If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

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vintage cameras
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Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale moneymakers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Vintage Polaroid Land cameras

Pop the Champagne, it’s yard sale season! That means households across America are purging their tote-laden garages, basements and storage units. And what you miss at yard sales can usually be found in local thrift shops the following week.

One item that’s always on my summer wish list is vintage (pre-1980) Polaroid Land cameras. Though these “obsolete” devices are making a strong comeback, most yard sale hosts and thrift stores haven’t noticed yet. At separate sales last year, I snatched up three for less than $2 apiece.

Polaroid was founded in 1937 by Edwin Land and George W. Wheelwright III (a Harvard student and Harvard professor, respectively). But it would take more than a decade for their new venture to disrupt the world of photography.

The Polaroid Land Camera — Model 95 to be exact — launched in 1948. Invented by Land, the device was revolutionary. For the first time in history, snapshots could be developed on the spot without the need for an off-site film lab.

Land’s namesake camera was an immediate hit and later innovations improved image quality and simplified the development process. These early leaps in technology culminated in 1972 with the release of the Polaroid SX-70 — a true one-step, compact, instant camera for the masses.

Why buy it?

Like listening to music on vinyl, photographing with film has a certain charm. Vintage Polaroids create images that are soft and moody (refreshingly low-def in a high-def world). And the constraints of film force photographers to choose their image-worthy moments carefully.

In large part, Polaroid’s resurgence is driven by millennials and Gen Zers who appreciate the nostalgia of the brand. For these digital natives, the idea of producing a tangible, unalterable photo on the spot is nothing short of alluring.

And then there’s the “hip factor.” Vintage Land cameras — especially the SX-70 — just look cool. They’re like Transformers for adults. I mean, who wouldn’t love a sleek leather-wrapped metal box that turns into a camera?

Polaroid’s new legion of fans supports a hot resale market. On eBay, this Polaroid SX-70 Gold Edition camera recently sold for $810, and this Polaroid SLR 680 sold for $399.95. On Etsy, this standard SX-70 camera with original case and flash bar is listed for $455.

What to look for

Vintage Polaroids are easy to spot. With 75 years worth of hindsight, the company’s early attempts at compact design elevate these cameras to works of industrial art. Many collectors get as much joy from displaying their cameras as they do from using them.

The most common Polaroid wordmark is a simple sans serif font in all-caps. It usually appears near the camera’s print discharge area or directly below the lens.

For those buying to resell, pay attention to the details. Here’s what I focus on when shopping for Land cameras:

  • Model: Some Land cameras are more valuable than others. The following models command the highest prices: SX-70 (particularly the 50th Anniversary Gold Edition), SLR 680 SE, Model 95, Model 110 (A and B), Model 180 and Model 195.
  • Accessories and extras: More is always better. Vintage cameras with the original packaging, directions and case sell for a premium. And extras such as specialty lenses, flash bars and film only increase resale value.
  • Condition: Testing vintage Polaroids can be difficult because the power source is housed within the film cartridge. Without film, it’s impossible to determine if a camera is functional. My advice? Take a chance if the price is right. Even non-working models can be sold for parts to Polaroid enthusiasts around the world.

Pro tip: With so many moving parts, the SX-70 can sometimes be difficult to close. Don’t risk damage by forcing it. Leave the camera open until you have time to examine how the folding mechanisms work.

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