Former Kent County commissioner’s huge camera, photography collection up for sale

by Matt Vande Bunte | The Grand Rapids Press

Tuesday September 16, 2008, 9:33 AM
Clarence Blakeslee holds his current camera, a Contax, in his right hand, as well as an Argoflex in his left hand. Blakeslee is having an estate sale, featuring several old cameras and personal prints.

ROCKFORD — At point-blank range, they shot a parade of former presidents, and scoped out Elizabeth Taylor and Bob Hope.

From Gerald R. Ford to Ted Kennedy, the assortment of national figures photographed by Clarence Blakeslee is matched only by the collection of cameras he used to film them.

More than 200 cameras used by Blakeslee, at least one more than 100 years old and others he picked up on the front lines of World War II, are for sale this week at the 93-year-old’s former Rockford home.

“He was everywhere, I tell ya,” Brenda Haynes said as she and her son flipped through black-and-white pictures from several political rallies.

Haynes, whose grandparents were friends with Blakeslee and his late wife, Lois, was one of the shoppers Monday sifting through items in the home at 17 River St. She bought a $5 camera she remembers Blakeslee using when she was a girl.

“You never see him without a camera. Still don’t,” said Nathan Haynes, who bought a few World War II books. “He has always had a camera around his neck.”

The estate sale run by Joan & Associates continues from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and Wednesday. Items include tools, televisions, fishing poles, kitchenware, maps, jackknifes, furniture and other household goods.

Then, there are the cameras, such as the Ernemann Klapp strut-folding model that kicked Blakeslee’s photography hobby into focus. A forward observer in the U.S. Army infantry, Blakeslee picked up the camera in Germany.

As U.S. troops came into a town, they confiscated weapons, cameras and other items.

“I had a pile of cameras this high,” said Blakeslee, holding his hand at his waist. “We backed the jeep up and put about 100 cameras in. I got a camera for everybody in the company.”

The most valuable of Blakeslee’s cameras is priced at $250 and looks more like an accordion. There is a turn-of-the-century Conley, a Korona II C and shelves of others including a Kodak Flashfun II, Imperial Six-Twenty, Brownie Starmite II and Sable 620.

“Some of them are run-of-the-mill old stuff, but some of them are pretty cool,” said Ellis White, who owned the former Camera Center in Eastown and priced Blakeslee’s collection. “These are all workable cameras. They all can use modern film.”

Blakeslee moved out of the home last fall into a retirement home.

Blakeslee, a retired plumber and sheet metal tradesman, also is a former Rockford mayor and Kent County commissioner. His connections gave him close access to visiting politicos.

One camera was used at a Rockford Rotary Club meeting to catch a rising local politician with a pipe, the “only time I saw Jerry Ford smoking.”

Describing his brush with Elizabeth Taylor on a visit to Lansing, Blakeslee said, “She never made a pass at me or anything, but she was a sweet girl. I could see why people fell for her.”

Nathan Haynes, of Rockford, looks over some of the cameras for sale at the estate sale of Clarence Blakeslee.

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2 comments so far

  1. Joy Ladd on

    I have an old VAN VRANKEN photo bag. I think my grandmother used to mail it in to get her film developed. Does it have value?

  2. Milkmiliseert on

    Can you guide on a high definition review website. I got this from my friend looks ok

    High definition camera


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