to be the Library of Congress...you know, books are sort of flat and so are photographs.
I needed copy photographs and I hoped another friend would help me out. Darrel Dearmore worked in the photography department of UCLA, and had all the cameras and stuff to do the job. Darrel agreed and I drove out to the college a few days later. We copied them on Polaroid P/N, which gives a so-so positive but a superior, fine-grained negative. I mailed the 8x10 glossy prints to the Library of Congress and waited.
About a week later I received a conference call; three excited curators, each trying to talk at once. Identifications were quickly made. Besides the Capitol, the only known picture of it showing the earlier and smaller "Bulfinch" dome, and the White House, there were two views of the old Post Office and a monument in Baltimore dedicated to the Revolutionary War "Battle of North Point."
Then came the questions. What was I planning to do with them? Would I care to donate them? I explained to the salivating gentlemen that I didn't collect daguerreotypes and that I could probably be parted from them, but I made it clear that I was in no position to donate anything. What would they offer?
The head director, Alan Fern, explained that the Library of Congress could not legally make offers for material. They really wanted to own the daguerreotypes, but I would have to come up with a number on my own. He explained that there were various "open donation funds" set up by wealthy patrons for just such acquisitions, and he was sure we could work something out. We left it at that. I needed the money, there were cameras out there to collect, but just what was the going rate for dags like these?
All my friends were camera collectors, only dimly that cameras made photographs One friend in particular, a professional photographer in Los Angeles, helped me make the decision. Over dinner one evening we discussed the facts we had to work with. The highest price ever publicly paid for a daguerreotype, up to that time, was two thousand dollars for a portrait of one of the presidents. We decided that a daguerreotype of the Capitol or White House might conceivably bring even more, but one of the Post Office or Patent Office probably less. We settled then on a price of two thousand dollars each or twelve thousand dollars for the six dags.
U.S. Patent Office thru the yards of some homes - now the National Art Gallery
by John Plumbe, Jr
I wrote the Library of Congress with my proposal. Three days later I had another call. Twelve thousand dollars was just the right price. They said that they had a fund of that amount and they would set it aside. Arrangements were made and I agreed to fly to Washington in 30 days, hand-carrying the dags.
In the meantime, my thoughts went back to Larry and the seventh dag. Almost as if responding to my thoughts, Larry called. He was driving down to the upcoming camera show at the Mission Inn in Riverside in two weeks and he was bringing the daguerreotype of the church with him, No, he hadn't made up his mind whether to sell it but he promised to talk to me further at the show.
Now, I was really worried. If Larry let anyone else see the image, I'd be done for. Someone with far deeper pockets than I would lay down a wad of cash and...bye bye dag.
After two nail-biting weeks (don't ever let anyone tell you a week has only seven days), the camera show started. This was only the second such function sponsored by Dr. Robert Bingham and the excitement was
exceeded only by the sea of old cameras lining the aisles.
Fate was kind. Larry's table was exactly opposite mine. We waved and smiled the entire day, but not a word was mentioned about the daguerreotype. I kept expecting him to set it out on his table but it never appeared. It was tough yacking it up with the public and making deals, all the time keeping one eye on Larry's table.
At 4:00 p.m. the show was over. Somewhat relieved that the issue of the daguerreotype hadn't come up, I was starting to put away my stuff when Larry came over.
"Kessler", he said solemnly, "I've decided to keep the half-plate of the church." God, what a relief, I thought. I'll get it later somehow. A slight smile crept across his face then as he handed me a large leather case. "But, I
went back to the lady at the swap meet and guess what? She had ONE MORE DAG!" I couldn't believe my eyes as I opened the case. Inside was yet another half-plate of the Capitol, mounted in a three-quarter case. Not a head-on view like the first one, but a little closer and taken slightly to the left.
Kessler , said Larry, a hint of arrogance creeping into his voice. "I'm absolutely sure that this is a picture of the Capitol building in Washington DC." "Larry, I'm absolutely sure that you're right. What do you want for it?"
U.S. Capitol 1846 by John Plumbe Jr
Larry stood up a little taller and raised a finger. "I'm going to look you straight in the eye and ask for that camera, and that camera, and that camera." He pointed out the best three cameras on my table. A sense of relief welled up inside me as I replied; "Larry, I'm going to look you right in the eye and GIVE you that camera, and that camera, and that camera."
I was overjoyed. Talk about your excess of riches. Now I had TWO dags of the Capitol. Too bad, I thought, that I had already sent the photos to the Library of Congress. I would have loved to have kept the one that the Plumbeotype was made from. One thing I did feel much better about. Larry had told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was convinced that the daguerreotype he traded me was of the U.S. Capitol. There's little room for guilt in serious collecting, but there was a definite one-sidedness to this whole affair and I couldn't help feeling a little uncomfortable. Larry's statement made me realize that, although we were both ignorant camera collectors, I was just a little less ignorant.
In September I flew to Washington DC, the daguerreotypes safely packed in a briefcase clamped tightly between my knees. Renting a car proved impossible, as I didn't own a credit card, so I taxied into the city.
Director for Special Coll, Alan Fern and Milton Kaplan, retired curator from the Prints and Document division
At the Library of Congress the director for special collections, Alan Fern, greeted me and introduced me to Gerald Maddox, Milt Kaplan and a whole room full of eager faces. I then handed the stack of daguerreotypes to Mr. Fern. From that moment on I ceased to exist. For at least twenty minutes it looked like a football huddle, a gaggle of "suits" crowded around a table in a small, wood-paneled room, chirping and clucking like hens in a feeding frenzy. Someone produced a razor knife and each image was separated from its glass (don't panic, they had all been opened earlier for cleaning). I felt like a comic character trying to look over a shoulder or force my way between a pair of animated elbows.
"I have to apologize for those scratches on one of the plates." I offered. 'That's the way it came." Those aren't scratches, Mr. Kessler." replied director Fern. "Here, take a look through this loupe." I squinted at the lines that I had previously given hardly a glance. I could see now that, far from being scratches, they were twisted pairs of wires, suspended in the air. "Do you know what these are?"
I could almost see the light bulb clicking on over his head. "These are the only known record of the original telegraph wires strung throughout Washington by Samuel Morse."
"Incredible!" I gasped. "I'm really impressed. Now, since you figured that one out, you have to answer a question that's been driving me nuts. How do you explain those huge birds nesting on the roof of the Capitol building?" Suddenly the room was quiet, then someone laughed.
"Those aren't birds, they're tin smoke deflectors shaped like birds so they would turn to face the wind like weather vanes." I rolled my eyes to the ceiling as the rest of the crowd turned back to the table, chirping and clucking once more. It was only now, seeing how totally enthralled everyone was over the daguerreotypes, that I began to realize just how rare and important they were.
Arrangements were made for the money to be paid in two installments, six months apart. I was then turned over to Milt Kaplan who, I learned, was a retired curator from the Prints and Photographs division now spending most of his time doing private research at the Library. Milt gave me a tour such as few visitors receive. I even got to hold the daguerreotypes of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Milt explained, too, that had I contacted the Smithsonian rather than the Library of Congress, that I would have been received equally. Both institutions have extensive photographic collections and even a sort of friendly rivalry exists. I struck up a great friendship with Milt and later with his
mother, Reba, that lasted till they both passed away some years later.
The Plumbe daguerreotypes were quickly put on public display and made available to researchers. Soon they were popping up in all sorts of books, although never with a credit to me. Since I sold rather than donated them, it was the fund donor's name that now identified them. There was one exception. In 1980, Milt Kaplan and Alan Fern published "A Century of Photographs, 1846-1946", in which all six daguerreotypes are beautifully illustrated (they're the first collection in the book), with my name and how I found them, finally a permanent published record.
The real importance of my small contribution to U.S. History didn't become apparent until six months later, when I returned to the Library to pick up the second installment on the dags, this time in my own car on one of my famous, cross-country tours. Milt escorted me from room to room, floor by floor. As we met each small group of people, Milt would say: "I want to introduce you to Mike Kessler." Polite handshakes. "He's the one who brought us the Plumbe daguerreotypes." I would then be literally smothered in a flurry of handshakes, back slaps, "Thank yous", and all sorts of gushy praise. What I hadn't realized until now was that for all its literary and photographic treasures, most of them came to the Library long before the people who worked there were even born. The Plumbe daguerreotypes were the most exciting things, particularly because of their local origin, to arrive at the Library in anyone's memory.
I am often asked if I don't regret having sold them so quickly and so, by today's standards, cheap? I can only say that I didn't sell them cheaply at all. On the contrary. The present I received that day from the staff of the Library of Congress far exceeded our original agreed upon price. I don't have a single regret.
I kept the seventh daguerreotype for a couple of years. Then, in a convoluted business arrangement involving one buyer who defaulted, I sold it to Matthew Isenburg, in whose collection it now remains. Oh yes, I
got more for that one dag than I did for all the original six.
Larry Shirer was understandably upset when the story broke (it was carried on the front page of newspapers all around the world). In an interview with Time-Life books he refers to me as a "shark" and to himself as a "mark". In a way he was right. Today, we are good friends and still manage an occasional "deal".
He eventually sold his daguerreotype of the church to a prominent Bay area collector for an undisclosed amount of money. It turned out that it was also taken by Plumbe in Cincinnati, Ohio where he had a franchised studio.
Through Larry I heard that the woman who originally sold the daguerreotypes to us was planning a lawsuit. It never materialized. Several researchers, notably Cliff Kranik, have tried to create a plausible scenario of just how the daguerreotypes found their way to California and that particular swap meet.
It does seem that John Plumbe, Jr. lived in California from 1850 to 1854 while he tried to secure financing for his dream of building a transcontinental railroad. I like to imagine that finally, short of cash, he paid his long
past-due room rent with a handful of then unimportant daguerreotypes.
It's been more than 25 years since I bought my first camera, and more than 20 years since I found the Plumbe daguerreotypes. I've since branched out to collect much more in the realm of photographica than just cameras. One thing I can never collect, however, is daguerreotypes. Once you've had the best and passed them on, you can never go back.
Dan Colucci image of Daguerrean Gallery
I plan to keep looking, though, in every swap meet, flea market and antique shop I come across. I'm still not convinced that "finds" like this come only once in a lifetime.
Director Alan Fern presents the now cased image of the White House, in the archives of the Library of Congress
1993 The Photographist: Journal of the Western Photographic Collectors Assn.
1986 National Stereoscopic Assn. Riverside, CA Mike Kessler
at Trade Show hiding from Susan Pinsky
1992 Mike Kessler at his home museum holding Daguerreotype camera 2 by Susan Pinsky
2007 Mike Kessler magnificent multitude of stereo viewer equipment by Susan Pinsky
1991 Western Photo Collectors Assn exhibit of Goodale's 1861 "Museum" viewer displayed by Mike Kessler by Susan Pinsky
1992 Mike Kessler holding Daguerreotype camera by Susan Pinsky
2003 Mike Kessler W.H. Lewis patent #201,804 - 1878 drum viewer
by David Starkman _10
2006 National Stereoscopic Assn. Miami FL Mike Kessler and Susan Pinsky at convention hotel by David Starkman
2006 Mike Kessler posing chair collection and cameras
by David Starkman_044
2006 Mike Kessler Gaumont Stereodrome by David Starkman_018
1992 David Starkman looking into Mike Kessler's Gaumont Stereodrome viewer Dec by Susan Pinsky
1992 David Starkman holding cassette for Mike Kessler's Gaumont Stereodrome viewer with open drawer by Susan Pinsky
1992 David Starkman looking into Mike Kessler's Gaumont Stereodrome viewer with Mike looking on Dec by Susan Pinsky
1992 closed up Gaumont Stereodrome viewer custom cabinet at the Mike Kessler camera and viewer collection 2 by Susan Pinsky
2006 Mike Kessler 1925 Gaumont Stereodrome viewer with built-in lighting inside cabinet by David Starkman_026
2006 Mike Kessler Holmes-Bates viewer and more
by David Starkman_088
2007 Mike Kessler's collection from front room into dining room showing antique viewers and albums by Susan Pinsky
1992 Mike Kessler antique photo albums by Susan Pinsky
1992 Mike Kessler camera and viewer collection 6 by Susan Pinsky
1993 Mike Kessler in his garage of home by Susan Pinsky_76
2006 Mike Kessler collection by David Starkman_024
1993 Mike Kessler in living room looking into Stereo 50 viewer at home Aug by Susan Pinsky_71
2006 Mike Kessler J. Lee stereographoscope ca.1876
by David Starkman_099
2006 Mike Kessler Beckers floor model stereoscope with rare cabriole leg table by David Starkman_098
2006 Mike Kessler rustic style Antonio Quirolo pedestal stereoscope by David Starkman_119
2006 Mike Kessler collection by David Starkman_119
1992 Mike Kessler camera and viewer collection 9 by Susan Pinsky
For Some Camera Enthusiasts, Older Models Are the Ones That Really Click
By ROBERT LACHMAN
(reprinted from Oct 4, 1976
Los Angeles Times)
Mike Kessler is an incurable collector, amassing great numbers of everything from ice skates, railroad memorabilia and rocks before he got into vintage cameras.
The San Juan Capistrano resident may not have the largest collection of old cameras in the country today, or even Southern California for that matter, but he certainly has one of the most impressive in quality.
The highlight of his antique camera collection, which he says numbers less than 100, is one that was owned by Thomas Edison. "On the inside of the camera is an inscription that reads: 'Do Not Remove from Building No. 2 Without Express Permission of TAE, Main Office, Menlo Park,' " said Kessler, whose business is buying, selling and restoring antique cameras.
"That camera came out of an attic in Pasadena a number of years ago," Kessler said. "It was from the 1880s and nobody knows how it got to Pasadena. It was wrapped in newspapers from 1895."
While making a dusty discovery of that magnitude can certainly raise the value of your collection, it is becoming less and less common. The more people have become interested in this type of collecting, the more difficult it has become to find rare cameras without paying a high price to a dealer.
"When I got started, there was only one other collector and he was in Santa Barbara," Kessler said. "I think I burned a path between here and Santa Barbara so I would have someone to talk to. We did a lot of trading back and forth and all of a sudden I found a couple of others and we started a group called CLICS (Camera, Literature and Image Collection Society.)"
Kessler was lucky there was little interest because it allowed him to add to his collection rather inexpensively. He decided to sell his rock collection for $900 and go all across the country trying to find cameras.
"I'd get into town, get a roll of dimes and call every antique shop and go out and see what they had," he said.
As camera collecting has evolved, two types of collectors have emerged, according to Kessler. "There is the person who is in his 50s and 60s, successful with a lot of money, who remembers the cameras he couldn't afford to buy as a kid. They spend a lot of money. Then there are the young collectors who love older things."
Kessler's personal collection also includes one of the oldest working cameras in the country. It was designated the oldest in a contest held a little more than a year ago by the National Enquirer.
It is a Daguerreotype camera from the 1840s. The magazine sent a photographer and a cheesecake model to Kessler so he could take a picture with the camera.
"That was an all-day session, and it was tricky because there is no shutter on older cameras," Kessler said. "It wasn't as sharp as some of the modern cameras, but it goes to show you can take pictures even with the oldest camera in America."
Of course, those wanting to get into collecting as a hobby don't need to start with such extravagant and unusual cameras. According to Kessler, you need to beat the bushes, and sometimes you get lucky.
"You can always go to flea markets and look and look," Kessler said. "You don't have to spend a fortune on cameras. Cameras you can pick up for $5 or $10 today may be worth $50 or $100 in a few years.
"For a new collector, I'd say go out there and buy everything that isn't nailed down within your price range. When you get two or three of one thing, you have a collection. From there, you can see where your collection is headed. Then you should go to a dealer and say you are looking for a particular item and you're on your way."
Despite this hobby, Kessler does not take a lot of pictures. In fact, he limits his photography to taking pictures of old cameras that he plans to sell.
He believes that he stays in touch with history through the hobby. He is also on the edge of its rising popularity. It just takes some getting used to that when everyone else wants a new camera for a present, he is asking for an old one.
Robert Lachman -
Robert Lachman is a former staff photographer and photo editor at the Los Angeles Times.
2006 Mike Kessler collection 1887 Wings Patent Multiplying Camera by David Starkman_064
2006 Mike Kessler candlestick telephone by David Starkman_038
2006 Mike Kessler collection by David Starkman_085
2006 Mike Kessler holding fan with photos printed on it
by David Starkman_115
Mike Kessler camera and viewer collection by Susan Pinsky_15
Coin-operated mechanical stereo viewer with cylinder music box
by Susan Pinsky
2006 NSA Miami FL Mike Kessler in 11th floor hang-out room
by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler "Magic Stereoscope" made by Negretti & Zambra
ca.1865 by David Starkman_019
2006 Mike Kessler with Susan Pinsky enjoying Mike's collection Aug by David Starkman_010
2006 Mike Kessler collection Aug by David Starkman_048
2006 Mike Kessler collection by David Starkman_122
2006 Mike Kessler antique photo album collection
by David Starkman_110
2006 Mike Kessler album collection by David Starkman_049
2006 Mike Kessler album collection by David Starkman_050
2006 Mike Kessler album collection by David Starkman_052
1993 Aug 9 Mike Kessler, Jon Golden, David Burder, David Starkman and Paul Wing at Mike's home by Susan Pinsky_04
1992 Mike Kessler camera and viewer collection by Susan Pinsky_5
1992 NSA Ft Wayne IN Mike Kessler Sept by Susan Pinsky
1992 David Starkman looking into Mike Kessler's stereo viewer with Mike as a pretzel by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler W.B. Glover multiple-view machine patent #127,231 May 28, 1872 opened up by David Starkman_133
Mike Kessler W.B. Glover multiple-view machine patent #127,231 May 28, 1872 by David Starkman_132
Mike Kessler collection by Susan Pinsky_013
2007 David Starkman and Mike Kessler inspecting Jules Duboscq pseudo-stereoscope viewer by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler L.D. Sibley patent #166,942 Aug 24, 1875 for viewing
a stack of 50 back-to-back stereocards by David Starkman_026
1991 San Jose Camera Show January Mike Kessler with friend at trade table by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's 1860 Smith Beck & Beck viewer on the matching storage box by David Starkman_130
1988 Mike Kessler Trade Show table in Pasadena by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler Holmes-style stereo viewer by David Starkman 090
2009 Mike Kessler with his Luxury Model Taxiphote with inlaid woods and gold plated metal by Susan Pinsky 062
Mike Kesslers collection by Susan Pinsky 033
Mike Kessler's ornately carved unusual sequential stereocard table viewer top by Susan Pinsky 066
Mike Kessler's ornately carved unusual sequential stereocard table viewer by Susan Pinsky 067
1991 San Jose Camera Show Jan Mike Kessler special expression needed to remove old photos out of antique photo albums
by Susan Pinsky
1985 Mike and Gladys Kessler table at Western Photographic Collector's Assn. trade show in Pasadena, CA by Susan Pinsky
1979 Western Photographic Collectors Assn. trade show Mike Kessler stereo viewer exhibit by David Starkman
Mike Kessler's antique camera collection by David Starkman_061
Mike Kessler's Taxiphote Simplified Model with transposing lenses option ca.1924 by David Starkman_105
Mike Kessler's antique camera collection by Susan Pinsky 009
Mike Kessler's W.B. Glover multiple-view machine patent #127,231 May 28, 1872 by David Starkman_087
Mike Kessler's stereo viewer collection by David Starkman_103
Mike Kessler's Simon Wing multi-lens camera
by David Starkman_060
Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky 032
Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky 060
Mike Kessler's rare binocular-looking stereoscope with a clock
and barometer by Susan Pinsky 008
Mike Kessler's piano looking photo album
by Susan Pinsky 046
Mike Kessler's photo on ceramic vase by Susan Pinsky 001
Mike Kessler antique photo album collection
by David Starkman_145
2009 Mike Kessler's collection David Starkman looking into
rare binocular-looking stereoscope with a clock and barometer
by Susan Pinsky 007
Mike Kessler G. Gennert Co: Montauk Flexo-Front
Multiplying camera by David Starkman_058
2007 David Starkman and Mike Kessler trying out the posing chair by Susan Pinsky
2010 Mike Kessler with his collection May by Rob Niederman
1970s Mike Kessler and AZ photo collector Al Schneider, with one of four daguerreotype cameras
2006 Mike Kessler looking over his stair railing Sept by Susan Pinsky
2006 Mike Kessler at his workbench by Susan Pinsky
2009 Kesslers by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's inefficiently designed multi-card pretty,
but rare, stereoviewer by David Starkman_111
Mike Kessler's panoramic camera by David Starkman_062
Mike Kessler showing us a mauve "Velvet" Brewster stereoscope made by the London Stereoscopic Company by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's inefficiently designed multi-card pretty,
but rare, stereoviewer by David Starkman_123
Mike Kessler holding the Stereoscopic Photographic Album made by J.B. Lippincott & Co. ca.1860 by David Starkman_149
Mike Kessler holding the Stereoscopic Photographic Album made by J.B. Lippincott & Co. ca.1860 by David Starkman_150
Mike Kessler's Stereoscopic Photographic Album made by J.B. Lippincott & Co. ca.1860 by David Starkman_147
Mike Kessler holding the Stereoscopic Photographic Album made by J.B. Lippincott & Co. ca.1860 by David Starkman_151
Luxury Model Taxiphote with inlaid woods and gold plated metal by Susan Pinsky_82
Mike Kessler's antique photo albums by Susan Pinsky 012
2007 Mike Kessler catching the subjects eye with a toy piece of photo equipment by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's camera collection by David Starkman_059
Alexander Beckers with his wife Caroline and their four children ca 1880
2006 David Starkman at Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky
Patent No. 46.066 January 31, 1865
Bergner stereo print punch
designed by Theodore Bergner
Beckers Rosewood sweetheart stereo viewer
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 1
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 2
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 3
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 4
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 5
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 6
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 7
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 8
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 9
Kesslers by Kodakcollector Charlie 10
2006 Kessler castle viewer by David Starkman
Mike Kessler's photo on ceramic collection by Susan Pinsky 009
Mike Kessler's J.W. Cadwell revolving stereoscope Patent #146,164 Jan 6, 1874 holding 100 views (50 back-to-back) by Starkman_104
Mike Kessler luxury Taxiphote by David Starkman_137
1992 NSA Ft Wayne IN Mike Kessler Sept by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler Goodale's 1861 "Museum" multi-person stereoviewer by David Starkman_153
Mike Kessler collection Bergner Cutter, patented 1-31-1865
by David Starkman_112
Mike Kessler's collection Bergner Cutter for cutting stereo view images, patented 1-31-1865, by David Starkman_114
Taken in 1992 this shows Mike Kessler's floor model chain stereoscope/graphoscope. Probably a custom order that appears to be made by A. Mattey, Paris. by David Starkman
Mike Kessler's antique stereo viewer by Susan Pinsky 034
Mike Kessler's Simon Wing multiple image camera
by David Starkman_054
1992 Mike Kessler's late nineteenth century J. Levy in Paris viewer in dining room Dec by David Starkman
Mike Kessler's wooden stereoscope by Susan Pinsky 072
Mike Kessler collection by David Starkman_042
Mike Kessler's detective camera by David Starkman_057
2009 Mike Kessler's collection June by Susan Pinsky 015
Mike Kessler's mini "stamp" photo album by Susan Pinsky 030
2006 NSA Miami FL Mike Kessler and Susan Pinsky
by David Starkman_29
Mike Kessler's collection by David Starkman_166
Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky 016
Mike Kessler Goodale's 1861 "Museum" double sided
multi-viewer by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's stereo card holder by David Starkman_027
Mike Kessler's antique photo album collection
by David Starkman_109
Mike Kessler's uncommon version of W.H. Lewis' ca.1881
Holmes-style stereoscope by David Starkman_120
2006 Susan Pinsky holding up a daguerreotype at Mike Kessler's collection by David Starkman_033
2007 Mike Kessler in his dining room from the staircase
by Susan Pinsky
2009 Mike Kessler explaining his collection to David Starkman
by Susan Pinsky 036
Mike Kessler early camera, possibly Simon Wing,
by Susan Pinsky_1
Mike Kessler's photographic collection by Susan Pinsky 048
Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky 038
Mike Kessler's photographic hand press by Susan Pinsky 037
Mike Kessler's red satin photographic album and velvet box
by Susan Pinsky 047
Mike Kessler's antique stereo viewers by David Starkman_100
The Photographist-Simon Wing cover article Summer-Fall 1994
1968 Holiday on Ice Program
Mike Kessler's collection by Susan Pinsky 014
Mike Kessler's photo display box by Susan Pinsky 058
1993 Aug 9 David Starkman and Mike Kessler at Mike's
collection by Susan Pinsky_80
1994 Mike Kessler's viewers in his garage by Susan Pinsky
2006 Mike Kessler's ice skate collection by Susan Pinsky_227
"The Stereoscope & Stereoscopic Photography" by F. Drouin
1st published 1894, reprinted 1995
1859 Smith Beck & Beck Book Viewer
Many of Mike Kessler's stereo viewers appear in "Stereoscopes: The First One Hundred Years" by Paul Wing, published 1996, ISBN: 0-9654497-1-8
More than 700 superb photographs (many in 3-D), engravings, patent drawings, and period advertisements illustrate the variety of forms that this optical instrument has taken.
1991 David Starkman, Paul Wing and Susan Pinsky lenticular original by David Burder
With contributions from 20 collectors and scholars, the collections in this book range from 1840–1940, including camera obscuras and cyanotypes to autochromes, stereoscopes, daguerreotypes. Also included are American tintypes and ambrotypes, the miniature and intricate stanhopes, magic lanterns and other optical toys, megalethoscopes, and zoetropes, and many more. Each collector has written a meticulous study to introduce their photographic passion, and with over 500 images (most never before published) of cameras and photographs alike, the truly marvelous nature of the camera and the miraculous technologies that enabled them are revealed. The transcendence and “wonder of wonders!” that is ever present within photography can still be honestly and freshly felt today. This book is ideal for those who wish to study, and experience, the everlasting marvel of camera magic.
Antique PHOTOGRAPHICA: The Collector's Vision by Bryan & Page Ginns
224 pages, ISBN: O-7643-1976-0
1994 Mike Kessler holding his old ice skates from his 1967-69 professional years with "Holiday on Ice" by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler collection 1887 Wings Patent Multiplying Camera
by David Starkman_064
Mike Kessler's collection by David Starkman_116
2009 Mike Kessler sharing his remarkable collection June by Susan Pinsky_061
2009 Mike Kessler surrounded by his collection talking to David Starkman June by Susan Pinsky_044
Boy peering into Mattey stereo sequential viewer in a great room
Mike Kessler's Simon Wing camera collection
by David Starkman_056
2006 National Stereoscopic Assn. convention Miami FL David Starkman with Mike Kessler room hopping by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's Taxiphote Model Optique
by David Starkman_144
2006 Mike Kessler's Stanhope (a microscopic photographic image on glass attached to its own viewing lens) (or "peeps")
collection by David Starkman_144
Mike Kessler's daguerreotype buffing stick (behind book) and plate vise used for preparing the dag plate by Susan Pinsky 029
Mike Kessler's Becker's viewer collection, circa 1860-1865
by Susan Pinsky 064
Mike Kessler's stereoscope collection - Ica viewer on left,
by David Starkman_081
Mike Kessler's Tartan Ware stereoscope in "Prince Charlie" plaid by Susan Pinsky 056
Mike Kessler's Beckers viewer on special four legged stand,
circa 1860-65 by David Starkman_097
2006 Mike Kessler holding antique stereo camera by Susan Pinsky
Mike Kessler's Krugener "Revolver-Stereo Plastoscop"
by Susan Pinsky 070
1993 Mike Kessler home David Burder looking into viewer
by Susan Pinsky_12
Mike Kessler collection with set of Kaiser Panorama lenses in bottom of case by David Starkman_106
Mike Kessler's inefficiently designed multi-card pretty,
but rare, stereoviewer by David Starkman_134
2006 Mike Kessler next to Gaumont Stereodrome and David Starkman at Mike's collection by Susan Pinsky_224
2006 Mike Kessler with his collection by Susan Pinsky_241
2006 Mike Kessler holding professional photo eye-catcher to catch the eye of subject Aug by David Starkman_034
History of "The Photographist"
Robert Bingham, M.D. was the editor from 1969 No. 1 to 1974 No. 27 of the CAMERA COLLECTORS' CLUB NEWSLETTER. He started the Riverside Camera Museum, in California and the "Camera Shop" 1970-1987. He was a man who left his positive mark in many varied fields, including photographic history.
This camera club in Riverside began publication as a quarterly in 1970 as mimeographed sheets stapled in one corner. By issue number 10 the name changed to NEWSLETTER: RIVERSIDE CAMERA MUSEUM AND CAMERA COLLECTORS' ASSOCIATION, and the format changed to a folded brochure with photographic illustrations. With issue number 21, the title changed again to NEWSLETTER OF THE WESTERN CAMERA COLLECTORS' ASSOCIATION. And with issue number 28, the title changed once again to THE PHOTOGRAPHIST: Journal of the Western Photographic Collectors Association, affiliated with the University of California Museum of Photography, and the format changed to a glossy photo-illustrated cover, and the pagination increased to approximately 24 pages per issue.
Initially, this publication was a vehicle for selling and swapping photographic equipment between members. By 1974 articles of historical interest were predominating the contents. Mike Kessler was editor from 1975 to at least 1994, the 100th issue.