The Digital Journalist
Letters from Central America:
Nostalgia Bad

by James Colburn

Oh boy.

Nostalgia bad.

E-Bay bad.

Nostalgia + e-Bay = very, very bad.

A few weeks ago my daughter and I went on a road trip to Walnut, Iowa. Walnut is the self-described antiques capitol of Iowa, and it's a wonderful place. Evidently a while ago some brilliant town grandees decided that in order to "re-task" the town, and make sure it didn't blow away in a spring storm, they'd turn the whole freaking town into an antiques mall.

The problem is that they did a very good job, and Walnut is a pleasant place to spend a morning or an afternoon. You can wander along the main street, ducking into and out of numerous little (and not so little) shops and spend an awful lot of money ... unless you have a constitution of steel and an eye for a good bargain.

I've been there before and came away with a mint-condition Kodak 116 folding camera WITH AN UNFINISHED ROLL OF FILM STILL IN IT! Whatever major historical photographs were on said roll were ruined, however, when I popped open the back to see the insides of the camera, only to exclaim, "Oh shit. I've just ruined this roll of film." But still, for $15 it looks great on the shelf and it has the original box and manual.

So anyway, my daughter and I were wandering around and came upon a portable typewriter. A '60s-era Remington that worked and only cost $13.50. She's a writer and has used computers all her life and was fascinated by the sheer ... "mechanicalness" of it, so I bought it for her and she's very happy with it.

Then I got home and started thinking, and that's always dangerous. I went online to e-Bay and started looking up "typewriters" to see what some idiot out there might pay for the Remington. After all, if it was worth $250 we could try and find her another one ...

It turns out that there's no big market for Remington portables but after a few minutes I saw the Hermes Baby.

Now I don't know if you know about this precision-crafted, Swiss-built, portable typewriter but legend has it that Steinbeck used one. And Hemingway used one. And a lot of war correspondents and writers used one because it was small (2 inches high or "about the same as a box of matches stood on end"), light (maybe 8 pounds), and oh, so sexy (obviously in the eyes of the beholder).

Okay, so I wound up buying it for around $50, and I'm damn happy about that because when I first started lusting after one I was maybe 10 years old and there was no way in hell I could afford the $300 or so (in '60s dollars; $1,700 adjusted for inflation) that it'd cost.

Then my thoughts turned to other lusts. Photographic lusts. Computing lusts. I started scanning e-Bay (for research purposes only, of course) and found:

  • - Leicaflex SLs with a 50mm Summicron, one of the baddest cameras ever with one of the sharpest lenses ever built ... $200-500
  • - Zeiss Contarexs with a 50mm Planar, a camera that weighs a ton but is sooooo beautiful in an industrial sort of way ... $200-500
  • - A Nikon F in near-mint condition with a 50mm Nikkor for around $250
  • - A Beseler Topcon Super D (don't laugh youngsters,;this was HOT and Topcon made the first-ever 300mm f/2.8 lens to fit THIS CAMERA ...) for a few hundred bucks.
  • - There are Olympus OM-1s, Honeywell (not Asahi) Pentax Spotmatics, Miranda Sensorexes and, even things like the Olympus 35RD or the Minolta Hi-Matic 7 out there just screaming for good homes.

And there's an Osborne 1 "portable" computer that's only up to $26 and change!

But I have to stop now.

Unless one of those Leicaflexes screams AT ME ....

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer