Larry Boccioletti is a founding member of the PHSC. He has a broad experience in the photographic industry including operating his own studio, Dean of the New York Institute of Photography in NYC, and staff photographer for Dehavilland Aircraft. Since retiring, he has operated his own b&w darkroom, rented antique cameras, and enjoyed his collecting activities
Larry started his career in Welland Ontario in the early 1950s. His interest in collecting was sparked by a local auctioneer. Visiting this customer, he spotted an odd looking gadget in the midst of a pile of junk. It turned out to be a Klito horizontal enlarger which the auctioneer gladly donated to Larry. The Klito was placed on display at the studio, and prompted a number of other donations from customers who remembered old cameras lying unused at home. His collection was up and running.
Developing an interest in the history of the cameras he collected, Larry was fascinated by the steps taken by different makers to circumvent patents owned by the competition. He related a story about the enthusiasm of Kodak in the late 1800s protecting its patents while merrily violating those of other firms, a common practice in many industries (for details, track down a copy of Images & Enterprise by Reese Jenkins, published in 1975). Sources of old cameras were used camera shops, and pawn shops. Garage sales turned up very little and no one was holding fairs like we do today.
Larry moved to New York City in the 1960s to become the Dean of the NY Institute of Photography. During his tenure he met a number of the collectors who established the Photographic Historical Society (of New York) in 1969. At an auction in 1970 he saw a Daguerreotype camera which he felt to be worth a $1,000 go for $2,700. A short time later he realized the auction price was a bargain since Daguerreotype cameras were so rare.
In 1972 Larry returned home, settling in Toronto. His collection remained in boxes while he searched for a new home. He looked at dozens of houses including one which he described as derelict -- badly trashed inside. But it had a plate rail which caught his eye as an ideal spot to display some small cameras (visible in the b&w portrait). He bought the house on the spot and added heat and humidity controls to protect his collection -- the other restorations including a functioning darkroom came later.
A few years ago, Larry took a new direction in photography -- renting vintage cameras to a movie production firm. Pleased with the outcome, he obtained a list of all current productions from the Toronto Film Office and faxed each one a notice that he rented vintage photographic equipment (he cautioned prospective entrepreneurs to carefully check all returned goods for damage -- sometimes the repairs generate more than the rental)!
One property agent who rented from Larry offered to buy his collection. Larry turned him down -- at first.
Eventually the agent opened his own business -- a hand prop shop (a business that rents any small hand held vintage prop). The owner explained to Larry that he had radios, lighters, jewellery, eye-glasses, typewriters, etc. but no cameras and wanted to rent some from Larry. They agreed to a 50-50 split of the rentals and Larry turned over about 100 Kodak folders and other inexpensive cameras. Three months later, Larry was astounded by the size of the cheque he received for his share of the rentals.
This return, combined with the difficulties uninformed relatives face trying to sell their loved ones' collections, made him receptive to selling outright to the agent. Discussions continued for some time and Larry's price continued to go up -- he kept buying more collections.
A deal was finally reached and upon payment of half the fee, the agent received 5 van loads of cameras and other goodies. It took three of them a week to inventory the collection -- 920 pieces to be identified, photographed (digitally and into the agents computer records), dated, and valued.
Part of the agreement called for Larry to quit renting cameras for five years. However, the agent refused to sign the papers drawn up by Larry's lawyer because of a chattel mortgage clause.
Larry decided to build another collection, this time with the more common cameras. Since the formal papers were left unsigned, Larry continued to rent from his new collection. The agent was furious at first, until he realized there was enough business for both. Today, Larry and the agent are on good terms and rent cameras from each other to meet commitments.
A more detailed account of the program will appear in Photographic Canadiana.
ABOUT THE IMAGES. Click on any image and in a few seconds you will see an enlarged view in a separate window. The formal portrait is courtesy of Robert Lansdale. The colour images were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 990 and adjusted in Photoshop. The montage images were shot from the screen during Larry's talk.