A Complete Professional Photography Kit for $15.35… Back in the Year 1900


Want to buy all the camera equipment you need to start a photography business for just $15.35? All you’ll need is… a time machine! Reddit user sneeden found this Sears Roebuck and Co. consumer guide for the fall of 1900. Two of the pages inside the catalog are for view camera kits that can help anyone “start in a pleasant and good paying business.”

Apparently the market wasn’t teeming with photographers like it is today, so it may have been easier to stand out with your photography services as long as you had some decent gear.

Obviously $15.35 wasn’t chump change to people back in 1900, but it wasn’t an extravagant amount either: The Inflation Calculator tells us that it would be the equivalent of about $417 in 2012 money. That’s how much high-end compact cameras cost these days.

Here’s a closer look at the two view camera pages (a full-res scan can be found here):



Just to give you an idea of what the world was like back then, here’s what the cover looked like:


Ladies could buy the latest jackets for around $5:


And if you need a new ride, there’s a section devoted to carriages:


Want to see more? You can browse through many pages of this 1900 catalog in this online gallery.

Image credit: Photographs by sneeden and used with permission

  • Alex

    cheap cameras are destroying this industry, what happened to the good old days when the entry barrier was at least $50?

  • junyo

    In my day, we made our cameras ourselves, by hand, from rocks, and bits of felt, outside in the snow, in June. And we liked it!

    These young whippersnappers and their fancy store bought whosimawhatzits.

  • Leonardo Abreu

    A car for 34.50!!

  • James Schooling

    Those copy writers didn’t understand the concept of white space too well, did they?

  • James Schooling

    I think those are horse-drawn carriages.

  • DamianM

    Yeah you had to build your own.

  • DrBen

    The kit on sale for $34.65 would, in today’s dollars, be $941.18. It was not the bargain it appears to be.

  • Teun Dilles

    Printing a magazine was quite expensive at that time. Consumers at the time also expected a lot of information in advertising. Advertising has changed a lot since then. You can’t just apply modern design idea’s to old commercials.

  • ProtoWhalePig

    I bought mine for the double valve unicum shutter.

  • anonymoose

    I think you got the bottom two pictures the wrong way around..

  • one two

    I quite like it… Feels full and no tricks, all the Ingo is on the page… Haha

  • Nicholas Allen

    I dont think horses can draw, James!

  • Canadiaman

    Did anyone notice the price of the catalog. $3.95 was like $100 in today’s money. That’s a steep price just to receive advertising.