Saturday, August 26, 2000

Showroom frames history of photography

Antique cameras click with Hyde Park man

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What started as a casual curiosity has turned into a passion for “visionary” Stuart Fabe. His collector's vision looks back through the history of photography.

[photo] Stuart Fabe with some of his camera collection.
(Enquirer photo)
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        Mr. Fabe's impressive collection of 70 antique cameras and optical devices from around the world are a great example of humanity's dream to make time stand still.

        How did it become Mr. Fabe's dream?

        “I've always been interested in the history of photography,” says Mr. Fabe, of Hyde Park. “But basically, I just love the things.”

        His eyes light up as he cradles each hand-crafted piece.

        “I feel like I'm a steward for the history of photography, like I have to preserve this important part of history. I have no particular fascination with just storing them. I like to display them so people can appreciate their beauty.”

        Mr. Fabe's collection began with acquisitions from yard and estate sales, then bartering with fellow collectors he met at meetings. Now he surfs the Internet, reaping his latest obsessions from eBay's worldwide marketplace.

        Even though his collection threatened to take over the house, he remained more concerned with acquiring additional cameras and devices than with where they would go.

        “They were everywhere,” says his wife, Karen, “so we created this room to house most of them.”

        The small room, shaped almost like a triangle, had been used as storage before being transformed into a showcase for the collection. The northern exposure gives good natural light to enhance the cherry and mahogany woods used to make some of the camera boxes. The hand-held cameras, zoetropes and a pair of 1883 mother of pearl and brass optical glasses sit majestically on two bookshelves.

        The largest pieces stand like sentries on tables, pedestals and tripods. For example, the Ombres Chinoises shadow theatre from France sits propped in the corner of the showroom, while an 1850 nautical telescope and an 1873 brass and leather kaleidoscope perch on a desk across from the shelves.

        Most of the larger pieces, however, are strategically placed throughout the house, such as the Excelsior wet plate studio camera made in 1874 that greets visitors in the living room.

        Some of the more amusing items in Mr. Fabe's collection include several clandestine cam eras used for detective work, like the C.P. Stim No. 1 Concealed Vest Camera. This metal circular camera was designed to fit behind a man's vest with a protruding lens to peer through a buttonhole.

        Mr. Fabe's fascination with the early forms of home entertain ment also are on display in his home.

        His vintage optical devices in clude a “Wheel of Life” zoetrope made by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Co. in 1880, as well as a Coney Island favorite — a still operational 1913 sculptos cope (better known as a penny arcade machine) made by the American Novelty Co. This trea sure is kept in a guest bedroom, ready for the next nickel.

        A turn-of-the-century family favorite was the advent of magic lanterns, color images reflected on the wall and illuminated by candle or oil light. Mr. Fabe's collection includes 13 lanterns from around the world and made as early as 1868. Some are on shelves in the showroom and one is nestled on top of a low wall in a guest bedroom.

        Mr. Fabe's fascination with pictures includes a rare collection of more than 50 movie shorts starring such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks, Ty Cobb, Our Gang and Buddy Rogers. Because of their age, the reels have become too brittle to replay. He brings them out now only as a kind of show-and-tell.

        “I tried playing them once for my father some years back, but they started breaking up in my hand.

        “I have no idea how much they're worth,” Mr. Fabe says. “What's important to me is the historical value of these reels. And that's what I want to do: preserve the history.”

        Know someone who not only has a great collection but who displays the collection with style and imagination? Let us know at Tempo at Home, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.


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