Some two years ago I had my evening stroll at the avenue of online classifieds Kijiji for the enlighted, where I stumbled upon an ad for several old cameras. There was only a phone number to contact, so I texted a request for more information. The day after there was no response so I took it as sold. The day after I looked it up and the ad was still there, so I phoned and left a message. Yet no reply. The ad was still present the following day, so I called again, someone picked it up. We had a dialogue of the deaf. The man on the other side couldn’t understand me and I failed to understand him. I do have an accent, but in most cases, I am understood. After a mutual struggle, we agreed to meet at his house which is about an hour drive north.
Living in Toronto, where 70% of the population was born outside Canada, an accent is almost a prerequisite. Driving an hour north, even getting a coffee at the drive-through is a chore as their ears are not attuned to strange accents, as foreigners like me are yet to settle there. So I took the strange discussion being my fault.
The day of the meeting I arrived at the said address. It was a secluded area out of town, with large houses overlooking the lake where the address I was looking for was no exception. The house faced the street, with a large backyard slopping away at the back. I rang the bell.
The door was opened by an elderly person. I think he was well over ninety years old. Well-groomed and neatly attired, but deaf as an axe. So poor communication wasn’t my fault. He invited me in and went hunting for a hearing aid. Armed with it, we still had strained communication. Now I had learned the number in the ad was of a plain old landline, so my text message, perhaps of others as well, was no good. About the voice message I left, he confirmed that there were many, but He could not decipher them. So we went downstairs.
I was speechless. I felt like Charly at the chocolate factory. The basement wasn’t a basement in the common sense. As the house stood on a sloped lot, the basement had a wide glass front, actually back, and windows on two sides so was well lit. There was a large hall with rooms surrounding it. Seeing my expression, certainly as many before had, he offered me a tour.
The main hall had benches and shelves, each neighbourhood of a certain topic. at one side there was vintage radio equipment, some as early as having vacuum tubes, with dials galore like a flying fortress dashboard on steroids. The shelves were stacked with books and articles too many to describe. From above, there were dozens upon dozens of model aircraft hanging. Some of the size one may expect of a model, and others big enough for a child to sit in. I have never seen such size, didn’t even know it exists. At the other side, there was an elevated platform, hosting the largest model railway arrangement I have ever seen. I have an HO gauge set, same as there, but the largest I had ever built it was a plywood sheet and a bit. Here it was so large, that there were full-size boards set in intervals, so one would crawl under to reach the entire settings. I saw a few model train shows, but nothing at this scale. To make it complete, the by the wall there were ramps that carried the tracks to shelf-like mezzanine around the room, where the trains could circle the hall at different levels, back and forth, up and down. Seeing my amazement he apologised, saying that it is already committed. Lucky me.
At another room, almost as large as the main hall, there was a complete woodworking shop. I know something about woodworking machinery from my long and chequered career. There was any machine one could think of, all at the highest quality, well-spaced, well lit and with a perfect dust collection system. Enough to make baby cots and coffins and anything in between. Just amazing, for sure beats me pulling out my tools in the garage.
We then visited the darkroom and a spray booth, large enough for a bridge table with four players. back at the main hall, I was shown a pile of cameras, film and early digital, but I had an interest in two only. The Topcon R and Rolly 2.8F. As a bonus, I also got a Morse key, hoping to give it to my grandkids. Regrettably no interest and no takers, so I have it on my desk as a paperweight.
After a long and difficult discussion, it appears that he was a pilot, that lived most of his life in my neighbourhood, of all places. Once retired, he and the old girl (sic) moved to this house, where he immersed himself in all hobbies a man could think of. They lived there for some thirty years, and now moving back to town for old folks home.
One more – at the backyard, as large as a piazza, there was a railway track with an engine and wagons, scaled for kids to ride. What a retirement life. Beats golf any day of the week.
The Topcon R came with a bag full of goodies. But due to my fervent sorting and storing habits, I stacked it somewhere and cannot find it. It will pop up when searching for something else.
There is scant online information about the Topcon R. Few entries here and there, and some for sale links. Same apply to its availability, records show that in the past five years only 11 cameras were sold. As at today, there is one on eBay, asking more than twice of its value – US$220. There are also three Beseler B, offered from Japan offered at about US$900 each. It raises two questions:
- The camera marked as Topcon R was sold worldwide including Japan but is offered from the US. The Beseler B, exactly the same camera was branded for the US but is offered in Japan. Could have fallen off a truck on the way to the port.
- The prices the cameras are offered represent phenomena that I fail to understand. Sellers’ asking prices have no correlation with real-world prices. It is not difficult to get previous sales records or published estimated values. Am not sure if sellers have high hopes based on data I fail to reach or they just throw a line and hope for the best. This is throughout camera offering on eBay and on online classifieds.
The camera is a splendid example of early Japanese SLRs.
|AKA||Beseler B Topcon|
|Weight||760 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||590 gr, Body only|
|Lens make||Auto Topcor|
|Filter size||48 mm|
|Lens mount||Exakta bayonet|
|shutter||Focal plane cloth horizontal|
|Other||Instant return mirror|